Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Puterea fragilitatii" / "The Power of Fragility", by Doina Cornea: Beyond Ideology and Towards Attitude

The texts of the Romanian professor Doina Cornea, one of the strongest promoters of individual and spiritual freedom during the communist regime, have been reprinted under the title Puterea fragilităţii / The Power of Fragility. These texts are set in two parts: one vividly confessional, a chronology interview taken by the Frenchman Michel Combes, recalling the time between 1945 and 1990 (the power shift time all over eastern Europe), and another one made up of Mrs. Cornea’s various manifestos and open letters sent to different local or European authorities of that time (including to Pope John Paul II or the European Council).

What immediately strikes the reader from the very first page is the high impact figure of Mrs. Cornea with her strong gentility and deeply rooted principles and convictions. But, as she herself states at one point, “ if you don’t have roots, how do you know where to go?”

A literature tutor from the city of Cluj, close to retirement age, Doina Cornea is dismissed from the university in 1983 after sending an open letter to Free Europe Radio expressing her views on the importance of spiritual regeneration and creativity and of placing moral values much higher than the material ones like money, status, relations, seen as advocates for fear and greed. After this first letter is radio broadcast, Mrs Cornea starts working on various translations of banned books, founds a cultural magazine and distributes texts in ‘samizdat’. Thus, at the age of 54, she starts her work on what she calls “unmasking reality” and struggles “to make people think”, in a regime where people are looked upon as equal instruments. In 1987 she is arrested with her son as a consequence of refusing the compulsory communist vote and showing solidarity with the Braşov workers’ revolt while supporting it with street manifestos and continuing writing open letters. For more than one year she remains under brutal home arrest. Luckily, the communism collapse takes place in due time.

What is truly remarkable in this book, I reckon, is Doina Cornea’s belief in the power of the spirit, as opposed to the power of terror. Fundamentally, she constructs her own life paradigm: terror, in this case the communist one, is meant to suppress the individual but the spirit, once recognized and activated, both individually and inside community, can transcend the evil itself. Accordingly, she is an individual fighting against ‘Securitate’, the terror institution at that time, and bets all her cards on the spirit. And she wins, as history proved.

Another interesting fact is that Doina Cornea considers her approach more than just political action, looking thus beyond the ideology of power, she considers it a “political attitude” in a larger sense, which involves the individual capacity to choose in every second of ones existence - “to choose oneself”. For a person on whom so much evil was imposed from outside, the only salvation comes from a constant attitude of reevaluating and improving the self. It is most stirring the fragment in which she recounts the imprisonment time as a source for knowing true solidarity and fighting the hate complex. Her means is the “spiritual exercise of ordinary things”, i.e. perseverance, the courage of humiliation, the courage of hope and justice in apparently minor daily acts.

“The spirit is something alive and extremely powerful, if you possess it…When you don’t possess it, you turn to the body, physical force, to violence”, she says.

Hence, it is understandable why for Doina Cornea “the ethical dimension should be essential in any society, the only one capable of making a society flourish spiritually.” For her, ethics is directly linked with Christian faith, the latter helping her “relativize political domination”, “protect the spirit against totalitarianism” and protect the individual “to remain oneself”. Accordingly, it is impossible to live without a moral attitude.


sim said...

Well Roxana, what a better answer to your previous questions from your last articles than this excellent review?!

As you , I was starting to wonder how can we face the dissapointments our politic class make us live almost every day, how come they can still ask us to vote them saying "I'm not ashamed to look in your eyes"?!How come, truly ?!
As you,facing all this, I was wondering : Where are we heading to ? Who we really are as a nation?
I am convinced Mr.Puric literary search/project came just like an answer to a whole genaration dillemma.
And, maybe as many of us, I am confrunted everydaywith others misunderstandings.Aren't people used to see others through their own lens ?They do it everyday , it is not the first nor the last time they do,and you cannot be
affected by this. I saw this in your underlying questions from the "Lure of the East:...Exploring self reflection".

I believe we all go through these some time in our lives but I like your underlying answer from your review to the "Power of fragility ":

There will
always be "OTHERS"
who dissapoint, missunderstand,enchain ,confuse,
hurt us,but maybe
after facing all these,we'll finally learn to turn our eyes
to our inner strength and beauty, to the the power of our aparent
fragility as Doina Cornea learned us to do.

Roxana Pascariu said...

Dear Sim,

Thank you a lot for your conclusive comments!

I believe it is very important for minds that are alike to stay in touch, communicate effectively and get inspiration form one another... Thanks!

Denes I. Ilona said...

Dear Roxana! I am thinking about translating this book into English (long story)! Thanks, it's the first good review I found of it on the internet. Ilona

Roxana Pascariu said...

Your idea is marvelous!
I wish you the best of luck and let me know if I can be of any help.
Thanks for your remark!