Argument

MIRCEA MARTIN

On the occasion of the Colloquium held two years ago at the ‘Ovidius’ University in Constanța, the theme I proposed to my colleagues from the General and Comparative Literature Association was ‘Cultural Studies’. My intention was to have a provisional status report of this discipline (or, rather, cluster of disciplines) of relatively recent date in Romania, although it has already been practiced for several decades in the occidental academe. Obviously, I had in mind that research path that originated in the late 1960s, in Birmingham, only to be taken over and enriched by the Americans during the 1980s‑1990s and then to be embraced intercontinentally by the universities against the more than favorable backdrop of globalization.

I hoped we would analyze together the epistemological project of Cultural Studies, their openly embraced political agenda, as well as their institutional and disciplinary status, their methodological guidelines and the perspectives they have provided, as well as their reverberations in the international public sphere. But, most of all, I wished we would approach from a historical and comparative perspective the possibility of applying those Cultural Studies to the Romanian space, their adequacy and efficiency when faced with the local realities, with our disciplinary traditions and intellectual mentalities.

For the sake of orientation (rather than restriction), I proposed several thematic guidelines, among which were: Cultural Studies and their relation with neo‑Marxism, on one hand, and neo‑liberalism, on the other; Cultural Studies and technoculture; Cultural Studies and postmodernism; globalization under political and cultural perspective: global, local, glocal; national, subnational, supernational; new cosmopolitism; majorities‑minorities, identity politicization, multiculturalism and/or cultural diversity?, margin, marginalization; West‑Europeanism and East‑Europeanism; to what extent is the aesthetic (still) relevant in Cultural Studies?, the question of value in Cultural Studies; are Cultural Studies always cultural?

Some of these themes were approached, others were not; obviously, certain themes were broached that I had not considered at all. But, much to my chagrin, I found missing from our debates precisely the requisite self‑reflexive attendance to modern and contemporary Romanian culture. What new implications, yet unrevealed by our literary and cultural criticism may still emerge – or may have already emerged – from the confrontation with what Cultural Studies have to offer? What new avenues open ahead for Romanian comparatism, confined as it often is to Western references (Franco‑German, Italo‑Iberian or Anglo‑American) and less willing – or able – to look at neighboring cultures with which we have shared our history for the past fifty years?

Moreover, in the absence of relevant and precise information, we could imagine this summing‑up from an East European perspective, a geo‑cultural area which, on the whole, has its own answers to the topics and challenges of Cultural Studies; such answers would be just as apposite and probably more specific than the ones given by members of the English and American Studies departments in Romania. Indeed, some of them have gone beyond the merely trendy stage of such approaches, and have put forth original syntheses and analyses. Among them are Mihaela Irimia, Bogdan Ștefănescu, Mihaela Ursa, Cătălin Ghiţă, Rareş Moldovan. They were successfully joined by researchers from various other departments, such as Stefan Borbely, Paul Cernat, Corin Braga, Caius Dobrescu, Adrian Lăcătuş, Răzvan Voncu, Angelo Mitchievici, Bogdan Creţu, to name just a few. One has to further mention and emphasize the contribution of „The Third Europe’ group from Timisoara, Cornel Ungureanu’s volumes on cultural geography and Adriana Babeți’s monographic studies on dandyism and on Amazons – the latter was a true intellectual best‑seller.

The current issue of our journal harvests just a few of the papers delivered at the colloquium in Constanța on 16‑18 June 2012, to which we have added a public conference delivered in Bucharest, under the auspices of the Cuvântul magazine, by the late professor Wolfgang Iser. But most of the texts here are new contributions especially written for our proposed theme. The subjects tackled by our authors show an irreducible diversity, one that was generated and encouraged by the theme itself. We have managed to somehow group them into a few sections by virtue of the authors’ preferred approach.

We found professor Iser’s talk to be the fittest introduction to our debate. With the rigor of one who still believes in the possibility of a Kulturwissenchaft, Wolfgang Iser reviews and analyzes the most important of the current definitions of culture and uses them as support for his own concept of culture as a ‘recursive process’.

The next two texts by Christian Moraru and Călin‑Andrei Mihăilescu, respectively, directly confront the status, aim, and effects of Cultural Studies in our age, with our former author standing by the connection between their main line of development and globalization, while the latter chooses to formulate significant reservations as to a leading idea in Cultural Studies, that ‘everything can be culture’, which in his view is an indication of a ‘juvenile notion of freedom (as freedom from subjection of responsibility)’.

Professor Jan Gorak’s analysis of Doctor Johnson’s preface and commentaries to Shakespeare’s plays stands rather alone in this collection as it is concerned with the reception of a canonical work and the extent to which a playwright’s attention to his public impacts the value of such work.

Placing her investigation in an East European context, Anca Băicoianu wields a sort of conceptual history as she explores the tradition of this field and dissociates on historical and linguistic grounds between different types of postcolonialism. Writing on the crisis of culture in the Hispanic space, Ilinca Ilian embarks on a commentary on three books: La civilización del espectaculo ( 2012) by Mario Vargas Llosa, La literatura de izquierda (2010) by Daniel Tabarovsky, and El gaucho insufrible ( 2003) by Roberto Bolaño that starts from a premise with a conclusive load: since there was no African or Asian type colonialism in Latin America, there is no place there for the postcolonial studies which aim to recapture an identity that was allegedly annihilated by the colonists – instead they are replaced by ‘an apparent consensus on the operating rules of the market for symbolic goods in a democratic regime’.

In her presentation, Lucia Terzea‑Ofrim develops the cultural implications of ethnocriticism, a relatively new discipline, though not devoid of precursors, which has resulted from a combination between a poetics of the literary text and an ‘ethnology of the symbolic’. Ioana Vultur sets out to redefine hermeneutics as the ‘lˊentente dans lˊécart’ on the basis of the case study and exemplar of Tzvetan Todorov’s work, without, however, ignoring the views of Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur which she copiously exploits.

The last three texts deal with Romanian culture. Doris Mironescu proposes a new interpretation of the activities of the ‘Junimea’ group ( 1870‑1880), with special focus on the implicit political dimension of the literary and critical writings of its members; armed with Benedict Anderson’s celebrated definition, the author analyzes the way in which the Junimea generation ‘displayed another version of nationalism than the previous [1848] generation’. Paul Cernat’s essay on the ‘young generation’ in interwar Romania proposes a new concept in Cultural Studies, that of the ‘antimodern’ (via A. Compagnon) – one that Anglo‑Saxon criticism seems to have overlooked. The author takes the antimodern attitude to be an efficient solution for ‘cultural deprovincializing’. Finally, the last contribution tries to relate the ideology of Cultural Studies to the Romanian cultural context and notices, among other things, that Romanian researchers have adopted this approach by ignoring or eliminating the anticapitalist characters that is inscribed in its genetic code.