Against the direction in Romanian culture today, translated and annotated

May 28, 2023 by Lucian Mogosanu

Published1 in Literary Talks2, No. 19. -- Year II. Iassi3, the 1st of December 1868

The Literary Talks have published an array of critical research on the more marked works characterizing recent Romanian culture, on salon poetry and popular poetry, on the ethymologism of Mr. Cipariu4 and the Lepturarium of Mr. Pumnul5, on the public right of Romanians under the Barnuțiu school6 and on the Romanian language in Austrian journals.

This critique hasn't remained unanswered; however, all the rebuttals, after the custom introduced at ourhome7, were full of personalities; so that, out of respect for publicity, they had to be passed under silence. Because what does this kind of discussion have to do with the writer's person8!

An exception may be made just in the particular case of the last answer of Transylvania, because some its observations open the door to characterizing the entire Romanian culture today and as a consequence they deserve being brought to light. Otherwise, Transylvania is the public organ of the Association for the Literature and Culture of the Romanian People9, written by the most widely known men of ours10, by Mr. Bariț11, and since it thusly represents the elite of intellectual development from Ardeal, it has the right to ask for a reply.

Transylvania12, in answer to our articles on Romanian language in Austrian journals, reprinted in this volume, begins by reproducing the anticritique of the Family from Pest13, which believes that the linguistic errors we have signalled are mere "trifles". Transylvania itself admits that Austrian journals write in a bad Romanian, yet at the same time it wonders how come the ones from Iași write just as badly and they quote as example some passages from the Week14 that were filled with errors. In its other observations it seems to adhere to the Family's opinion on the "trifles" that we critiqued and it says:

Among the great number of Romanian proverbs, there's also one that says: the village is burning while the old lady's combing her hair15. Now, look, now16 at the year 1868 and have Mr. T. Maiorescu find the time to ask publicists to exhibit smooth style, grammar and orthography from here on.

Who is it that gives us this welcome? We'd understand were they to come from the Bee, the Federation, the Telegraph, since these are especially political papers which, in supporting the important constitutional interests which they were meant for, may at the very least excuse themselves if they lacked sufficient concern for the language they are using. But seeing this from the two literary papers, Transylvania and the Family, this is not something we can accept.

It is, on the contrary, peculiar to the state of our intellectual culture for the official organ of the Transylvanian association for Romanian literature and the culture of Romanian people -- it has -- how shall we name it using a more diplomatic term? -- to muster the inspiration to state that it is an "old lady's combing" if in the year 1868 we ask of it grammar, style and ortography!

We do not know what the members of this association thought upon reading such a response coming from their representative. We however asked ourselves: if a literary paper is not capable of writing using proper grammar, if it declares itself incapable of maintaining ortography and good style, then whence did it get the courage to present itself on the arena of publicity17? And what use does it imagine it will have the power to produce through its literary work18?

The necessary response to these necessary questions throws such a sad a light over the organ of the Transylvan association, not to even mention the Family, such that we feel provoked in looking ourselves for the attenuating circumstances that would explain its behaviour in a less unfavourable way, and that would absolve it of a part of the responsibility that it gained.

These attenuating circumstances exist, and our duty now is to bring them before the readers.

The Transylvania paper as well as many other literary and political Romanian papers are so poorly written, so spoiled through their form and content, because they live in a rotten atmosphere and they draw from the ideas and feelings that characterize the large majority of Romanian "intelligentsia and activists19". Their radical vice and, as a consequence, in the entire direction of our culture today, is the untruth20, to avoid the use of a more coloured word, untruth in aspirations, untruth in politics, untruth in poetry, untruth all the way up to grammar, untruth in all the forms of manifestation of public spirit.

Steeped until the beginning of the XIXth century in oriental savagery, Romanian society, at about 1820, started to awaken from its lethargy, stricken only then by the contagious movement through which the ideas of the French Revolution ran all the way to the geographical extremities of Europe21. Attracted to the light, our youth22 underwent that extraordinary emigration towards the fountains of science from France and Germany, which up to this day has gone continuously rising and which gave especially free Romania a part of the polish of foreign societies. Unfortunately, only the polish outside! Since as unprepared as our youth were and are, amazed by the great phenomena of modern culture, they let themselves be moved only by the effects, but they did not peer into the causes, they saw only the higher forms of civilization, but they did not catch sight of the deeper historical fundament, which necessarily produced those forms and which couldn't exist without that preexistence. And thus, bounded in a fatal superficiality, with their minds and their hearts caught by a fire that was too light, Romanian youth came and are coming back into their country with the decisiveness of imitating and of reproducing the appearances of Western culture, with the confidence that in the most hasty manner they will immediately realize the literature, science, the fine arts and first of all the liberty of a modern state. So often have these juvenile illusions been repeated that they have now produced a real intellectual atmosphere within Romanian society, a powerful direction, which grabs with equal firmness the young and the old, those who go to learn and those who have come back to apply their teaching. Unlike the ancient poet who, in admiring the enormous hardship conquered by the Roman state up to its constitution, exclaims the famous phrase tantae molis erat romanam condere gentem23, the descendants of these Romans believe their task of placing the Romanian blood24 on the basis of civilization to be easy, and many of them even believe that today that placement is almost over. We have a lot of everything -- they think -- and when you ask them of literature, they will quote the number of pieces of paper blackened each year with Romanian letters and the number of printing houses in Bucharest, and when you talk to them about science, they show you the more or less academic25 societies and the programmes of speeches held on the hardest problems of human intelligence; if you draw an interest in fine arts, they take you to museums, pinacotheques and glyptotheques, they show you exhibitions of living artists and they boast the number of canvases hung on the walls; and if, finally, you have doubts about liberty, they put before you a piece of paper containing the Romanian constitutions and they read the speeches and the circulars of the last minister who happened to be in power.

Faced with this direction of the Romanian public, we cannot believe that the true mover urging it towards Western culture could have been an intelligent appreciation of this culture. Its own mover could have only been the vanity of the descendants of Trajan26, the vanity of showing foreign people at any price, even at the disprice27 of untruth, that we are equal in the level of civilization.

Only thusly can be explained the vice rubbing off on our public life, that is the lack of any solid foundation for the foreign forms that we keep receiving.

And in this regard the peril doesn't lie as much in the lack of a foundation itself, as it does in the lack of any perceived need for this foundation among the public, it lies in the sufficiency with which our people believe and are believed that they did something when they produced or translated only an empty form of foreigners. This total misguidance of judgment is the most marked phenomenon in our intellectual situation, such grave a phenomen that we deem it that the duty of each honest intelligentsia is to study it, to follow it from its first sight in Romanian culture and to denounce it everywhere towards the younger spirits, so that they understand and accept the task of combating and destroying it without mercy, if they themselves don't wish to be destroyed under its weight28.

In 1812, Petru Maior -- not even mentioning the compilation of quotes made by Șincai29 without any critique -- writes his history on the beginning of Romanians in Dacia. In his tendency to prove that we are uncorrupted descendants of the Romans, Maior claims in the fourth paragraph that Dacians were entirely exterminated by Romans, so that no mixing occurred between the two peoples. In order to prove such a weird hypothesis, our historian draws upon a doubtful passage from Eutropius and a passage from Julian, which he interprets in a manner that is unacceptable to the healthy mind; and thus begins the historical demonstration of our romanity, with a falsification of history.

In 1825 the Lexicon from Buda, "Romanian-Latin-Hungarian-German", is published30, attempting to establish through word derivations that our language is the purest Roman and that it is scarcely mixed with Slavonic words:

Our verb "găsesc" is derived from the Latin "consecuor"31, the noun "boier" from "voglia" i.e. "voluntas"32, the noun "ceas" from "caedo", "caesum", "caesura", "quia dies in 24 partes quasi caesuras est devisa33."

With this practice begins our knowledge on the Latinity of Romanian words, and the first step is made through a falsification of etymology.

In 1840, Tentamen criticum in linguam romanicam is published34. Written in Latin, this book has the purpose of showing foreigners what a clean sort of language Romanian people speak, but it manages to showcase a language that was not and never will be spoken among Romanians. Therein we encounter grammatical forms and phrases such as the following:

Aburiu și abureru auditu, abebiu, abebimu, abeboru făcutu, abiu, voliu fire cantatu; do invetiasses aleque, nu abi fire asi superstitiosu, que a fedu, do se et asconde, do me et laudi cu gula ta etc.; quomu ari, asi secili, etc. etc.35

And thus, Romanian grammar begins with a falsification of philology.

We repeat: what surprises and saddens us in these products is not their error itself, as it may be explained and sometimes be justified through the circumstances of times; but it is the error in today's judgment on them, it is the bragging and the sufficiency with which they deprive themselves of the Romanian intelligentsia as true facts of valid science36, it is the blindness that prevents one from seeing that building the Romanian nationality cannot sit on a foundation whose core is established on untruth.

If foreigners know today and recognize that we are of Latin descent, the merit is not ours, but it belongs to the philologists Dietz, Raynouard, Fuchs, Miclosich, Max Müller and others37 who, not through pretentious illusions, but through the solid laws of sciences have proven the essential Latinity of Romanian. While books such as the critical Tentamen and the Lexicon from Buda could have only hindered truth, by begeting distrust against a thesis that needed such wrong arguments in order to be sustained.

As the false direction worked its way through the three works at the beginning of our modern culture, the Romanian intelligentsia easily moved forward on the open way and, with the same untruth within and the same pretenses without, they imitated and falsified all forms of modern civilization. Before owning political parties to feel the need for an organ, and a science-loving public that required reading, we founded political journals and literary magazines and we falsified and belittled journalism. Before we had rural teachers, we made schools throughout villages38, and before we had capable teachers, we opened gymnasiums and universities and we falsified public instruction. Before owning a culture grown beyond the boundaries of schools, we made Romanian athenaeums39 and cultural associations and we belittled the spirit of literary societies. Before we had even a shadow of original scientific activity, we made the Romanian Academic Society40, with the philology section, the historical-archaeological section and the natural sciences section, and we falsified the idea of academia. Before bringing forth the necessary artists, we made the musical conservatorium; before we had a single painter of value, we made the school of bele-arte41; before we had a single praiseworthy dramatic piece, we founded the national theatre -- and we depreciated and falsified all these forms of culture.

In appearance, based on the statistics of foreign forms, Romanians own today almost the entire Western civilization. We have politics and science, we have journals and academies, we have schools and literature, we have museums, conservatoriums, we have theatres, we even have a constitution. But in reality all these are dead outputs, pretenses without fundament, ghosts without a body, illusions without truth, and thus the culture of higher Romanian classes is void and without value, and the abyss that divides us from the lower people becomes deeper day by day42. Our only real class is the Romanian peasant and his reality is suffering, under which he cries of the phantasmagorias of superior classes. Because from his daily sweat arise the material means supporting the fictional edifice that we name Romanian culture, and with his contribution we force him to pay for our painters and musicians, our academicians and athenians from Bucharest, the literary and scientific prizes everywhere, while we do not out of gratitude produce a single work to raise his heart and make him forget his daily miseries for a moment.

Carrying on in this vein is impossible. The cries of the lower people and the ridiculousness of the higher plebs have reached a new high43. On the other hand, through easier communication Western culture itself comes towards us, since we did not know how to walk before it. Under its conquering light the whole artifice and caricature of our "civilization" will become apparent, and the empty forms with which we've puffed ourselves up so far will take revenge by greedily drawing the solid substance from the foreign core44.

Is there any time left to escape this situation? Is it possible for a lively reaction to arise in the heads of Romanian youths and, along with a contempt towards the untruth thus far, to awaken the will of placing the true foundations where today only delusional pretenses may be found? Maybe fate will give us time for this regeneration of the public spirit and, before letting deadly indifference slip inside its heart, it is still the duty of each intelligentsia that sees the danger to fight against it until the last moment.

One of the first mistakes, that our youths need to be spared of today, is the gentle encouragement of mediocrity. The worst poetry, the prose most lacking in ideas, the most boastful discourse -- all of these are welcome with praise, or at the very least with indulgence, as if "they're still something" and it's going to get better45. That's what we've been saying for the last 30 years and that's how we've been encouraging people who were uncalled for and unselect46! Mr. X is proclaimed a great poet, Mr. Y -- eminent journalist, Mr. Z -- European man of state47, and the result is that since then we've only been going worse, that poetry has disappeared from society, that journalism has lost any influence; as for Romanian politics, fortunate are the literary articles which are permitted not to be concerned with it!

From this we should learn the great truth that mediocrities need to be discouraged from the public life of a people, and that as the people is more lacking in culture, the more they need to be discouraged, since then they are the more dangerous. That which is valuable shows its merit in its first appearance and does not require indulgence, as it isn't good just for us and just for the time being, but for all and forever.

The second truth, and the most important that we need to internalize, is this: substanceless form48 not only does not bring any use, but in fact it actually spoils, because it annihilates a powerful means of culture. Thus we will say: it is better not to make a school at all than to make a bad school; it is better not to make a pinacotheque at all than to deprive it of fine art; better not to make the statues, the organization, the honorary and unhonored members of an association than making them without its proper spirit of association being manifested with certainty in the persons making it up; better not to make any academies whatsoever, with their sections, their solemn meetings, their reception speeches49, their annals for works, than make all these without the scientific maturity that alone gives them their raison d'etre.

Because if we do otherwise, then we will produce a long string of forms which will be forced to exist for a longer or shorter time without their own substance. However, in the time during which an academy is condemned to exist without science, an association without a spirit of society, a pinacotheque without art and a school without good instruction, during this time the forms discredit themselves entirely in the face of public opinion and they delay the substance which, in not being bound to them, could be produced in the future and which would then hesitate to cover itself with their slighted clothes.

Moving on from these general reflections and back to the point where we started, we see how easily we can explain now the behaviour of the Transylvania paper and that of its colleagues. Transylvania is overrun by the daze of empty forms characterizing the so-called Romanian culture today. It believes that it moves literature forawrd when it multiplies the number of periodic papers in Romanian literature; that the reports on the Transylvanian association, that it publishes and which exhibit a complete lack of intelligent activity, bring any use, since they are protocols underwritten by a president and a vicepresident and a secretary; that the gymnasium-level rigmaroles of Mr. T. on political economics and the trumpetings of Mr. P. on Romanian literature with its "prestige" and on the necessity of a pantheon containing Romanian scholars "who sweat on the high summits of philosophy" make for commendable acts of science, only because they were spoken as solemn discourses in an annual gathering of the association for the culture of the Romanian people. It wonders how we, in the year 1868, have the nerve to request substance for these forms, a good language, ortography, grammar for a literary paper and it declares that it doesn't have the time to concern itself with such "trifles".

As we have said, we understand and we can explain this behaviour; but all the same we understand the duty necessary for the Romanian youth to condemn it and to leave behind once and for all the direction of these "activists" of the nation.

Because without culture, a people may yet live with the hope that during the natural course of its development, this beneficial form of human life will show itself; however, with a false culture a people cannot live, and if it insists upon it, then it will end up providing an example for the much older law of history: that in the fight between true civilization and a resilient nation, the nation may be destroyed, but never truth50.

  1. By one Titu Maiorescu (1840-1917), a Romanian scholar, man of culture and politician who lived in the nineteenth century, while the so-called Romanian culture was still budding. He was a few decades younger than Ghica and at the same time a decade older than Eminescu.

    What's a "man of culture", you may ask? Well, the man of culture is a man who knows a great deal more than you do on a great variety of topics. Hopefully you noticed that he was twenty-eight when he wrote this piece, a piece which still ripples through time; what was the best thing you wrote before thirty? 

  2. Convorbiri literare, a journal which at that time stood as a platform for Romanian literary works. It's where the Big Four (Caragiale, Creangă, Eminescu and Slavici) published their texts, which necessarily says something about the man's authority in these matters.

    How many folks have you seen in your life so far, who were able to gather that many competent people around them? Take any field of your choosing and surprise me. 

  3. Not Bucharest, mmkay? Neither Hermann's stadt. Maybe Cluj was culturally above Iași -- but remember, that one was under fresh Austro-Hungarian rule at the time. 

  4. Timotei Cipariu, a Transylvanian scholar of the nineteenth century. You probably haven't heard about him. 

  5. Aron Pumnul, Eminescu's teacher. His Lepturarium is a scholastic book, probably some of the first Romanian teaching materials written outside of ecclesiastic circles.

    While Transylvania was pushing written Romanian through its Orthodox Church, Northern Moldavia, however more Christian Orthodox, managed to publish this Lepturarium all the way at Vienna. As proof, for once in a decade the internets do deliver (archived)!

    All that time spent by Cernăuți under Austrian rule must have shown in some way. In what could be merely coincidence, Pumnul was actually born not that far away from Brașov; however, he lived most of his life in Bucovina, where that pesky cuckoo sings.

    That last sentence above actually rhymes when spoken in a certain kind of Romanian.

    Anyhow, Cipariu and Pumnul were at odds regarding this Lepturarium. One can only hope that the cultural battles of the 1860s were not as fake as those of the 2020s. 

  6. Simion Bărnuțiu, born in 1808 in a village in Sălaj (northwestern Romania), died in 1864 also in Sălaj. He was probably more of a politician than history gives him credit for, what with his Discourse from Blaj. Still, he's better known as a scholar, and probably rightfully so, especially given his Greek Catholic orientation towards the spiritual.

    We haven't discussed the Church United with Rome here on The Tar Pit, have we? Well, we're at the sixth footnote in just the first paragraph, so... maybe some other day. 

  7. This one is so fucking hard to translate. They even have a word for this: "meteahnă", meaning literally "bad habit". On the other hand, "habit" is also quite close to "custom", but the latter was intentionally introduced, it wasn't merely gained like the former.

    As for "la noi", it actually means "around these places", but the "us" also denotes familiarity, in the provincial vein of Coana Leana being on the same page as Coana Eufrosina at social gatherings -- precisely like "ourdemocracy". Thusly was born "ourhome". 

  8. I'm not even sure how "these discussions" could be waged outside of that context. But perhaps I'm the one missing some context. 

  9. Its full name is the Transylvan Association for Romanian Literature and Culture of the Romanian People -- in short, ASTRA, for kids who like acronyms. Is, as in it still exists; it went without too much trouble through communism, although one can only wonder if through communism and by today there's any substance left there.

    It was established by Șaguna and it housed the aforementioned Cipariu and Barițiu as well as other big names such as Vasile Goldiș. They were big enough to establish a museum complex outside Sibiu, which survived by gathering the theme of "village museum", so as to present the socialist urbanite with an idealized version of how life in the village used to look before.

    They were indeed born out of the same "ideals of the Enlightenment" that spawned the French Revolution, so I suppose they just gotta keep with the times. All is old and all is new... 

  10. Ourmen? 

  11. What he means is: "he's actually one of the cool guys, so we actually mean to gain some publicity by mentioning his name". 

  12. Transylvania paper from August 1, 1868. 

  13. Romanian publication out of Hungary. I heard it still exists today, but I haven't looked, to be honest. 

  14. Never heard of them. 

  15. In original: "satul arde, baba se piaptănă". I know it as "țara arde și baba se piaptănă", roughly translated in English as fiddling while Rome burns. However, I'm pretty sure that's not what the authors of Transylvania meant, given that they thought themselves from Rome, otherwise very much not Romans.

    That's pretty much the definition of a "Romanian". 

  16. Not sure why they insisted on repeating the "now". 

  17. "Publicity", back then, meant "public discourse". The signal to noise ratio might have been a tad bigger, that is, the number of idiots with a voice was smaller, and thus listening to (reading, that is) "the news" actually yielded some overall non-negative value. 

  18. That's only fair, don't you think? The man was asking for minimum standards, nothing more. I repeat myself, but that's precisely why they're called "minimum standards": so you don't fucking half-ass them. Half-assing doesn't lower the bar "intelligently", it lowers it exponentially! Or don't you know what half-assing means? 

  19. The word "anteluptător" didn't make it into the dictionary, but I suppose it denotes the activist/social justice warrior of the early nationalist days. Early for Eastern Europe, at least. "Ante-" means "in front of", while "luptător" is literally "warrior", so... a warrior in the first line?

    Perhaps the word makes perfect sense in context, much like "pantsuit" denotes a very specific type of individual nowadays. The context's gone however, so maybe I'll get to review this after I brush up on my nineteenth-century publications. 

  20. I'm well aware that this word doesn't exist in English, but "falsity" doesn't cut it here. Sorry, but falsity is something, while untruth is the lack of something; so the two words don't mean quite the same thing.

    Romanian has both "untruth" and "falsity", y'know. 

  21. It "started to awaken" in a very violent way, I might add, which indeed mirrors that of the French Revolution.

    One wouldn't be too far off from the truth if one said that Europe underwent a sort of jihad. 

  22. Junimea (capital J), loosely translated as "The Youth" but otherwise a very uncommon word in Romanian, was a sort of literary society founded in 1864 by Titu Maiorescu. Incidentally, it was the same society which published the Literary Talks.

    I'm guessing at this point he wants to make a not-so-subtle double-entendre referring to the youth as "junime".

    By the way, you know what else is "attracted to the light"? Fucking moths. If by this whole thing he means that "the Enlightenment contained the very seeds of its own destruction", then I agree with him. 

  23. Ok, let's do this.

    "Tantae" is feminine nominative plural of "tantus", meaning "that much"; "molis" is plural accusative of "moles", meaning "endeavour" or "labour"; "erat" is third-person imperfect of "sum" ("to be"); "romanam" is Roman, of course; "condere" is "put together"; "gentem" is "people". The holes in the analysis are left as an exercise to the reader. Because I can.

    The quote is taken from Virgil's Aeneid, by the way. 

  24. In original, "ginte", i.e. "tribe", if you will. Romanians also have "sor-ginte", meaning "origin".

    Anyway, it's a direct callback to the previously-mentioned "gentem". 

  25. Academic

  26. Almost a decade ago I wrote an article discussing Romanian mentality and its supposed endeavour to change. Meanwhile nothing has changed and in this context of Maiorescu's critique we can also say exactly why: the span of a decade -- even the span of four decades is too short to yield any observable change in a phenomenon that's been occuring for centuries.

    The Romanian of the twenty-first century is not in any fundamental way different from the one of, say, the sixteenth century. They're both making the same mistakes and paying the same price for it, which explains why Romania today isn't fundamentally different from the collective "Romanian principates" from the previous five centuries; they've meanwhile united, sure, but to what end?

    So when I say that Cluj would be better managed out of Budapest than Bucharest, don't take this as any sort of anti-nationalist sentiment from my side. I'd definitely like to see Bucharest doing a better job, only it's plainly visible that it doesn't and I don't see how it could given the current crop elected by ourdemocracy. It's sad, I know, but it also is what it is. 

  27. Technically speaking, "dispreț" is "contempt", but... on one hand, I'm keeping in line with my choice of "untruth" above, while on the other I'm preserving the contrast between "preț" and "dispreț" as formulated by the author.

    Romanian is untranslatable, so from my perspective it only makes sense to adjust English to it rather than go the other way around. You might not agree with my stylistic choices, but at least I hope you can see them as what they are. 

  28. On one hand, he keeps mentioning this so-called "intelligentsia", as if intelligence itself were enough to stop this phenomenon; while on the other, the last sentence in particular sounds like agitprop which... didn't and doesn't work, because it simply cannot. Sure, Maiorescu was an authority at the time, so his call must have had some weight, but even this didn't brought about the fabled destruction of the thing in question.

    The problem is complicated and bears many aspects. Maybe one of these aspects is that... the Enlightenment contained the very seeds of its own destruction? Or, looking at it from another perspective: democracy was merely a stepping stone from a more or less regional feudalism to a global one. It was merely an episodic appearance, just like Seinfeld's neighbour Newman; it certainly wasn't an affair meant to last and from this political issue arose all the other ones observed by the author, including the idiotic, barbaric march towards wreckage.

    Maybe Romanian literature couldn't have done without Maiorescu, Caragiale and the others; it could have certainly done without modernism, however. 

  29. Gheorghe Șincai, another Greek Catholic and one of the older folks of the so-called Ardelean School, along with Petru Maior and Samuil Micu-Klein. 

  30. Tipărituri vechi strikes again (archived). 

  31. Official cacademical etymology today lies in the Slavonic "gasiti", which means "to exinguish", "to turn off". On the other hand "consequor" means "to follow", the root for the English "consecutive" and Romanian "consecutiv". Today's "găsi" translates directly to "find".

    At this point perhaps the reader can decide for himself which derivation lies closer to the original meaning? 

  32. "Boier", that is, "boyar", there's plenty of those in series on Caragea.

    Cognate with the Albanian "bujar" -- Albanian has a sufficiently large number of words in common with Romanian that it places a certain burden on linguists -- and the Serbian "boljar", possibly from the same origin as "bulgar". This one is pretty clear, since the "voglia"/"voluntas" mentioned here stands for "will", which hasn't anything in common with anything discussed here. 

  33. "Ceas", a clock, that is. It very obviously comes from the Slavonic "čas", denoting time.

    "Caesura" stands for "cutting", "pause", while "caedo" (the root) stands for "cut"; the example translates roughly to "because the day is divided into 24 parts as if cuttings". There's little chance of an intersection between these in Proto-Indo-European, so... no idea where this comes from.

    I guess the author presses the point that these derivations are superficial since there's very little effort done to properly explain them. But I haven't read the Lexicon, so I can at most guess. 

  34. In full, "Tentamen criticum in originem, derivationem et formam linguae Romanae in utraque Dacia vigentis vulgo Valachicae", or "A critical attempt on the origins, derivations and morphology of Romance languages in Dacia, where the Wallachian people have flourished". I'm far from a connoisseur of Latin, but Google translates this as "A critical essay on the origin, derivation, and form of the Roman language in both Dacia and Wallachia", which makes very little sense to me.

    Anyway, the work was authored by one August Treboniu Laurian, yet another member of the Ardelean School. He is well known for making a fool of himself by publishing various Latinist works which had nothing in common with actual Romanian as it was spoken in the nineteenth century. As for his good deeds, his bust still sits (I think?) in Bucharest at the intersection of streets Udriște and Matei Basarab, as some of the land there was owned by him and his descendants before the latter sold it to the local high school. Matei Basarab, where Busuioc used to live back when I was around. 

  35. A few of the words in this quote are Romanian, while most of them make absolutely no sense. I had thought maybe something got lost in OCR, but I checked a dead tree version and it contains the same quote with a few minor differences from the online edition. From this I conclude that Laurian did indeed write like this, I have no idea what sort of imagination would push someone to fill the paper thusly.

    To review at a later date. 

  36. Oh, he had no idea how laughable these "true facts of valid science" would sound almost two centuries later! 

  37. See for example Diez, Introduction to the Grammar of the Romance Languages; or Raynouard, An essay on the origin and formation of the romance languages. Or others, if you're lucky enough to find them in a library. 

  38. Just like today, am I right? 

  39. Athenaeum, a temple of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and the arts. He uses the perfect metaphor here: the building, entirely deprived of its content. He tries to repeatedly make the point that such things are grown from the inside out, i.e. from cause ("we're a bunch of cultured folks who need an athenaeum"), not towards purpose ("we're building an athenaeum to host hypothetical cultured folks").

    Looking back at it from the twenty-first century, maybe building Romanian culture by understanding the substance of Western civilization was too tall an order for a country or a bunch of countries that acted consistently as the provinces of some or another empire. Just like it is today. 

  40. He means the Romanian Academy, founded in 1866 by C.A. Rosetti along with Alecsandri, Cipariu, Negruzzi, Rădulescu, Maiorescu himself and other less known names. 

  41. Fine arts, probably borrowed from French.

    Brâncuși wasn't even born when this text was published, but he's a noteworthy exception. 

  42. I'd say that au contraire -- if anything, the nullity of Romanian culture brings the so-called "higher classes" closer to the "lower people". And the reader should not construe this as an argument against the latter sămănătorist/țărănist currents; sure, there was something deeply authentic to be found in the Romanian folklore back then, built on the brutally harsh conditions of living of common people. Still, one cannot naively decouple the rich folklore of Maramureș or Bucovina from the subhuman ways of life of other (and still present in other) parts of the country. This separation requires careful disentangling, it is only at that level where the "higher" may be meaningfully divided from the "lower". 

  43. So he agrees that the two classes end up confused?

    Either way I'm not convinced by this argumentum ad populum. The common folk can't just "take freedom" without paying for the responsibilities that it entails. The so-called social contract was always a scam, I'm afraid, which leads me to giving way more sympathy to the Romanian peasants who died in 1907, than the ones who merely cried shortly after the agrarian reform of 1864. 

  44. Just like it did way back in Trajan's day. 

  45. Tying this back into footnote #18: standards? what standards? Nowadays everyone gets a prize for participating, which puts the lowest bar exactly on par with "AI" bots: they too can participate in a conversation, even though they're spouting nonsense; they too can make art, even though each and every piece they "make" is a sophisticated regurgitation of past works; they too can #takeyourjerb, or rather, that's the minimum standard you've been judging yourself by -- the same thing that a mere bot is capable of.

    Yes, that's what I've been saying all these years: that the humanist-scientific-Enlightenment-based "technology" that you're so religiously accepting in your life works through the replacement of humans with... nothing. There is nothing in the place where humans used to be, do you understand me? just machines meaninglessly working their way through time, towards no particular objective. Nihilism at its best; by which I mean, worst. 

  46. "Neales" seems to act here as the opposite of "ales", which translates directly to "chosen", i.e. one of the select few. Thus, using the same linguistic machete as in footnotes #20 and #27, I gave birth to "unselect". 

  47. They participate in TV shows nowadays. 

  48. A more direct translation would be "form without foundation" or "form without content". However, I think that in English "substance" conveys this contrast much better. Maybe some would go as far as to call it "essence", but I think that's besides the point. 

  49. Or "keynote talks" as they call them nowadays. 

  50. As has become a custom on The Tar Pit, I will end this article with a translator's note. The first thing that comes to mind is that it was truly a pleasure to translate this piece, in contrast for example with the July Theses. The reason is, I hope, obvious: while the latter is written in Romanian woodentongue and thus requires special metasemantic treatment -- since there are multiple chasms between what the socialists in questions said, what they wanted to say and what the so-called public understood -- at the same time the current essay cuts right into the heart of the matter and it exhausts it quite quickly. So it was really a pleasure to notice how quickly the words flow, and are conceptualized on one hand; while on the other, how clearly they reconceptualized themselves into English, even for the passages which were painfully hard to translate. I don't claim to be a professional, but -- I don't know, does anyone in European universities still do this kind of thing?

    To my eye, the whole ordeal between the Literary Talks and the Transylvania papers can be summarized quite simply: the latter didn't see any need to rise above mediocrity, and for the usual reason, i.e. that it's impossible to change oneself for the better when the "one" in question deals with unknown unknowns. I'm sure Maiorescu would immediately be qualified as a "grammer Nazi", their main argument going along the line of "it's only important that we understand each other, who cares about these details". The results of this experiment can be readily observed, for example that nowadays you understand precisely what you're told to, or that actual conversation has become impossible.

    As far as the next crop of kids is concerned, this state of affairs probably makes it all the more important for them to study the classics. Unfortunately, a. in our twenty-first century, they're already faced with major difficulties in understanding the Romanian language of the nineteenth, while b. I may be the only one who still cares. Maybe this is a sign that I should restart writing in Romanian?


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2 Responses to “Against the direction in Romanian culture today, translated and annotated”

  1. [...] devoid of adequate representation -- which is a problem only inasmuch as through its reliance on empty forms, it generates animals in lieu of educated folks, to take but one example. As for the so-called [...]

  2. [...] the same steps as we did back in the day, with slight alterations and a serious lack of any sort of substance to make the whole thing up. Conceivably there is still someone somewhere in backwater Romania [...]

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