Elena Vladareanu · Romania

03 IMG_3642 Elena Vladareanu


Ten easy things about an engaged writer

– One.  I guess you probably don’t understand a word of what I have just said, but don’t worry. I will switch immediately to English. I just wanted to share with you a piece of a bad news in my own language. Perhaps some of you already know it, since it’s from last summer. According to a study conducted by Cambridge University in the UK, economical development leads to the disappearance of minority languages. And, given that it’s a serious research, they even include figures and percentages! Approximately a quarter of the languages that are currently spoken on Earth are threatened to disappear soon. So, you should consider yourselves lucky to be here right now and to listen to me talking in a language threatened by disappearance, like many others on Earth. Researchers are talking, in a diplomatic way I would add, about minority languages, not about small or baby languages. And my question is whether languages can be actually small. They can be, of course, of larger or less important circulation, but can they be small?

– Two.  I can’t stop asking myself what am I doing here. Am I the right person to come and to tell you what it is like to be an engaged writer? Why am I the person the organizers invited?

– Three.  A very short intermezzo about being an engaged writer in Romania, which is not an easy thing, neither in Romania, nor in other ex-communist countries where engaged art does not have a good reputation because it’s coming from an era when it had nothing to do with what we use to call now literature with a cause: the artist’s ambition to change the world and even the life of the others. With some exceptions, the engagement practiced in the Romanian art and literature before 1989 had more to do with opportunism and the desire of power and maybe with the fear and with the desire to be published or promoted, also with the aim to satisfy the Censorship. But for a better description I recommend you the famous best-seller Limonov, by Emmanuel Carrère. It’s not about Romanian literature, but the Russian. There are a lot of similarities. Even now, after 25 years from the fall of the communism, in Romania we still despise the Political and we prefer the Aesthetic, an engaged book is a bad book. But contrary to this, there is a very powerful and creative new wave, more in theatre and less in literature, with artists interested in a political art.

– Four.  Do you remember one of my initial questions, where I was wondering why I was invited here? Well, this is the moment when I will try to explain how I became a political author. I don’t write about historical and political issues. I don’t write columns in mass-media about political, social or ecological issues. I am not a leader; I don’t guide people to go to protests, to vote for a candidate or for another. But otherwise I am deeply preoccupied by how all these difficult issues come into literature and art. I have always tried to incorporate into my literature a negative critique to the way the institutions of power – government, church, mass media – are using the language. Very often, in my texts I confront and inquire about the status of the artistic language and I consider the way I choose to create my own artistic language a political way. So I write poetry about big and small languages, about «English please», about Ikea and food obsessions, about mass-media and economic crisis, about inequality between people and between languages, about poverty and indifference.

– Five.  I will talk now about two of my recent works. A work for adults with children and a work just for children (with adults).
When I started working for Non Stress Test, which later became the Habemus bebe show, I was at home, far away from any artistic event, far away from myself, without writing, without even reading, bringing up my little girl. In the meantime, our president, the Ortodox Church representatives, experts in economics and statistics, even my teacher of Visuals, all men, all exponents of The Power we were talking about, what it is like being a woman and a mother, saying what I, as a woman, I should do (do what?) for my country. They were also saying what it is like to give birth and to raise a child. Having a baby wasn’t anymore a family stuff, but a patriotic mission. In the meantime my friends were asking me: and when will you write about this? And I was like: to write about this? Are you joking? To write about what? About soups and tiredness and loneliness, about statistics and advices and parenting theories, about our men in Power telling me and other women what it is like being a mother? And after a while: Yes, I will write about all these stuffs. Not just writing, but also collecting and editing the voices of the Powerful, and reframing them. For a while I was like a voice hunter hunting some ghost voices. There were my first audio-poems in this multimedia project. But first of all there was a stencil –Not an artist, but a woman in patriotic mission– on a wall in Sibiu (Hermanstad), an artistic project of the visual artist Dan Perjovschi. Then, together with my partner, I developed a show.
The question I asked myself for the second project was how to explain to a little child – 3 year old child – an abuse, without being boring or didactic. And this is what we did, again together with my husband, who is a theatre director, a show with a cause for very young children.

– Six.  The question I use to ask myself is: can we talk about big abuses and small abuses, is there any big crime or any small crime or is an abuse is an abuse and a crime is a crime? A crime is a crime is a crime. How to come in front of you, writers from countries which are confront with lack of liberties, where women have no rights or maybe where there is no hope for your children and for your future, how to come and to talk to you about abuses like the cutting down a tree, for example, or about small and big languages?

– Seven.  I’m coming back to my beginning, with big and small languages. If we consider there are small and big languages, trifling languages, if we consider there are small and big abuses there’s no hope. A language is a language and a crime is a crime.

– Eight.  After his movie, Maidan, was screened in Bucharest, the Ukrainean film director Sergei Loznitsa was asked if his movie did influence in any way the latest elections in Ukraina. And Loznitsa answered: Oh, no, no way! Forget about it! Art never influences the politics or the people’s decisions. What I wanted to say about Art and Power is that they should never be on the same boat. Never.

– Nine.  A wonderful writer from Croatia, Daša Drndia, writes about bystanders, the one which stand by, the one indifferent, submissive, silent for whom the life it’s only a succession of events, who refuse to see the crimes and the wars near them, who refuse to see the Injustice. I believe a writer should never be a bystander. Never.

– Ten.  I strongly believe not that literature could change the world, this is a utopia only for the naïve, but I believe that literature can help us to read the world, to see straight the wrong things, to ask ourselves the right questions, even starting with an abuse narrated for a 3 years old child. The artist should ask the questions but never give the answers. Never. Thank you.