1.1 Romanian Surrealism
I am in the opening stages of a dissertation on the short-lived Romanian Surrealist group (Ghérasim Luca, Gellu Naum, Trost, Paul P?un, Virgil Teodorescu) and its fellow travelers. At this early point, I am mostly interested in how their work and ideas fit in with the broader history of both French and international Surrealism as well as with that of the Romanian avant-garde. I will likely end up devoting a lot of attention to certain key moments like the Surrealist exhibition of 1947, to which the Romanian group contributed, and the schism of 1945, which had tiny opposed parties launching hostile manifestos at each other (in Romanian on one side and in French on the other) as well as hosting rival exhibitions. Jacqueline Chénieux-Gendron wrote of the importance of exploring the international “paths of diffusion” (256) of Surrealism but only recently have the paths that cross Romania started to be retraced.
The work of the group has often been framed as a desperate attempt to save Surrealism and the avant-garde as a whole. It was just this sort of desperation that Sartre felt he detected in the activities of the Bretonian surrealists after the second World War: a struggle to maintain a place on the departing train of history. The ruthlessness of Sartre’s account, though, is as much a sign of continuity as it is of rupture – his words to a post-war generation of writers taking up the vanguard could easily have appeared as a line in one of the Romanian group’s manifestos: “If our results turn out successful, they will not be diversions, but rather obsessions. They will not give a world to see but to change” (231). One thing that draws me to this project at the moment is the discovery of nodes of a half-hidden network of exchange, kinship and influence. I was pretty excited to find out, for example, that Eli Lotar, whom I had encountered through his slaughterhouse photos for George Bataille's journal Documents, was the son of Romanian poet Tudor Arghezi. I am also drawn to the fact that relatively little work so far, particularly in English, has been done or begun on it. I am not saying that it is here there be dragons territory, but it still seems that there is a lot of potential – and a lot of potential interest to be created – on this topic. Initially, I was more interested in other Romanian literary movements and groups, Onirism for example or the Targoviste School, but I kept being led back to the Romanian Surrealists and to Surrealism in general.
I think, and I hope, that this project has many more changes and evolutions in its future and that I will continue to refine my approach and my questions, particularly as I come into more frequent and productive contact with those who have also concerned themselves with the Romanian Surrealist group. In a way, I started researching and reading for this project even before I knew what it was going to be; I am thinking of the independent study I did in my second year, for example, on the Romanian avant-garde, and some of the earliest unfocused explorations. It has definitely come a fair way since then.
Chénieux-Gendron, Jacqueline. Le Surréalisme. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1984. Print.
Lotar, Eli. Documents 1:6 (1929), 2 (1930). Ed. Georges Bataille. Paris: Jean-Michel Place, 1992. Print.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. What is Literature? Trans. Bernard Frechtman. New York: Harper & Row, 1965. Print.
Catherine Hansen is a fourth-year PhD student in the Department of Comparative Literature at Princeton University specializing in Romanian surrealism.