The Terror Egg, Dignity before Life, Exile & N-exile: Manea’s Iron Defence of Irony, & how to gain entry to the past, an Anti-Pedagogy: the lessons of pride and solitude

to denounce the Big Lie that encased our lives like the thin shell of an egg … As you touched it, the membrane burst, and you suddenly found yourself alone and helpless, at the mercy of a whip wielded by authority. … The Big Lie, like a new placenta, prevented us from both dying and being born. One imprudent gesture and the filmy membrane exploded. You had to hold your breath and check yourself constantly, so that your mouth, choked with lies big and small, did not let out, involuntarily, the breath of air that could have shattered the protective cocoon. In fact, we were constantly wrapping the eggshell in other coverings, one inside another, like a nest of Russian dolls. So, what was this blessed Big Lie? … The membrane of lies had become, for many, a thick protective coating, dense, indestructible, resistant to cracking. … the penal colony of the Big Lie – the prisoners were condemned to compulsory happiness.

I did not puncture that filmy membrane. … I ignored, as well as I could, the shell under which I went about my business. …

– Norman Manea, The Hooligan’s Return, trans. Angela Jianu, pp. 196-197

… the publisher … wrote: “You were an eyewitness, and as a writer you must react.” Publicly decoding his life, writing a personal memoir? Cioran had warned about it: “A cinder bath, a good exercise in self-incineration.” It would be like peeling away one’s skin, layer after layer, in competition with the tell-all confessions of television talk shows or the self-revelations of group therapy.

“I am in favour of forced migration,” Ion Antonescu, Marshal of Romania, army commander, and leader of the Romanian state, declared in the summer of 1941. “I do not care whether we shall go down in history as barbarians. The Roman Empire committed many barbaric acts and yet it was the greatest political establishment the world has ever seen.” The noble barbarian [cf. Cioran] did not want to miss the opportunity afforded him of at last eradicating the national pest. “Our nation has not known a more favourable moment in its history. If need be, shoot,” Hitler’s ally declared.

– Ibid., p. 224

Nothing was more important than survival, Mother kept saying … The logic on which my father had built his life was now useless. … He could accept death, but not humiliation. Risking everything, he recoiled in disgust from the grim truth of his present reality. He did not become servile and hypocritical, as was demanded of the slaves; he would not surrender his dignity. His wife didn’t care about such idiocies, but he did. The black market in sentiment, not only in aspirin or bread, that prevailed in the camps, disgusted him, and so did the barbarity of victims determined to save themselves at any cost from the barbarity the oppressors. Monster-executioners breed monster-victims, he used to repeat in his soft but determined voice.

– Ibid, p. 228

“You won’t believe it, but I finally gave in and signed. There was no choice. They also gave me a code name, ‘Alin.'”

The name the policemen had chosen for him was the very pen name their new informant used for the poetry and theatre reviews he published in literary magazines. Let this be a lesson for him; both vocations, poet and informant, after all, probe the mystery in which we all hide.

– Ibid., p. 230

Would Comrade Doctor allow himself to be psychoanalysed by a patient obsessed with the comedy of double roles? Could the poet find the lyric correlative of duplicitous chaos, conducted on the surface by the masked men of power and perpetuated, underground, by the venom of resentment?

The patient’s questions quickly rebounded back to himself, as though he had borrowed the doctor’s mannerisms and was able to read the theme of the psychiatric session with closed eyes: the Initiation after the Initiation. Or should it be called adaptation? And what exactly did the survivor adapt to? A familiar question. Over a decade later, it would also be asked by an American psychiatrist. The answer was familiar, too: The patient adapted to life, as simple as that. Indeed, it is to life that all survivors adapt, whether they are survivors of black, green, or red dictatorships. They do so with that impertinence of normality which is life itself. This was how I summarised my own biography on the eve of exile, an experiment no less educational than the preceding ones.

How can one be a writer if one has no freedom was the dilemma posed by the American psychiatrist, an expert in the psychoses of freedom in the New World. The question would have sounded like a bad joke if uttered by his East European counterpart, but an exchange of expertise between the specialist in the pathology of constraint and the analyst of freedom’s traumas would not have been useless. The psychiatrists of these two very different worlds would have discovered many surprising resemblances alongside the differences.

The freedom of the New Man meant accepting necessity – this was what doctor and patient had learned from the Marxist dialecticians of a party that became less Marxist every day: necessity, hence adaptation; adaptation, hence pragmatism: hence, accepted necessity. Adaptation to life, Doctor, this was the task facing the apprentice in the banality served pedagogically by daily life. Life, that was all. In the East, in the West, in the cosmos.

– Ibid., p. 238

More time has now passed. You have learned the joys and the maladies of liberty. You have accepted the honour of exile. … “The return to the homeland is but a return to the mother’s grave” …

You were, you told yourself, in the living present, not in the ever-present past.

– Ibid., p. 247

“The place of our truth is here. We are writers, we have no other solution,” she had said. I was familiar with such banalities. I myself had once been a victim of misery’s pride, it had often fed my despair.

– Ibid., p. 259

“Maybe you should wander around America a bit,” he said. But that advice was followed, thank God, not by a list of places to visit but by another prolonged silence.

“You can’t have better lessons in solitude anywhere else.”

– Ibid., p. 309

The wall behind the bed is cold in the blackness of the night.

– Ibid., 373

“Poetry, the lie detector prone to burst into tears.” The shadows and the clowns take off their masks, their prostheses, leave aside their crutches, and line up into a neat row of phosphorescent letters: “Florin Mugur – Poet – 1932-1991.” I am alive, still alive, for yet another living moment, leaning against the gravestone of Florin Mugur …

– Ibid., p. 377