Friday, February 7, 2020

Intellectuals and Fascism in Interwar Romania

Marci Shore’s review of Cristina A. Bejan’s Intellectuals and Fascism in Interwar Romania (TLS, 1/10/20) is accompanied by a rare photo of Eugene Ionesco flanked by Emile Cioran, the philosopher and Mircea Eliade, the religious historian. In examining the world in which their unique, brilliant and passionate bonds were created, she counterpoints the romantic agony to the rise in scientism. “Disenchantment” was, of course, the term Max Weber had used to describe the triumph of rationalism. “The Enlightenment understood the human subject as the Cartesian cogito, ergo sum,” Shore remarks. “The Romantics countered with volo, ergo sum: I desire, therefore I am. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Underground man expressed this inimitably: ‘Reason, gentlemen, is incontrovertibly a good thing, but reason is no more than reason…while desires are an expression of the whole of life.’” Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano and The Lesson have been playing on the Left Bank’s Theatre de la Huchette since l957, but today you hear less about Ionesco then in the days when Rhinoceros received its legendary interpretation on Broadway by Zero Mostel. Eliade went on to teach at the University of Chicago. Both Cioran, who was the subject of a laudatory essay by Susan Sontag, “Thinking Against Oneself,” in Styles of Radical Will and Eliade would come under attack for their association with the rightwing Iron Guard. Would a dose of reason have ultimately made a difference? Apparently Bejan’s study broaches this question, but what can such speculations offer other than to rewrite history?

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