Mi / 10:00 – 11:30

“Literary” History: Criticism, Literature and the Making of a Leftist Culture in Romania (1880–1939)

Anca Mandru, KWI International Fellow

Online (Zoom) & Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen (KWI), Raum 106, Goethestr. 31, 45128 Essen

With a feeble socialist movement before World War One and the smallest communist underground in the Balkans between the wars, Romania seems the paradigmatic case of communism arriving in Eastern Europe “on the back of Soviet tanks”. Following 1989 this view became both intellectually respectable and politically convenient. The absence of an indigenous socialist tradition allegedly reinforced the alien character of the communist regime while explaining the rise of the extreme Right in interwar Romania. In fact, a strictly political and institutional history of socialism obscures the emergence, in the late nineteenth century, of an influential leftist tradition, particularly visible in the fields of literary and cultural criticism.

“Born through (literary) critique” (Haupt, 1967), the early Romanian Left owes much of its visibility to the activity of the prominent Russian-born theorist Constantin Dobrogeanu-Gherea, a pioneer of the materialist approach to literature, whose contributions anticipated those of later and more famous Marxist cultural critics like Georg Lukacs and Antonio Gramsci (Shafir, 2007). By zooming in on the unofficial headquarters of the Romanian Left, the train station restaurant în Ploieşti managed by Dobrogeanu-Gherea for over a quarter of century, this talk examines the emergence of an informal but distinctly socialist space and explores its political and historiographical implications.