“Unde Malum? Dualist(oid) and Gnostic Imaginary, from Folk Mythology to Modern Romanian Literature” (Nicoleta Popa Blanariu)

Transylvanian Review (Academia Română, Centrul de Studii Transilvane, Cluj-Napoca), XXV, 2 (summer 2016)

Abstract: Our contribution attempts to respond to a gap in the investigation of the reminiscences of dualistic imaginary in modern literature and also in the Romanian reflection on the phenomenon. By approaching more thoroughly a theme that we have already discussed, from other perspectives, in our previous contributions, this article aims at identifying and analyzing, in the context of the history of mentality and the history of the imaginary, the persistence of certain dualist(oid) structures in the work of authors who are representative for Romanian classic and interwar literature, as well as for the postwar diaspora.

Keywords: Myth, Dualism, Gnosticism, Bogomilism, Eminescu, Macedonski, Arghezi, Blaga, Sadoveanu, Ion Barbu, Eliade, Cioran, Ionesco

Our study relies, on the one hand,on the identification of a continuityphenomenon in European culture—the perpetuation, under various forms,over several centuries, of a paradigmof dualistic-gnostic imaginary—and,on the other hand, on the insufficient, rather sporadic representation of its Romanian component in the reference literature in the field. Dualistic mythology, once widespread across all continents, subsisted in European folklore until the 20th century only in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, particularly in the Romanian space (Eliade 1995;see also Pamfile 2006; Cartojan 1974). Dualism has stood the test of time over the centuries, until today, being often assimilated by other philosophical and religious trends, including the different versions of Gnosticism (Bianchi 1976,1978; Ivanov 1976; Marrou 1983; Jonas 2001; Culianu 2002). We believe that it is precisely this reminiscent and diffuse background of the autochthonous mythical mentality that constituted, in the 19th–20th centuries, one of the premises—not necessarily the most relevant one—for the reiteration of dualistic imaginary in the Romanian classic literature, in specific forms (Bogomilism, Gnosticism), contaminated by the Western bookish tradition. 

Dualistic cosmogonies are the only relict of pre-Christian folk cosmogony in Europe (Eliade 1995). With ancient, yet unsolved origins, spreading over an extremely vast area in cultural geography and history, dualist myths have been traced back to Finno-Ugric, Ural-Altaic, Iranian, Slavic, Amerindian peoples and even later, in the Christian era, to European heretics such as the Bogomils (who contaminated the medieval Romanian spirituality) or the Provencal Cathars and their Italian successors, until the 15th century (Bianchi 1976, 1978; Ivanov 1976; Culianu 2002; Culianu 2005; Eliade 1995). In the form that they assumed within the “Western dualistic gnoses,” dualistic myths resurfaced in the 18th century with Goethe, Hegel, Sturm und Drang and the Romantics— themselves “creators of apparently gnostic myths” —, and in the literature of the 20th century (Culianu 2002, 2005; Bloom 1996). Ugo Bianchi was the first to highlight this “enigma of the history of religions,” consisting of the “repeated reactivation,” after the 1st century a.d., of ancient pre-Christian dualistic myths within those mythical-religious systems that Ioan Petru Culianu designated by the term “dualisms of the West” or “dualistic gnoses of the West” (Culianu 2002; also Bianchi 1976, 1978). Finding the continuity of these mythical-imagistic structures, from ancient Gnosticism to the Romantics and later, Harold Bloom diagnoses a “purified Gnosticism” that almost turned, over time, into “a literary religion,” “an aesthetic and, at the same time, spiritual discipline” (Bloom 1996, 33). Like the other Western dualistic trends, Gnosticism is a “phenomenon of counterculture” (12). We should mention the fact that our interest lies not (necessarily) in the religious dimension of Gnosticism, but—as more appropriate to our corpus of analysis—in its functioning as an intellectual and existential paradigm.

Our intention is to identify and analyze, in the wider context of the history of ideas and mentalities in Europe, the persistence of these ancient dualist(oid) structures of the imaginary in the work of representative authors of Romanian classic and interwar literature, as well as of the postwar diaspora. We have already explained part of our conclusions and arguments in previous contributions, hence we shall not repeat them in detail, but we shall rather attempt to complete and nuance them (Popa Blanariu 2008, 2015a, 2015b, 2015c). Such a mythical-imagistic paradigm, of a dualistic-gnostic type, may be identified in the work of Goethe, Blake, Byron, Shelley, Leopardi, Baudelaire, with the Russian symbolists, Dostoyevsky, Kafka and existentialists, with Beckett, Thomas Mann, and Mikhail Bulgakov. Thus, it has been confirmed that “the modern intellect resorts to old ways of thinking” which “confirm its laceration” (Friedrich 1969, 44; Pagels 2013, 204–206; Culianu 2002, 41–56; Culianu 2006; Bloom 1996, 2007). In Romanian literature, reminiscences and allusions to the dualistic-gnostic imaginary or even explicit references may be found with Mihai Eminescu, Alexandru Macedonski, Lucian Blaga, Mircea Eliade, Emil Cioran, Eugène Ionesco and, to a certain extent, with Ion Barbu or Mihail Sadoveanu (see Blaga 1969; Balotã 1976; Culianu 2006; del Conte 1990; Cifor 2000; L. Petrescu 1992; Petreu 1991; Borbély 2003; I. Em. Petrescu 1993; Paleologu 2006; Laurent 2015). It is interesting to note that—as a symptom of the interwar intellectual context in Romania—in his lectures on metaphysics delivered at the University of Bucharest, Nae Ionescu, the mentor of the generation of intellectuals that emerged between the two wars (with everything, good and bad, that this quality contributed to Romanian culture and history), analyses Faust by Goethe from a dualistic perspective (N. Ionescu 1996). In our opinion, the works of Eminescu, Macedonski, Blaga, Eliade, Cioran, and Ionesco illustrate, in various ways and to different degrees, the actuality in literature of a dualistic Weltanschauung, especially Bogomilic or gnostic, that is one of the “paths of utopic imagination” (see Wunenburger 2001, 227–228)… [PDF]