Mircea Nedelciu : A Brief Introduction

Mircea Nedelciu | November 01, 2008
Critic: Sanda Cordoş
Translated by: Alistair Ian Blyth

 

Mircea Nedelciu died shortly before the age of forty-nine. He lived under a totalitarian regime for thirty-nine years, and he confronted illness and death for the last ten years of his life. Born on 12 November 1950, in Fundulea where his parents worked the land, Nedelciu attended the village high school and graduated in Romanian and French from the University of Bucharest. 

 

Nedelciu’s family tried to put off entering the collective farm. Expelled from university for one year, his older sister suffered the consequences. Nedelciu completed his own education in the earnestly professional and relatively free environment of late ‘60’s Bucharest. The atmosphere was open enough to give a sense of normality at the time. Back then, one could still read the foreign press, contemporary western literature, criticism and theory, and Nedelciu debated openly with people his age. Many discussions took place within the framework of the Junimea cenacle, a workshop-like structure, organised by Ovid S. Crohmălniceanu, a critic well-known in Romania. I believe Nedelciu’s freedom of spirit was rooted in peasant culture and the literary life of the city, and he preserved it after graduation in 1973.

 

Only now, he began to share the experience of marginality with many writers his age. Unlike their predecessors who worked as free-lancers, or in publishing or the press, writers who began to appear in the 80’s couldn’t make literature pay the bills. After turning down a typical post-university assignment as a schoolteacher in the Danube Delta, Nedelciu cobbled an income together, one way or another. He worked mainly as an official tourist guide. The regime looked down on the “parasitic life,” with the result that, charged with foreign currency trafficking, Nedelciu found himself under arrest for a number of weeks in 1977. He was hired for the first time with an official labour card in 1982 as a librarian at Cartea Românească, a publishing house that would become legendary as a meeting place for young writers from Bucharest and out of town--political rather than literary marginals. During his Cartea Românească period, the regime harassed Nedelciu for his political sins: not being a party member and having a brother-in-law who lived in the United States.

 

“I, a certain Mircea Nedelciu...”

 

Mircea Nedelciu’s first book was called Adventures in an Interior Courtyard (Cartea Românească, 1979). It contained short stores. During the next ten years, Nedelciu published almost all the books that appeared in his lifetime, including The Controlled Echo Effect (short fiction, Cartea Românească, 1981), Amendment to the Proprietary Instinct (short fiction, Editura Eminescu, 1983), The Raspberry of the Field (a novel, Editura Militară, 1984), Confambulatory Treatment (a novel, Editura Cartea Românească, 1986), And Yesterday will be Another Day (short fiction, Editura Cartea Românească, 1989).  Written in collaboration with Adriana Babeţi and Mircea Mihăieş in the same period, The Woman in Red (a novel) was published in the ‘90’s (Editura Cartea Românească, 1990), as was The Tale of the Tales of the ’80s Generation (erotic prose, published by Editura Nemira in 1998).

 

 

Bitter paradox dogged the following period. Hodgkin’s disease began to erode Nedelciu’s life as early as 1988. He underwent highly difficult surgery in France and spent the last years of his life immobilised in a wheelchair. At he same time, however, he built and ran an association of Romanian-French publishing distributors. He was involved in the professional life of the Writers’ Guild, and he worked on a novel with a transparently autobiographical dimension, Zodia scafandrului / Sign of the Deep-sea Diver (posthumously published by Editura Compania in 2000)–all with interruptions dictated by the rhythm of his disease and always in the fear that he would lose writing itself. Afflicted as he was, Nedelciu lived adamantly and fearlessly so that critic Alexandru Muşina described him as a hero in the ancient sense: “Generosity, the cult of friendship, a sense of honour and, above all, indifference in the face of death discreetly but clearly distinguished him from those around” (Formula AS, no. 371, 19-26 July, 1999, p. 3).  Always placing himself on the side of life in the terrible, unevenly matched, and tragic battle with death, Mircea Nedelciu lived with a kind of inner affirmation, those close to him recall. In 1996 (on his second return from France), he confessed in an interview with Viorica Rusu that: “On returning to anguish, there are two ways of relating to it: you either surrender and leave it up to others to do something—but you have surrendered—or you fight.  For various reasons, I have never had that moment of capitulation.  Not even when I saw that huge sum [Nedelciu’s treatment cost 70,000 dollars].  I immediately worked on the problem of ‘by what means, in what way?’  I set about thinking of these [ways and means], avoiding, naturally, the solution labled “it’s impossible for me to raise that sum” and, at the same time, avoiding the solution of humiliation.” (Adevărul literar și artistic, year 5, no. 303, 28 January 1996, p. 3).  In the final year of his life Nedelciu continued to believe that “despair is, nonetheless, a sin” (Formula AS, no. 346, 25 January-1 February 1999). A few days before the end he movingly confessed that he was preparing to meet God and continue the struggle against death: “I know, time now seems to have become very short. It’s no longer feasible to put down on paper everything that passes through your mind.  You have to make selections, samples. You have to know how to do the opposite of what a tailor does: to measure just once and to cut dozens of times, to discard, to suggest rather than to develop in great detail.  But these are things that can be learned. In fact, they are not even learned, but come to you of themselves, under the pressure of time which, as I was saying, gives the impression of having become very short.  What is now at its terminus has a (hideous) form and regards you ceaselessly.  You knew long ago that this figure was there, but all you did was ignore it, think of it as faraway. You tried to play your parts with your back to it, sometimes to thumb your nose at it, knowing that it didn’t regard you seriously either.  That’s no longer possible now. The confrontation is inevitable. You have to fight and not try to get out of it.  To remember that it is ugly, while life is so beautiful, to rely on the space that still separates you both, like something extremely elastic, extensible, divisible by dozens of methods, including writing, which is to say setting ideas down on paper…The match has gone into its agitated, vivid phases, in which all mistakes cost double, triple, quadruple—all the more reason not to make any.  From this point of view, the position of horizontal man can even be an advantage: you cannot fall; you can only advance or retreat (strategically, of course).  We’ll see where all these strategies lead, but I can say, I have now discovered a number of tricks. With certain opponents, there is no point in fighting without tricks.  For example, to describe in detail a healthy foot, the toes that waggle freely up and down, the mobility of a fine ankle, the play of the shins and thighs in dance - all these things place my hideous adversary in a real crisis of uncertainty.  It knows already that my legs belong to it, but I am talking about different legs. There are and will be so many!” (“Horizontal Man”, in Formula AS, no. 371, 19-26 July 1999).  At the moment when this text was published, only the words on paper could still speak of the beauty of life.  Mircea Nedelciu passed away on 12 July, four months before his forty-ninth birthday.

 

 

“Things happen in the way you understand them”

 

 

Much of Nedelciu’s short fiction centers on travel, vagrancy and wandering through everyday reality, immediately experienced. This writing investigates the kaleidoscopic state of reality.  Characters who are always on the road construct a world of figures and languages, succulently recorded and reproduced. One character, The Great Bibi, for instance, “sets out without paying any heed to weariness, sleep or mood.” There are drivers, free lancers and guides—a favourite profession because “a guide makes a decoupage” of the world around us. At his best, Nedelciu combines themes of travel with the disoriented, conflicted interiority of individuals who move to avoid the respite of analysis, who listen to exterior voices in order to not hear inner voices of their own. These characters experience greater or lesser emotional upheavals when they finally halt. In Amendment to the Proprietary Instinct, for example, the wanderer Alexandru Daldea breaks down into muffled weeping while the character Dilaré is an attempted suicide. In Adventures in an Interior Courtyard, vagrancy and transience, are tantamount to the abandoned state in which the adolescent protagonists find themselves.. They counterpoint the tragedy of their own lives with images, reveries and projections. Two of the young people are orphans, and one Sunday they listen to the third telling the story of how his brother died. Only, in this world the narrator always develops a paradisiacal image, “strange and gleaming globes which float weightlessly and which you can pick at will, weightless in your turn.” “The globes might be hours or days and you can choose to experience any of them.” It is as if everything can be rediscovered in the eerie image of four men “walking slowly with their staffs on their backs, surely in search of something, we don’t know what, but probably seeking, and why not, the tracks of birds or the tracks of a particular bird.”

 

Destitute, fragile inside, their personalities uncertain, their identities incomplete, Nedelciu’s characters know a stark distance separates generations. Children of peasants no longer “speak their parents’ language.” Lost to primal simplicity, their lives turn out “like [something from] a baroque novel” (Voyage with a View to Negation). The generation gap divides in the city as well. The statistically high number of orphans is part of this vision. Generically, the characters are offspring of the murky ’50s, about which no one from the previous generations speaks clearly: “The ones you ask pretend they know a lot…but when it comes to telling the story not one of them knows how … some say it was bad; others that it was better in a way back then. I’ve no idea how we should take all those stories of theirs” (Amendment to the Proprietary Instinct).  Of uncertain parentage—from a moral point of view--Nedelciu’s characters oscillate between victim and aggressor. Prime examples: Bebe Pîrvulescu (in Amendment...) and Marcel Rădulescu (in Tundra Chrysanthemums) are notably sons of officers from the repressive apparatus. A sign of their cloven identities: each of their mothers has had an “enemy of the regime” as the great love of her life.

 

 

It seems to me that Nedelciu’s short fiction peaks in Identity Problems (Variations in search of a theme). Two variations are fictional. One refers to real people, mainly writers from Timişoara.  Young Mureşan Vasile, aka Murivale, is a vagrant bohemian with a talent for painting.  Learning that the great and real poet Nichita Stănescu has died, Murivale decides to go to Bucharest for the wakea first and final homage. Murivale confronts all obstacles, which are by no means few since: in the first version he is a labourer who abandons his job, in the second a soldier who deserts, and in the third a penniless artist from Timşoara. Of course, the text revolves around the theme of art and the lot of the artist, doubly incarnated as consecrated poet and aspiring dilettante, but the text focuses mainly on the theme of petty humanity, which acquires a degree of fragility when confronted with death but which also, paradoxically, rises to grandeur. In and as a result of his pitiful, disordered and ridiculous movements, Murivale ends by experiencing an authentic moment of spiritual exaltation.  There is a discrepancy – with strong artistic and emotional effect – between the young man’s grief-stricken experiences and the paltry reality within which he moves.  Life is made of cunning, betrayals, affection and exasperation, marital strife and unexpected complicity, which Nedelciu constructs not in antithesis but in a complementary way so that art will acquire, even in the eyes of petty people, a radiance inexplicable to them. Predestination and fatality resound.

 

Reading Mircea Nedelciu’s short fiction, we contact a propitious moment in the genre, one of resurrection (as it has often been called), and we understand, through one of its most significant representatives (a promoter and, in many respects, an emblem), the creative type of the ’80s.

 

About this issue

This July, The Observer Translation Project leaves its usual format to present a special CRISIS ISSUE. Things are tough all over. Hard Times suddenly feels like the book of the moment. The global economic crisis impacts life as we know it, and viewed from Bucharest the effects reverberate in domains that include geo-politics and publishing in Romania and abroad, with the crisis at The Observer Translation Project as an instance of a universal phenomenon. read more...

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