ON CLOWNS: The Dictator and the Artist by Norman Manea

ON CLOWNS: The Dictator and the Artist

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Romanian-ÉmigrÉ novelist Manea here offers a rambling clutch of essays that effectively reproduce the sense of chaos and insecure self-definition that was (and still must be) the lot of the writer-citizen in the slipperiest, perhaps most psychotic of all the pre-1989 European hell-states, Ceausescu's Romania. Collective fate was to live under the ""insidious, dilated presence of the monster called the Power,"" inducing a mass psychological disturbance that resulted from ""the hours sacrificed to standing in lines, to ritual political meetings and to rallies, on top of the hours at work and the hours of helpless exposure to the inferno of public transportation...and when you were finally home in your birdcage, you found yourself mute, staring into an emptiness that could be defined as infinite despair."" Manea presents a censor's ""reader's report"" on one of his about-to-be-published novels--and, movingly, his own reaction upon rereading the book later: ""The writer who thought himself so aesthetically 'engaged' discovered any number of pages, fragments, chapters that had been corrupted by the very artifices he had used (often with a sense of triumph) as a defense against the censor's office."" An essay comparing Ceausescu to a White Clown, and the artist to the classic clown Auguste; a piece on Mircea Eliade's malignant Iron Guard-apologist past, and anecdotes of literary hardship--all are intermittently impressive, but Manea is a weak essayist, drifting and often self-serving, and this dilutes the truths he knows.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0802133754
Page count: 178pp
Publisher: Grove Weidenfeld