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On Clowns: The Dictator and the Artist

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The overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu revealed to the world a regime whose grim despotism was so powerful and pervasive that it almost defies comprehension. For Norman Manea, who left Romania in 1986, the terror the regime imposed on its citizens was matched, on another level, by the irrevocable choices it forced upon its artists. In On Clowns: The Dictator and the Artist, Manea explores the realm of pain, anger and fear that confronts the creative mind in a tyranny. Patiently, carefully, and precisely, with a sense...
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Out of 20th-century Romania's political nightmare come these "five essays of sunlight and clarity." Manea is a survivor of the Nazi camps and the Ceausescu regime, and a winner ... of the National Jewish Book Award. These dazzling essays define psychological resistance, salvational irony, and moral bedrock. 178p. Read more Show Less

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Overview

The overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu revealed to the world a regime whose grim despotism was so powerful and pervasive that it almost defies comprehension. For Norman Manea, who left Romania in 1986, the terror the regime imposed on its citizens was matched, on another level, by the irrevocable choices it forced upon its artists. In On Clowns: The Dictator and the Artist, Manea explores the realm of pain, anger and fear that confronts the creative mind in a tyranny. Patiently, carefully, and precisely, with a sense of humor and humanity made all the more powerful for the seething anger that lies just beneath, he catalogs the techniques with which a malevolent power binds the artist to itself: the subtle torture of censorship, the politics of substitution, the opiates of nationalism and ideology. With equal passion, Manea catalogs what the artist must rely on to survive under such circumstances: the masterful disguise of the buffoon, an aesthetic inseparable from ethics, a hatred of mediocrity, and, whenever the opportunity arises, a healthy raspberry to the dictator. Like Kundera, Milosz, and Kis, Manea is Central European not only because of where he was born but because of his spiritual outlook and his cultural horizons. In the formulation of Danilo Kis that Manea cites, "Consciousness of belonging to Central Europe is itself in the end a kind of dissidence!" In On Clowns, as in his fiction, Manea shows how artistic creativity and intellectual freedom go far beyond dissidence: they are a morality, anathema to the "captive mind" of the Communist dictatorship, that enable artists to survive and resist oppression.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Manea, who emigrated to the West in 1986, portrays life under Nicolae Ceausescu's dictatorship in Romania as a ``sinister carnival,'' a nightmarish Fellini movie. The country, governed by the dictator and his police ``like a penal colony,'' was nevertheless not totally monolithic, but instead full of ``ambiguity and duplicity, masks and falsehood.'' These elegant, outspoken essays explore the relationship between the writer, the state bureaucracy with its treacherous censorship and the ``not-so-innocent masses'' who accommodated themselves to lies and repression. Life was a state of permanent suspension, of cunning and silence, for the person with integrity and for the creative artist. Manea offers an intriguing expose of Mircea Eliade, historian of religion, as fascist sympathizer and right-wing ideologue. He names names in an autopsy of Ceausescu's ``hit squad,'' the special guard that enforced cultural conformity through denunciation of ``foreigners,'' ``liberals'' and ``European types.'' (Feb.)
Library Journal
These riveting essays provide us with a fascinating look at Romanian life under the tyranny of Ceausescu. Manea's struggle to retain his humanity and artistic integrity is an emotionally powerful story. Both Manea's personal and professional life were subject to unthinkable oppression that is made all too real by his vivid prose. How could he retain any integrity as a writer in an environment so pervasively despotic? Manea's answer will fascinate literary critics. One of the essays reprints the full text of a Romanian censor's report on Manea's novel, The Black Envelope . The twisted thinking in this report makes the struggle appallingly clear. Manea's observations on our own society are equally thought-provoking. The translation is smoothly readable and the notes fill in the gaps for the casual reader. This work will appeal to all readers, deserves a wide audience, and belongs in all libraries.-- Ruth M. Ross, Olympic Coll. Lib., Bremerton, Wash.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802133755
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/28/1993
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.47 (w) x 8.17 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Table of Contents

Author's Note
Romania: Three Lines With Commentary 3
On Clowns: The Dictator and the Artist: Notes to a Text by Fellini 33
Censor's Report: With Explanatory Notes by the Censored Author 63
Felix Culpa 91
The History of an Interview 125
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