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One of Romania’s Best Literary Critics

By Daniel Deleanu

Rodica Grigore is one of those rare authors who know how to convey that great power of literature which preternaturally absorbs the reader into its secret lands, evincing sundry wisps of meaning that flit around our innermost existential realizations in order to shape some of the most gratifying moments. Grigore’s exegeses are, as such, always exhaustively researched, which makes her meticulous critical discourse not only compelling, but also intellectually rewarding and bookishly pleasing. Having authored ten volumes of literary criticism and literary history, several of them rewarded with well-deserved prizes by the Romanian Writers’ Union, Grigore, who is also an academic who teaches Comparative Literature, is concurrently an accomplished translator, who has rendered in Romanian works, among others, by Octavio Paz, Manuel Cortés Castañeda and Andrei Codrescu. At the same time, Grigore has penned articles for a large number of cultural publications from both Romania and abroad.

One of the hermeneutic methods most frequently used by Rodica Grigore is the paradigmatic analysis. The paradigm employed by her, nevertheless, is not an ideological Procrustean bed, as that so often used, of late, by criticism which is grounded in political correctness, i.e. western Proletkult, and it is not even a malleable framework, as that advocated by Harold Bloom in The Western Canon. The authoress’ paradigm lies under the mark of the aesthetic, that is, of the meanings which the act of interpretation launches in the direction of the reader, i.e. towards the Other (in the sense of that Lacanian Autre), alterity being as such the only pathway that is conducive to a deep fathoming of the auctorial sense of selfness, without which any hermeneutic act, and implicitly any critical pronouncement, is at the risk of losing its axiological compass. For example, analyzing Alejo Carpentier’s works in her book Realismul magic în proza latino-americană  a secolului XX (Magic Realism in the Latin-American Prose of the 20th Century), the exegete is in favour of a “major code” that might be used by the scriptor to “translate and transpose reality at the level of literature” (p. 128). The above-mentioned literary game is therefore mainly a hermeneutic one, and the interpretative act thus begotten gains now a new role, namely that of a simultaneous deconstructor and reconstructor of reality. The innovative semiosis created in this fashion “can no longer be reduced to minute things, nor to the brute objects of a reality rendered in the form of literature based on mimetic tenets” (p. 139).

As a matter of fact, the relation established between the narrative planes and reality is reflected in the critical discourses adopted by Grigore, which are characterized by rigour and detail. It is this very approach that she uses for the deconstruction and reconstruction of the hidden meanings of a work, and from this perspective her criticism resembles the so-called “frame” technique employed by Romanian critic Adrian Marino when he tackled a complex literary text. Thus, when she analyzes, this time in English (because Rodica Grigore does write in several languages!), the relationship between history and fiction in the American academic journal Theory in Action, the authoress states that “history and fiction prove to be some of the most important elements – both thematically and historically – which can be found in world literature.” To put it otherwise, fiction challenges history, whose narrative produces what Schlegel called “the hierarchical degrees” of writing, which cause the borderline between the two worlds to fade away. Similarly, analyzing in the same prestigious publication Generalul în labirintul său (The General in His Labyrinth), one of Gabriel García Márquez’s foremost works, Grigore states that the Columbian’s novel “blends historical data with fiction in order to humanize the persona of the Liberator and shatter his nearly mythologized image, and also to examine the implications of the literary discourse focused on the contemporary Latin-American novel.” By assimilating the real, the fictional thereby reconfigures historicity in the sphere of an epistemology sieved through the zone of the aesthetic, so that both fictional narratives and historical ones may eventually become a literary art – and in this way the border that separates them will cease to exist. For this to take place, however, it is necessary that the aesthetic take on a primordial role, otherwise the narrative may turn into pseudo-history.

According to the exegete, in the great literature of Latin-American magic realism, in which Grigore undeniably holds an expertise, the text and its context are fictitious transactions of a hermeneutic order, not so much between reality and unreality per se, but rather between the role played by the former element in the configuration of the later, and this is mostly due to the fact that unreality, as one can deduct from its etymology, cannot define itself without the presence, be it only at an anamnestic level, in a Platonic sense, of reality itself. Thus, according to Grigore, in the setting of Hispano-American magic realism, “the relations established between a text – any text – and a context are always complex, as long as, even in the original context, a certain text can be nothing more than the absorption of some ideas, or even excerpts from a pre-existent text (p. 66). Thus, when she analyzes Clarice Lispector’s novel The Passion According to G.H., the exegete reconstructs, by means of the same metaphysical hermeneutics, the semantic groundwork of the text, which she considers to be “a creation par excellence hermetic and accessible only to the initiated,” and subsequently describing the book as “an esoteric text meant rather for deepening than elucidating the mysteries of human existence.” Then, commenting on another of Lispector’s novels, namely La hora de la estrella, Rodica Grigore writes in an introduction to her book Tigrul și steaua (The Tiger and the Star), published in Letralia. Tierra de Letras, one of the most widely read cultural publications from South America, that “the star sends the reader to a different and distant universe, towards which the human being heads confidently, or perhaps apprehensively.”

Călătorii în bibliotecă (Travels through the Library) is another book which seamlessly reflects the modalities wherein Rodica Grigore builds her critical discourse, in order to (re)establish the connections amongst the lost meanings of a world where letters are not only some oxymoronic elementary particles capable of conveying universal messages and (re)interpreting their semantic gist, but also the starting point for the hermeneutical journeys through the unbounded realm of the library. Grigore thus enters the magic realm of the library just as the protagonists of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The moment the authoress steps in the sacrosanct space of the library, this opens up towards a veiled inner land furrowed by magic textual paths, which splits infinitely, in a Borgesian way. Therein, readers will encounter a plethora of much-celebrated personalities of world literature, such as Swift, Fielding, Woolf or Pessoa, and in this way they will have the opportunity to interpret in novel ways literary texts that already belong to the classical canon.

A similar hermeneutic approach may be found in another essential book by Rodica Grigore, namely Lecturi în labirint (Readings in the Labyrinth), only that here the trajectories of her critical discourse are centred around narrative paths trodden by contemporary writers, among them Becket, Kazantzakis, Xingjian, Saramago, Coetzee, Pamuk, Calvino, Pinter, Kawabata, etc. The library and the labyrinth are therefore the chief coordinates of the spiritual onto-epistemology that characterizes the authoress best, for whom the hermeneutic method is a sine qua non condition of the manifestation of literature itself, which can only be the artistic outcome of some ludic dissemination of quasi-universal meanings, as one can see for oneself in other important books by Grigore, e.g.  Măști, caligrafie, literature (Masks, Calligraphy, Literature), Meridianele prozei (Prose Meridians), Pretextele textului (Text’s Pretexts), Cărți, vise și identitate (Books, Dreams and Identity) or Între lectură și interpretare (Between Reading and Interpretation).

Outstanding as they are, the accomplishments of these books are incontrovertible. Through the originality of her critical discourse, the vastness and depth of her theoretical knowledge, the refinement of her highly aestheticized expression, and the accuracy of her hermeneutic method, Rodica Grigore has proven that she is not just one of Romania’s best literary critics, but also a critic of international worth. The fact that she contributes to prestigious literary journals from far and wide testifies to her great talent and expertise. In fact, each of Rodica Grigore’s books is a tour de force by which the authoress imaginatively weaves a complex web of well-researched associations, enlightening in this way the reader through her erudition and aesthetically pleasing critical discourse, which is always successful in bringing to life the texts – at times long-forgotten – of some of the world’s finest writers.

 

About the author:

 

Daniel Deleanu is a Romanian-Canadian writer and academic who sways between Toronto and his native town of Sibiu.

He has published articles, reviews and critical studies in cultural journals and academic journals from Romania and abroad (USA, Canada and Great Britain).

He has also published more than 1,300 academic books (critical studies of universal and comparative literature, studies of philosophy of literature, theory of literature, etc.) in English language, most of them in Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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