Volume V, Number 2, Fall 2009 · Special Issue: Proceedings of the 2008 HAAS Conference


"The Human(e) Parrot" by Dan H. Popescu and Liliana Truţă

Dan H. Popescu, PhD, is Associate Professor at the Partium Christian University, Oradea, Romania. Email:
Liliana Truţă is Lecturer at the Partium Christian University, Oradea, Romania.

The paper intends to reveal the ways in which a selection of some American literary texts of the first half of the 20th Century were perceived and promoted in the cultural press in Romania, including articles written in Hungarian, during the communist years; we aim to show the impact and the influence of these newspapers and magazines until 1989, their role as a point of interconnection between an ecriture terminal and a network of readers.

The starting point of our research was – as it often happens – a course in American literature that was going to be taught for our 3rd year students at Partium Christian University in Oradea, Romania.1 During the winter months of 2008, after having checked and partially covered the information found in literary histories, novels, poems and other sources required for such an enterprise, we realised that there was something more challenging behind this readings. There was the imminent possibility of a study about the reception of the writers we had in mind (and in the curriculum), that would show the manner in which the most influential of them have been received in the ‘closed’ years of the Ancien Régime.

We felt this as a duty, a tribute, we wished to pay to those publications that had helped us shape – during our first thirty or twenty years of life spent before the Fall of the Iron Curtain and the December 1989 Revolution – our understanding, our vision and our approaches to American culture through the realm of American literature; it was intended as a tribute to both writers and their translators and critics, as well. However, it was not meant to be a sentimental journey, for the discourse we wanted to tackle was a meta-discourse belonging to intermediaries that translated cultures into each other; the point was to reveal the strengths and also the weaknesses of such a discourse(s), which, taking into account the special political and social circumstances particularly related to the idea of censorship, was aiming at selling – although many times even confined to the prison-bars of the langue de bois – cultural products in order to either challenge or manipulate potential readers.

We wanted to remember (and experience once again for ourselves) the expectations, the anticipations, the surprises and frustrations Wolfgang Iser wrote about in the last chapter of his seminal book The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett (Iser 274-294); and wished to see whether “the process of anticipation […] does not by any means develop in a smooth flow” (279) in order to prove that

the manner in which the reader experiences the text will reflect his own disposition, and in this respect the literary text acts as a kind of mirror; but at the same time, the reality which this process helps to create is one that will be different from his own […].” (281)

So there we were, dwelling and digging in the caverns and canyons of the Romanian cultural press of the 50s, 60s and 70s and felt like miners who have seen not many Clementines so far. No Cinderella’s shoes found until 1968, for we have settled some landmarks and Ceausescu’s coming to power in 1964 proved a significant one. Four years after the instauration of the new communist regime gave us a useful temporal frame for our quest because 1968 was also the year of the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia and of the students’ revolt in Paris.2

We started to research the reception of American fiction and we tried to restrict our approach to writers belonging to the so-called Lost generation, but the scarcity of homeland references compelled us to incorporate the works of William Faulkner and John Steinbeck, who seemed to have shared the feelings of despair, depression and anger that were present in the works of Hemingway, Dos Passos or Fitzgerald. As for the last three, we were able to find, in Bibliografia R. S. R. (The Bibliography of the Socialist Republic of Romania) – a providential tool, including entries for all books and articles published in the given years; unfortunately, this collection is not to be found in digital form yet.3 We found twenty-five entries for the first writer (Hemingway), one for the second one (Dos Passos), and none for the third (Fitzgerald – there is something interesting for this entry that deserves a further and more complex investigation, one that goes beyond the aim of this paper).

Twenty-five entries for Hemingway and only one, just one, for Dos Passos? “As he reads, he will make his own decision as to how the gap is to be filled,” writes Iser about the reader’s reactions during the reading process (280). Except that, in our case, we were reading, and counting the number of entries in a bibliography. Anticipation seemed fulfilled and frustration achieved. We were in line with Iser, once more because

much of our enjoyment is derived from surprises, from betrayals of our expectations. The solution to this paradox is to find some ground for a distinction between “surprise” and “frustration.” Roughly, the distinction can be made in terms of effects which the two kinds of experiences have upon us. Frustration blocks or checks activity. It necessitates new orientation for our activity, if we are to escape the cul de sac.” (287)4

We knew what the reaction of official authorities in the communist countries was against dissident writers, who achieved the frustration engendered by the “translation” of this reaction in the cultural press. Dos Passos was as great a writer. But in 1928 he went to the Soviet Union in order to study the socialist system. Although a social revolutionary himself, his views on communism started to change. André Gide also visited the Soviet Union in the ‘30s. And he became disillusioned, too. What about Hemingway? Did he ever visit Soviet territories? According to one of the entries, an article published on the 23rd of October 1959 in Contemporanul (The Contemporary) Romanian readers had access to a letter (presumably) sent by Hemingway to Literaturnaja gazeta (The Literary Gazette), a Soviet publication, with regard to his (intended) visit. But did he finally make it to Moscow? He surely made it to other countries and we surely know that he arrived in Spain: many times for corridas and four times for the Civil War.

It was during the Spanish Civil War that Hemingway broke his friendship with Dos Passos. The latter dared to report about the atrocities of radical Republicans, whom Hemingway otherwise favored. Hemingway’s willingness to submit his name to Stalinist propaganda disturbed Dos Passos. No wonder the Romanian cultural press – then strongly under the influence of the Soviets – made little room for the author of the U. S. A. trilogy. Anticipation fulfilled and frustration achieved.

But what exactly did the readers in Romania get to read (about)? The materials published during the researched period fall into several categories. Translations were more or less accurate, but those who are in the trenches of such a linguistic-ideological war know that things are not merciful at all. Nobody Ever Dies by Hemingway, for instance, was turned into Educaţia revoluţionară (Revolutionary Education). The first Romanian translation for Faulkner’s The Mansion was Vila (The Villa), a little bit far from the proper (and more bourgeois sounding) Romanian equivalent, Conacul, which made its way out a few years later. The Hungarian translation for Light in August was Megszületik augusztusban, which is, in fact, Born in August. Traduttore-tradittore – these will probably become the focus of another study in the future.

Then were the interviews, taken by journalists and fellow-writers. We sometimes had the feeling of a continuous adjustment of the writers’ statements, as if the same interview was republished every other decade. When asked about the most influential books on his literary career, Faulkner mentioned James Joyce’s Ulysses. A few years later, in another interview published in a Romanian cultural magazine, Faulkner’s statement was ‘enriched’ with the remark that one should approach Ulysses with the faith of a believer. And last, but not least, in another version, we could read about the ‘faith’ one should approach The Bible. We can consider a new formula for this kind of layering readings and receptions, similar to interviews in palimpsest, which may again become the focus of another comparative study. For it is not only about what the writers said, but also what their ‘interlocutors’ were willing or allowed to convey.

We also read the memories of journalists, fellow-writers, friends, and family members. Thanks to these texts readers could read in June 1960 the article entitled “Going fishing with Hemingway” in Viaţa Românească (Romanian Life), which was the reproduction of an article published by the soviet reporter M. Morovik in Ogoniok magazine; they already knew, from a certain Alexeev, that, in February 1960, Don Ernesto was living near Havana; a fragment from “Meeting Hemingway,” by Sergo Mikoian, published in Literaturnaja gazeta, had been reproduced in Gazeta literară, the Romanian Literary Gazette, in May 1960; in July 1962, in Viaţa literară (Literary Life), “Hemingway on the Craft of Writing” was another article taken from another Soviet publication, Inostrannaia literature (International Literature); and last, but not least, Secolul 20 (The 20th Century) – a cultural magazine that contributed most to keeping the readers from Romania connected with what was really important in the realm of world literature – published, also in July 1962, an article by Ivan Kashkin, entitled “Talking with Ernest Hemingway.” Yet, by 1935, “[U]nlike American critics, Kashkin – whose work on Hemingway remains among the better assessments of his style – had analyzed all the writer’s work to date and believed that they presented a consistent philosophy,” writes Robert Trogdon (156).

In November 1961, Gazeta literară received an article from Cuba authored by Fernando Campoamor; the same Campoamor wrote “Papa, good bye!” published in Secolul 20, in July 1962; in the same issue, Guillermo Cabrera Infante expressed his opinions on “Hemingway, Cuba and the Revolution.”5 Guillermo Cabrera Infante was a famous Cuban novelist, essayist, translator and critic, arrested and imprisoned under the Batista regime, who went into exile after 1965. His 1966 novel, Tres Tristes Tigres, was labeled by Brian McHale as an extremely relevant postmodernist text with respect to technical innovations.6 “The Writer and the Sea. Visiting Ernest Hemingway” was an interview by G. Borowik published in Rund um die Welt (Around the World) number 9/1960 reproduced in Gazeta literară in September 1960; Romanian publications were quick in reproducing articles from other foreign publications of the Eastern Block (Cuba included).

Out of the twenty-five articles about Hemingway published until 1964, readers could enjoy six through Soviet pairs of reading/interpreting glasses, plus three from Cuba and one from East Germany. Anticipation fulfilled and frustration achieved, again. It was obvious then and it is obvious now, too that much information came via the Big Soviet Brother, but also from other (less powerful but still important) Communist Brothers, information that came through in fragmented or distorted ways. This reception turned into the story of the reading of the readings of Hemingway, and, to point out at Iser again, “a story gains its dynamism only through inevitable omissions” (280). One should start by omitting reading some of the twenty-five entries or by restricting the process of the text’s cognition to the articles above mentioned; readers can entrust themselves to the above-mentioned group of ‘narrators,’ who are more or less reliable. Iser offers a suitable reader-response strategy in this regard:

We look forward, we look back, we decide, we change our decisions, we form expectations, we are shocked by their non-fulfillment, we question, we muse, we accept, we reject; this is the dynamic process of recreation. (288)

But should we trust even such an exquisite professional, given the fine blending of life facts and fiction in Hemingway’s case? We are still afraid, after so many years, that this is almost impossible and that one cannot reach the form of communication that – in Iser’s opinion, who actually paraphrases Georges Poulet – is dependent on two conditions, on one hand on “the life-story of the author” that “must be shut out of the work” and, on the other, on “the individual disposition of the reader” that needs to be “shut out of the act of reading” (Iser 292). There is probably no other option than giving credit to all the persons involved in the process of promoting (one way or the other) the works of Hemingway – together with other American writers – in times of political hardship for the Eastern-European countries, be they journalists, writers or translators and take their stories for granted up to the extent that information provided is verifiable. In the period between 1964 and 1968, the number of entries related to American literature increased, sometimes in a spectacular manner, but there were also some writers mysteriously subjected to an invisible law of omertá.7 Our search could find almost no results for works on Fitzgerald, while Dos Passos only made it to five entries. Faulkner’s shares raised from twelve to thirty-eight, Steinbeck’s from eight to twenty-three publications, and Hemingway’s, of course, from twenty-five to seventy-three in the given period. It is only within this short temporal frame that the first articles written in Hungarian appeared in the cultural press published in Romania. These followed, more or less, the pattern employed in other publications. Vera Péter in Utunk (Our Path) (1966, December 9), reproduces an interview initially published in Literaturnaja Gazeta (published earlier that year in October); the title of her article is “The Writer’s Personal Life and the Public” and it refers, among other issues, to a trial lost by Hemingway’s widow, Mary Hemingway, who believed that her husband’s personal life shouldn’t be made public. Mary took A. E. Hotchner, the author of Papa Hemingway,8 to court, asserting that the book invaded the right to privacy to which she herself was entitled. An American reporter from Look conducted the interview in which, for the first time, Mary Hemingway admitted that her husband had committed suicide, a decision he had taken because of his illness. “He wouldn’t subject to it,” said the widow, “he wouldn’t die in his bed.” An emphasis is placed on the fact that up to his last day, the writer was working in order to finish the texts of Dangerous Summer and A Moveable Feast.9 He wrote a lot but he was reluctant to publish the material he had produced, and so, he kept the manuscripts, some of them unfinished, in a bank vault in Cuba.

After Hemingway’s suicide and despite the virtual state of war between Cuba and the United States after the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, President Kennedy helped arrange for Mrs. Hemingway to return to Finca Vigia, which President Castro planned to turn into a museum, to retrieve her husband’s belongings, […]. (Trogdon 356)

Béla Persán’s text in Utunk (January 1967), signals the almost simultaneous publication of the Hungarian versions of A Moveable Feast and of Across the River and into the Trees by Hemingway. In an article published in another issue of Utunk (March 1967), Gábor Gyöngyösi writes about the Hungarian translation of A Moveable Feast, published in 1966 by Európa Könyvkiadó (Europa Publishing House) in Budapest. After a short introduction that deals with the profile of the writer, the author of the article underlines the difficulties encountered by critics in properly assessing Hemingway’s works. In spite of going public very often, a kind of living ’in the open,’ which turned him into a living legend, he never explicitly wrote about himself. Although the book contains some of the confessions readers have long waited for, the writer remains very much the person, or the voice, they were accustomed to see from his other books. One can also feel the serenity of a person extremely aware of the meaning of life, his life in particular.

The last article in Hungarian that we have taken into account was published in 1971, close to the time span we are dealing with. It appeared in Előre (Forward) in order to mark (strangely enough now but quite obviously an everyday ideological element then) the 50th anniversary of the Romanian Communist Party. Interestingly, a Romanian version, or at least something almost similar in terms of its content, had already been published in 1968, in Luceafărul (The Morning Star_), a magazine that, in spite of its implied quasi-revolutionary history, has mostly been a ‘tame’ literary one. The author is Valter (or Walter) Roman. He was born in Nagyvárad/Oradea/Grosswardein (then part of Austria-Hungary) as Ernst (or Ernő) Neuländer, of Jewish parents, whose first language was Hungarian.10 He changed his name to Valter Roman due to historical circumstances. Roman obtained a degree in Electrical engineering in Brno (Czechoslovakia) and was active inside the Romanian Communist Party’s agitprop section;11 he volunteered in a Romanian artillery unit of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, and it was then that he first used the name Valter Roman. In “Spanyolország ege alatt” (Under Spanish Skies) he speaks of his first-hand war experiences when he also met Hemingway, with the mediation of another writer, Ludwig Renn.12 Roman employs the ideology of his times when he writes about the encounter with the American writer:

I knew Hemingway was not a Marxist; yet he came to Spain, on the Republican side, and not on the other. He had collected money, a lot of money, for the Republicans, which means he had made his choice. And for this we praise him even more. (translation ours)

The same ideological bias is felt when he describes their meeting. For the American writer, revolutions are romantic notions similar to “torrents of spring,” that sweep off everything in their way. Hemingway insists on the idea that he is not actually interested in politics, but in the way politics relates with artists and their work. “I am not good at politics, […] but I’m against fascism, because this kind of political regime cannot create good writers” (qtd by Roman, translation ours). The essence of these opinions are best collected – according to Roman – in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Many of the articles we have come came across so far were fairly decent attempts to promote values belonging to an ideologically ‘alien’ cultural space, which made the critics’ task rather difficult, even in Valter Roman’s case.13 While comparing articles published in Romania between 1964 and 1968 written in Hungarian and Romanian we couldn’t find striking dissimilarities between the discourses handled by the Romanian writers and their Hungarian colleagues. The results insofar are by far ready. On the one hand, our access was limited to the Utunk (Our Path) and Előre (Forward) collections; Korunk (Our Times) and Igaz Szó (True Word) were not available at the time of our preliminary research.14 On the other hand – since Hemingway was by far, in the ’60s, the most translated and debated of the American writers in his generation – we decided, for the time being, to build a little case study around the reception of his works in Romania and to opt for a vertical approach, rather than a horizontal/comparative one. We are confident that the significant amount of references, and information, still lying ahead in our open archives, will provide a more complex and colorful image of the (his)story we intended to start unfolding.

Notes

1 For those interested, there are a few significant data regarding this first independent Hungarian-language institution of higher education in Romania since 1959, established in Oradea by Pro Universitate Partium Foundation: 19 May, 1990 – The 39/1990 resolution of the Directory of the Diocese of Királyhágómellék (Piatra Craiului) establishes “Sulyok István” Reformed College and a provisional Institute Council; 1995 November – The Institute Council decides to separate from the Protestant Theological Institute of Cluj Napoca and declares the establishment of an independent institution, Partium Christian University; 2000-2003 – Further fields of study are offered: English Language and Literature, English Language and Literature—Romanian Language and Literature, Sociology, Social Work, Tourism, Fine arts (graphics).

2 Actually, Ceauşescu was the only communist leader who expressed his opposition with regard to the aggression, attracting the sympathy of Western countries and making people in Romania hope that what was then called the “glorious road to socialism” will take a different turn in the country.

3 We resorted to the collections of the Oradea University Library and of Bihor County Library, being therefore indebted to the persons in the two institutions that helped us to navigate through and sort the necessary information, and to whom we would like to express our gratitude.

4 Iser is quoting here B. Ritchie. See “The Formal Structure of the Aesthetic Object,” from Eliseo Vivas and Murray Krieger, eds. The Problems of Aesthetics. A Book of Readings. New York: Rinehart, 1953, 230.

5 Article reproduced from the Cuban publication Lunes de Revolucion, a supplement to the Communist newspaper Revolución, later prohibited by Fidel Castro.

6 “Similarly, the amount of blank space intervening between blocks of print may be extended from a more or less narrow band to entire blank pages, as in Cabrera Infante’s Tres Tristes Tigres“ (Cf. Brian McHale. Posmodernist Fiction, London and New York: Routledge, 1987, 183). Guillermo Cabrera Infante also co-wrote the script for the 1971 cult film Vanishing Point.

7 The “code of silence,” common in areas of Southern Italy, where criminal organizations like Mafia and Camorra are strong; actually, this code goes a long way back in history, being adopted in Sicily during the 16th century as a way of opposing Spanish rule.

8 Published in 1966, by Random House.

9 Péter Vera also announces the forthcoming translation of the two books already mentioned.

10 In later testimonies, he indicated that his ethnic background was not very relevant to him: “Germans said I was a Hungarian, Hungarians that I was Romanian, Romanians said that I was Jewish, but Jews said I was a communist, although I was not yet one at the time.” Cf. Valter Roman. Sfera politicii (The Political Sphere). Sfera politicii is a monthly political science magazine, published in Romania since 1992.

11 Cf. Vladimir Tismăneanu, Stalinism pentru eternitate, Polirom, Iaşi, 2005. See also by the same author Stalinism for All Seasons: A Political History of Romanian Communism, Berkeley: U of California P, 2003.

12 Ludwig Renn (April 22, 1889 – July 21, 1979) was a German writer. His real name was Arnold Friedrich Vieth von Golßenau. Born in Dresden into Saxon noble family, he fought in World War I on the Western Front and wrote the book Krieg based on his war experiences. He was also a member of the KPD, the Communist Party of Germany he joined in 1928. During the Spanish Civil War, he initially defended Madrid in the German expatriate Thälmann Battalion as a leader. Later on in the War, he was chief of staff of the XI. International Brigade.

13 He was a very controversial figure, with a spectacular biography. Valter was the father of Petre Roman, who served as the first Romanian Prime Minister after 1989. Decorated a Hero of the Socialist Labor, Roman was also employed as a University professor. By the 1970s, he started to oppose the Ceauşescu leadership and questioned Leninism, too. In 2006, Petre Roman was involved in a polemic with former Securitate chief and defector, Ion Mihai Pacepa, over the extent to which his father took part in political repression in the wake of the Hungarian Revolution.

14 We will have to either wait for their relocation in the new building of Bihor County Library or to check with other county libraries in Romania whether they do have the magazines we are interested in and go there in order to fulfil our project.

Works cited

  • Gyöngyösi, Gábor. ”Vándorünnep.” Utunk, 22., nr. 10, (1967 márc. 10), 2.l
  • Iser, Wolfgang. The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1974.
  • Persán, Béla, “A folyon át a fák közé.” Utunk, 22., 4. sz., (1967 jan.), 6. l.
  • Péter, Vera, “Az iró magánélete és a közöség. [Hemingway életének utolsó szakaszáról]”. Utunk, 21. 49 sz., (1966 dec. 9), 4.1
  • Roman, Valter, “Találkozás Ernest Hemingway-el. Spanyolország ege alatt. 50 [év].” Előre, 25., 7243. sz. (1971 febr. 21.), 6.l.
  • Trogdon, Robert W., ed. Ernest Hemingway. A Literary Reference, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2002.

Appendix

Entries on Hemingway in Bibliografia R. S. R. between 1964 and 1968

  • Fodor, Sándor. “Kihallgatáson… 2. Ernest Hemingwaynél.” (“Inquiry at Hemingway’s”). Utunk (Our Path), 22., 52 sz., (1967. december 29), 11 l.
  • Gyöngyösi, Gábor. Vándorünnep (A Moveable Feast by E. Hemingway. A Review”). (Hemingway’s work was published in Budapest by Európa Könyvkiadó in 1966.) Utunk (Our Path) 22., 10 sz., (1967. március 10.), 2.l.
  • “Hemingway ismeretlen levelei – a spanyol polgárháborúról egy volt önkénteséhez (Milton Wolfhoz)”. (“Hemingway’s Unknown Letters about the Spanish Civil War to a Former Volunteer. To Milton Wolf”). Dokumentumok (Documents); in Korunk (Our Time), 24., 12.sz., (1965. december.), 1714-1720. l.
  • Hemingway, Ernest. “Marynek Londonból.” (“Letters to Mary from London”). Trans. János Szász; in Igaz Szó (True Word), 14., 2.sz.,( 1966. február), 299-300. l.
  • Hemingway, Ernest. “Az öreg halász és a tenger.” Részlet. (“The Old Man and the Sea.” Fragment). Ifjúságmunkás (Young Workers), 12., 18 sz. (1968. április. 28.) 7.l.
  • Kántor, Lajos. “A század nagy kalandja. A. E. Hotschner emlékezései Hemingwayről.” (“The Great Adventure of the Century. A. E. Hotschner’s memories about Hemingway”). Igaz Szó (True Word), 15., 3.sz., (1967. március), 464-465 l.
  • Persán, Béla. A folyon át a fák közé. (Across the River and into the Trees by Ernest Hemingway). (Hemingway’s work was published in Novi Sad by Fórum Könyvkiadó in 1966.) Utunk (Our Path), 22., 4. sz., (1967. január), 6. l.
  • Péter, Vera. “Az \ró magánélete és a közösség. Hemingway életének utolsó szakaszáról.” (“The Public and a Writer’s Private Life: about Hemingway’s Last Years”). (First published in Literaturnaja Gazeta.) Utunk (Our Path), 21. 49 sz., (1966. december 9), 4.1
  • Pora, Eugen A. “Papa Hem [Hemingway] otthonában. Eugen A. Pora akadémikus útiélményeiböl.” (“At Hemingway’s Place. Journey memoirs of academic Eugen A. Pora). Előre (Forward), 22., 6395. sz. (1968. május 29), 4.l.
  • Roman, Valter. “Találkozás Ernest Hemingwayel. Spanyolország ege alatt. 50 [év].” (“Meeting Ernest Hemingway. Under Spanish Skies. 50 years.”) Előre (Forward), 25., 7243. sz. (1971 febr. 21.), 6.l.
  • Szemlér, Ferenc. “Olvasónaplómból. Hemingway öccsének emlékezései bátyára és más a nagy íróra vonatkozó írásokról.” (“From My reading diary. Hemingway’s brother about Hemingway and his works”). Igaz Szó (True Word), 15., 4.sz., (1967. április), 618-620 l.
  • Veress, Dániel. “Halhatatlanság és hazug legendák. Jegyzetek Hemingway-jel kapcsolatban.” (“Immortality and False Legends. Notes on Hemingway”). Igaz Szó (True Word), 15., 1.sz., (1967. január), 136-140 l.