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|Marin Sorescu (1936-1996)|
Prolific Romanian poet, playwright, novelist and essayist, an unconformist explorer of existential uncertainties and the absurdity of human condition. Marin Sorescu's ironic voice emerged in Romanian literature in the 1960s. He became one of the most widely read and translated modern poets of his country. Sorescu was also mentioned as a Nobel Prize candidate in literature.
"Ever since, tradition demands,
Marin Sorescu was born in the village of Bulzesti, Dolj, in southern Romania. His parents, Stefan and Nicolita, were farmworkers. When Sorescu was three years old, his father died. Sorescu attended secondary school in Craiova, and after the war he continued his studies in a nearby village and in a military school in Predeal.
In 1955 Sorescu entered the University of Iasi, and received his B.A. in philology in 1960. His diploma paper dealt with the poet, novelist and essayist Tudor Arghezi (1880-1880), whose rich poetic style became widely imitated. At the university Sorescu contributed to the literary magazine Viata student easca, editing it from 1960 to 1962.
After moving to Bucharest, Sorescu married Virginia Seitan. In 1963 he became the editor of the literary journal Luceafarul, where he published his first poems. Between 1966 and 1972 Sorescu served as editor-in-chief of the Animafilm Cinematographic Studios. In 1971-72 Sorescu participated in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. A bilingual edition of his verse, Ram = Frames, 25 Poems, translated by Roy MacGregor, came out in 1972.
In 1973-74 and 1990 Sorescu was a visiting writer in West
Berlin. From 1978 Sorescu edited the literary review Ramuri (Branches),
being many times in deep trouble because of Constantin Noica's
articles. Some years after Eugen Barbu's attack on Sorescu's book La lilieci (By the Lilacs), Sorescu
showed that parts of Barbu's massive tetralogy Incognito: Cine-roman
(volume two) had been
plagiarized from Konstantin Paustovsky's autobiography, entitled Life Story
(1955). The crime was
revealed at a meeting of the Leadership Council of the Writers' Union.
Barbu was a member of the Romanian Academy and devoted to
the Ceauşescus. The dictator himself prevented this plagiarist's file
from being made
public. His wife Elena was also a member of the Academy, and her PhD
thesis in chemistry was evidently ghost-written.
the fall of Ceauşescu, Sorescu
founded in 1990 a new journal, Literatorui.
Sorescu was also
director of the Scrisul Românesc Publishing House) and in 1993 he was
appointed Minister of Culture in the first post-revolutionary
government. Possibly his original motives to join Ion Iliescu's
government was to promote the cause of literature during democratization of
the country, pushed forward by European integration. Elements of the
old rule still persisted after Iliescu had won an unfair presidential
election in May 1990. Noteworthy, Scrisul Românesc cautiously withheld publishing Paul Goma's Reverse Guard. Goma, one of the few outspoken dissidents in his country, had been expelled from Romania in 1977 and was a persona non grata in manu circles. (The Exile and Return of Writers from East-Central Europe: A Compendium, edited by John Neubauer and Borbála Zsuzsanna Török, 2009, p. 360)
As a result of his long time interest in art, Sorescu had one-man exhibitions in museums. His paintings were shown first time in the Art Museum of Brasov in 1988. Marin Sorescu died of liver cancer on December 8, 1996, in Bucharest. He had suffered from cirrhosis and hepatitis. His farewell collection of verse, The Bridge, was published posthumously in 1997.
Sorescu's first book, Singur printre poeti (1964), was a collection of poetic parodies and pastiches of conventional lyrical expressions. The work was an immediate success. It was followed by Poeme. Versuri. Parodii (1965), Moartea ceasului (1966), Poeme (1967), and Tineretea lui Don Quijote (1968, Don Quijote's Tender Years). Sorescu's ironic tone developed into more serious direction in demystifying the romantic classical themes of love, death, and faith.
often drew on history, mythology, and the realms of
philosophical discourse. Monica Spirodon has argued that there is a unitary
symbolismin Sorescu's work: "Man is always, in some way or other,
"swallowed" by his world, whether he be caught in the existent, or in the already made." ('De Interpretatione: New Creative and Existential Dimensions of Hermeneutics in Post-Modernism' by Monica Spiridon, in Man within His Life-World: Contributions to Phenomenology by Scholars from East-Central Europe, edited by Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, 1989, pp. 395-415) Sorescu's existentialist themes, at the same time
universal and subjective, placed his work in the wide context of the
avant-garde. Not only in Romania, but also in other East
European countries, the anti-totalitarian tactics of the absurd united
a whole generation of writers. Censership only stimulated the author, and had "an unwillingly creative effect." (Marin Sorescu in Censorship in Romania by Lidia Vianu, 1998, p. 86)
Before the Romanian Revolution of 1989, Sorescu was associated with the
opposition, but he had no direct political interests. Due to his
popularity, Sorescu's work
was first even promoted by the regime, and then ignored – he did not
began to praise the system.
In the center of Sorescu's poems is the author himself –
he is as much an observer as an observed. In 'Perseverance he wrote: "I
shall walk beside all things / Till all things / Come to me." Mostly
Sorescu managed to avoid direct conflicts with authorities, but like
other writers he had problems in publishing his works. Some 150 pages
were cut from his large novel, Trei dinti din fata (Three Front Teeth), which
appeared in 1977. When working on it, Sorescu had to fight a writer's block. Poezii alese de cenzura (Censored Poems)
was not published until 1991.
Monica Lovinescu at Radio Free Europe repeatedly drew public attention to Sorescu and others. Sorescu was hounded in the early 1980s by the Securitate and sentenced to three months of house arrest, after the communist regime decided that the Transcendental Meditation movement was a plot to take Romania out of the Warsaw Pact. Sorescu had been a member of the research team studying the effects of TM, along with the poet and dramatist Andrei Plesu, senior Party members Marin Radoi and Petre Gheorghe, two Minister of the Interior generals, and many other well-known public figures. (Ceausescu and the Securitate: Coercion and Dissent in Romania, 1965-1989 by Dennis Deletant, p. 334)
"Poetry must be concise, almost algebraic," Sorescu once said. Sorescu used simple, straightforward language, but within the minimalist framework, his poetry refused to succumb to any simple or "correct" interpretation. Sorescu probed fundamental questions about human life which he do not pretend to know the answers. He saw that in mass society wonder has been eliminated: "Each traveller in the tram / Looks identical to the one who sat there before him / On that very seat." The Nobel writer Seamus Heaney has pointed out in his introduction to Sorescu's Hands Behind My Back (1991), that behind the author's subversive "throwaway charm and poker-faced subversiveness, ... there is a persistent solidarity with the unregarded life of the ordinary citizen, a willingness to remain at eye-level and on a speaking terms with common experience".
With Iona (1968, Jonah), written at the beginning of reign of Nicolae Ceauşescu, Paraliserul (1970, The Verger), two one-man plays, and Matca (1973, The Matrix), about creation and destruction, Sorescu established his reputation as a major modern playwright. Stylistically they belong to the Theater of the Absurd. The trilogy was published in England under the title The Thirst of the Salt Mountain (1985). Sorescu's dramas were also produced widely in the West, Jonah in France, Switzerland, Germany, and Finland. Though Jonah, first performed in 1968, and Exista nervi (1968) drew full houses in Romania, they were considered controvesial and were withdrawn. A major theme in Sorescu's plays is entrapment, both physical and mental. His characters tend to be prisoners of cyclic movement of time, from which there is no escape.
the Biblical character, Jonah is entrapped in the
belly of a big fish. He realizes that he is inside an endless row of
bellies, and in order to gain his freedom, he must cut open his
own stomach with his pocketknife. This kind of self-destructive act was
not in tune with ideynost' of Socialist Realism. The play was performed
only for a brief period. "All I know I wanted to write something about
man, a terribly lonely man," said Sorescu of the work. "I believe that
the most frightening moment in the play is when Jonah loses his echo.
He shouts 'Jo-nah' and the echo is only responding with half of his
name 'Jo-' which in another language means: I." (in Columbia
Encyclopedia of Modern Drama: Volume 2, eds. Gabrielle H. Cody and
Evert Sprinchorn, 2007, p. 741) Jonah
was staged in Romania again in 1982, and then by a group of South
American students at the Bucharest Institute of Dramatic Art.
In the 1970s Sorescu started to write historical dramas in the Brechtian Epic-dramatic style. "For the dramatist, history is like a bone to a dog," Sorescu said in the preface of Vlad Dracula, the Impaler (1978). The play drew parallels between medieval Romania and the present. Sorescu's Prince Vlad had more to do with the real historical figure than Bram Stoker's Dracula and modern vampires of the popular culture. He is a tormented figure, a prisoner of his own sagavery, facing "the horror, the horror." Having founded Romania on the impailed bodied of his countrymen he eventually plans to impale himself between his victims. Varul Shakespeare (1989-90, Cousin Shakespeare) was about a harassed playwright in the grip of a writer's block, whose work do not satisfy even his characters. A personage named Sorescu appears in the prologue of the play, stating that "We stumble blindly upon the same play which we try to rewrite and which the lines are dictated to us and uttered eternally by bygone generations."
Sorescu received several awards, including the Writers' Union Prize in 1965, 1968, and 1974, the International Poetry Festival Gold Medal, Naples (1969), the Romania Academy Prize first time in 1970 and then several other times, the Poetry Prize of the Academia delle Muze, Florence (1978), the International Fernando Riello Prize, Madrid (1983), the Herder prize, Austria (1991). Since 1983 Sorescu was a corresponding member of the Mallarmé Academy. In 1991 he was appointed member of the Romanian Academy.
For further reading: Bloodaxe Poetry Introductions 2: Hans Magnus Enzenberger, Miroslav Holub, Marin Sorescu, Tomas Tranströmer by Neil Astley (2006); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Vol. 4, ed. Steven R. Serafin (1999); 'Marin Sorescu,' in Censorship in Romania by Lidia Vianu (1998); The Wintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry, ed. J.D. McClatchy (1996); World Authors 1985-1990, ed. Vineta Colby (1995); Contemporary World Writers, ed. Tracy Chevalier (1993); Marin Sorescu între parodic și solitudine necesară by Maria Ionică (2003; Marin Sorescu--starea poetică a limbii române: stil şi expresivitate în poezia lui Marin Sorescu by Ada Stuparu (2006); Bloodaxe Poetry Introductions 2: Enzenberger, Holub, Sorescu, Transtromer by Neil Astley (2006)