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This article foregrounds the challenges to traditional forms of realism, as they developed often side by side with canonical realism in East-Central Europe. From the very beginning, East-Central European writers engaged Western models of realism but
  41 Serbian Studies Research Vol. 3, No. 1 (2012): 41-58. UDC 82.02REALIZAMОригинални научни рад Dr Marcel Cornis-Pope 1 Virginia Commonwealth University Department of EnglishUnited States of America FROM ALTERNATIVE FORMS OF REALISM TO POST󰀭REALISM: TRANSITIONAL LITERATURE IN THE EAST󰀭CENTRAL EUROPEAN REGION IN THE 19TH AND 20TH CENTURY Abstract: This article foregrounds the challenges to traditional forms of realism, as they developed often side by side with canonical realism in East-Central Europe. From the very beginning, East-Central European writers engaged Western models of realism but also of-fered counter-models that redefined realism in relation to regional and local cultural needs. This alternative paradigm would include, for example, the visually and technologically aware prose of late 19th century, the psychological realists of the 1930s, the magic realists of the mid 1960s, the women’s lyrical realism of the 1970s, the hyper-realists of the 1980s, or the postcolonial (Baltic and Balkan) writers of the last two-three decades. I am particularly in-terested in the degree to which the very definition of realism is expanded gradually to the point where its basic premises are being challenged and revised. Keywords: realism as a literary movement, documentary realism, socialist realism, re-alism with a national flavor, magic realism, hyperrealism, self-reflexive realism, anti-realism In East-Central Europe, realism developed from the beginning in ways that in-terrogated as much as consolidated its features. In the second half of the nineteenth-century, Ioan Slavici advocated in Transylvania a new “popular realism,” which was to replace the “Arcadian Romanticism” of the magazine Familia , while at the same time promoting a multicultural sensitivity that questioned the national program of Ro- manian realist movement. In Poland, as the roman à thèse  became the most popular positivist genre, it both supported and undermined the claims of realism. The Polish Positivists focused on the life of the new middle class and ordinary people, but their 1  42 |  Marcel Cornis-Pop e schematic characters and plots held no surprises, presenting ideas rather than real life. Paradoxically, the best Polish novels of the period were those that failed in their pur-suit of Positivist goals, offering—like Eliza Orzeszkowa’s  Marta  (Martha, 1873)—dra-matic histories of living people instead of ideas. In the 1880s, Positivism was replaced by a “full-grown” version of Realism that in Bolesław Prus’s Lalka (1890; The Doll  , 1996) diagnosed accurately the social and spiritual crisis of Poland while still mixing approaches (character and plot development with journalistic-essayistic comments). In Slovakia, Svetozár Hurban-Vajanský and Jozef Škultéty published in 1880 “Kritické listy” (Critical Letters; 1880), an aesthetic program that called for a form of Ideal Real- ism that would present accurate depictions of reality while also providing a moral ex-ample to the nation. The oxymoron Ideal Realism reveals a clear conflict of allegianc-es: writers wanted both to serve their nation and to depict the world as it really was. From the very beginning, East-Central European writers engaged Western mod- els of realism but also offered counter-models that redefined realism in relation to regional, national or local cultural needs. For example, the articulation of the first Ro- manian theories of the novel went hand in hand with the plea for an srcinal Roma-nian Realism. Thus Radu Ionescu, after conceding apropos of his own Don Juanii din Bucureşti  that the Ro manian novelist could not emulate the spacious genius of Balzac, entrusted Romanian writers with the task of representing individual facets of their own society. In time these partial representa tions would outline a veri table “Social Comedy” reflecting the transition of Romania from the “misery, backward-ness, and difficulties of a primitive society” to “the luxury, tastes, and the life of a civilized society” (qtd. in Cosma 77). This idea was recast later in terms of a specific national typology: the influential critic Titu Maiorescu argued in 1882 for an srci-nal novel focused on representative national char acters ( Litera tura română  23-45), whereas the naturalist writer Con stan tin Mille defended in 1887 his need to repre- sent in an unadorned way the “contradictory features of everyday people” (2). Recog- nizing that the realistic novel was a slippery and eclectic genre, other critics empha-sized the need for a cohesive structure, purged of superfluous detail. Nicolae Iorga’s “Tehnica romanului” (The Tech nique of the Novel; 1890) laid the foundation for a poetics of the Romanian realistic novel grounded in the principles of selection and “choice,” not indiscriminate reproduction.At the beginning of the twentieth-century, in a much richer sociocultural con-text, realism came under attack as part of a critical focus on traditional representa-tion. Tristan Tzara’s Primele poeme (1934) mocked both traditional poetry (pastoral and metaphysical) and the new symbolist trend. Poems like “Vacation in the Prov-inces” (22), “Come with Me to the Country” (26), “Domestic Sadness” (36) or “Elegy  From Alternative Forms of Realism to Post-Realism: Transitional Literature  | 43 in the East-Central European Region in the 19th and 20th Century  for the Coming Winter” (44) deconstruct the bucolic-rural style of poetry, replacing it with an “anti-poetic” but also hyperrealist approach focused on the urban, mar-ginal, provincial, the everyday.With nineteenth-century forms of representation being perceived as largely ex-hausted, post-World War One writers confronted the earlier modes of romantic fan-tasy and social realism with a number of new representational perspectives--psycho-logical, analytic, political and symbolic. The debate around realism reemerged with new vigor in 1932, when Georg Lukács claimed that the only appropriate method for “progressive” literature was Realism (“Tendenz”); this claim, however, had to contend with Brecht’s views on the new theatre. While Lukács defended nineteenth-centu-ry notions of grand realism embodied in a third person narrator, Brecht advocated small forms, techniques of assemblage, and the active involvement of the audience. While Lukács’s perspective was adopted, in a vulgarized form, during the heyday of Socialist Realism, Brecht inspired during the same period a revisionist form of stage realism that mixed epic with performative approaches.Some of Lukács’s ideas intersected with those of the Prague Lin guistic Circle (especially Roman Jakobson’s 1921 “O realismu v umění” [On Realism in Art]) but also with those of the Russian formalists, from Viktor Shklovsky, who polemicized openly and covertly with Lukács, to Mikhail Bakh tin’s response to Lukács’s theory, which remained unpublished at the time (see Neubauer, “Bakhtin versus Lukács 531- 46). In the process, the very concept of realism was opened to new scrutiny, against both the traditional definitions that circulated in the nineteenth century, and the new Stalinist orthodoxies. The hybridization of the novel with narrative and non-narra-tive forms (documents, memoirs, autobiography, narrative biography) also compli-cated its relation to reality. Women writers Natalia Dumitrescu, Salomėja Nėris, Er-zsi Ujvári, Hortensia Papadat-Bengescu, and others, stretched the limits of realism by inserting in it a focus on liminal (subconscious) psychological states, fractured perspectives, and quasi-documentary narrative. An even sharper questioning of the realistic paradigm can be found in Mircea Eliade’s essays and fictions. The realistic novels of his youth are set in a cosmopolitan, almost unidentifiable town, living on the same wavelength as contemporary Paris, Berlin or London. By contrast, the Bu- charest of his fantastic prose is a multilevel imaginary space. The image of an archaic, atemporal, secret Bucharest is informed by Eliade’s scholarly work: his reflections on the equation sacred-profane, his praise of the archaic man in The Myth of the Eter-nal Return , or his studies on the myth of Zamolxis and the topoi of Balkan folklore.Realism was dramatically redefined during the Stalinistic and post-Stalinistic period, taking on meanings that undermined its very essence. The political isolation  44 |  Marcel Cornis-Pop e of East-Central European culture facilitated the development of a specific cultural ideology that turned literature and art into tools in the hands of the “proletariat.” Local versions of Socialist Realism, on the model promoted by Stalin’s culture czar Andrei Zhdanov, sprouted all around East-Central Europe, redefining culture as a realm of tendentious political activity in the service of communist (Soviet) agendas. Experimental art was branded by the official cultural establishment as the symp- tom of a malady inherited from the bourgeois order. The similarities with the Nazi persecution of “degenerate art” are striking, except for the fact that Hitler’s racial re-gime was now replaced by the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” no less ruthless in us-ing the repressive apparatus to enact its vision of the “new reality.” While everyday life became increasingly more surreal, the reality produced by the form ulaic trinity of Socialist Realism (party line, popular appeal, ideological correctness) projected a desirable vision of working class heroes, with a classless society looming around the corner of the newly erected edifice of the “people’s republics.” Since the new ide-ology was most often enforced through violent means, the work of “the hangman” (as Kundera called it in an interview with Philip Roth—see Roth) was often masked concealed by the work of “the poet” who served the new ideology and the state ap-paratus that enforced it.Phrases like “socialist realism” (used for the first time in Romania in 1945 by Saşa Pană, a surrealist converted to communism), “new literature,” “new man,” “par-ty-oriented literature,” and so on, validated a number of myths dear to the proletcult period: the Apollonian myth of the leader of the masses, the myth of the equalization of all forms of work, including the intellectual, the myth of collectivism, the myth of the superiority of Soviet models in all arias, the myth of progress, and the myth of cultural activism. Not surprisingly the first “wave” of prolet cult Romanian literature in 1948, “the poetry of the building site” (Selejan, România în timpul primului război cultural 1944-1948  2: 143), ended in failure, being condemned even by the promot-ers of the new cultural field. It failed because the new poets, applying the aesthet-ics of socialist realism , imitated actual reality when in effect they were supposed to reinvent reality in the fictional space of utopia. The communist regimes reacted by enforcing a “permanent super  vision of the writers in order not to illustrate reality in its real   aspects” (Niţescu 138).As censorship relaxed at the beginning of the 1960s, a new generation of writers gradually moved away from the precepts of socialist realism, retrieving more com-plex models of representation. For example, Albania’s break with the Soviet Union in 1961 encouraged a number of younger writers (Ismail Kadare, Dritëro Agolli, Fatos Arapi) to search cautiously for “something new” in both poetry and fiction. How-  From Alternative Forms of Realism to Post-Realism: Transitional Literature  | 45 in the East-Central European Region in the 19th and 20th Century  ever, certain types of literature (prison documentaries, anti-communist memoirs) that challenged communism’s very essence continued to be censored. While Ion C. Ciobanu’s fiction, which portrayed the Stalinist deportations more obliquely, was published in Soviet Moldova, his colleague Alexei Marinat’s account of internment in the Stalinist prisons ( Eu şi lumea: proză documentară  [Me and the World: Docu-mentary Prose] 1989) could not appear before 1989. Likewise Ion D. Sârbu’s  Jurnalul unui jurnalist fără jurnal   (The Journal of a Journalist without a Journal, 1991-1993), that reflected the paradoxical fate of a traditional socialist persecuted both by the Nazis and the communists, was only published in the early 1990s, several decades after it was written.In the late fifties and early sixties, the resistance of writers against communist orthodoxy took the form of Aesopian narratives, doubly voiced literary texts that challenged indirectly the totalitarian demands for uniform imagination. There were also exceptions: one of the first Romanian poets to abandon Socialist Realism in the late 1950s was A. E. Baconsky, editor of the Transylvanian magazine Steaua  (1956-59), which gradually introduced an unconventional literary style and reconnected Romanian readers to European poetry through translations. Baconsky also wrote an anti-totalitarian parable, Biserica neagră  (Black Cathedral); this novel could only ap-pear abroad during the author’s life; in Romania it was published after his untimely death in the 1977 Bucharest earthquake.By the end of the 1960s, most of the new literature showed a strong revisionist  vocation that went beyond aesthetic matters. The poetry of Zbigniew Herbert, Ana Blandiana, Sándor Weöres, and others, dramatized the speaker’s own fragmentary existence in a style that was often ironic, reflecting the limitations of both perception and representational language. The novelists also became aware of the prohibitive boundaries set up by the communist power around ‘truth’ and of their need to chal-lenge them, first by insinuating a strong element of subjectivity and mythopoïesis in the prescriptive realism of the fifties (on the model of Mikhail Bulgakov, continued by such writers as Géza Ottlik, Marin Preda, Josef Skvorecky, Ştefan B ănulescu, and Ismail Kadare); then by sharpening their political focus in the anti-Stalinistic fiction of the fol low ing two decades (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, but also Bohumil Hrabal, Miklós Mészöly, Milan Kundera, György Konrád, Jurek Becker, Augustin Buzura); finally, by questioning the very foundation of communist reality in bolder experi-mental fiction, exposing Eastern Europe’s paternalistic immobility (Aleksandr Zino- viev, Christa Wolf, Danilo Kiš, Peter Nádas, Gabriela Adameşteanu, Péter Esterházy, Mircea Nedelciu). Much of this literature reflected a disillusionment with the social-ist utopia, a conflict of generations, and a thwarted hope for change. Ludvík Vaculík’s
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