The Black Swan

End of october 1977. Mircea Cărtărescu reads his ample poem The fall (Căderea) at the Monday Literary Circle1. The audience is speechless with admiration. The participants will admit it, the mentor of the group will agree three years later when he will review the volume Car lights, window shops, photos2.

The coin has dropped on its bright side, on its lucky side. It would have been highly unlikely for things to happen differently. In fact, if we are to be rather scientific than rhetoric, we should have said “highly improbable” (the quotation marks refer to the most vocal and passionate theorist of this concept, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who analyzed it meticulously in The Black Swan). And yet, in our sublunary world, this hypothesis could have become valid. It’s the primum movens of this book, the “at” on which Mircea Cărtărescu tunes his visions and his scenario, choosing from an infinity of possible worlds at his reach, a singular one, which he not just very inspired, but wonderfully sagacious follows to its last consequences. What would have happened if his career as a writer would have been halted by this failure? If, had he been slayed during that night, he would have withdrawn into complete silence and a mediocre social existence? We are not just speculating for the sake of speculating. On the contrary, these are questions whose simple utterance in private is predicated on an an immense moral courage. Especially, as they are not pronounced by an unconfident beginner, but they are said out loud and sincerely by one of the greatest Romanian authors. The very idea is capable of causing a “mental cramp” similar to the ones Wittgenstein talked about, and it seems enough to support a speculative fiction.

It just that Solenoid is not (only) speculative fiction. First of all, it is a metaphysical document, which is enhanced by literature. The texture of this book (which is difficult to qualify typologically, but displaying the architecture of a novel) gives an answer both to the main question and to other issues. I prefer to say it from the beginning that, on this level, Solenoid could be seen as a variation on the well-known (since René Barjavel) paradox of the grandfather: we cannot go back in time (and we cannot act decisively, there) because any intervention would damage (with exponentially increased consequences), our present, and in the end, ourselves as explorers. Of course that for Mircea Cărtărescu, the “selfcide” (as it was called) is just that of the “image”, and, as such, the consequences will be also symbolic. Because, even if he abandons professional writing, the main character does not abandon his interior world as well. He lives, with subtle modified versions (and, sometimes, substantially amplified) what the future author of Nostagia and other books could have lived sensorially. The logical stratagem is built impeccably and it justifies every drop from the interconnected vessels which one could say that Solenoid activates. I’m referring especially to Blinding of course, which is the “twin” of this book (in the same way there Victor is the brother with situs inversus totalis) or the diaries with their gallery of dreams, but also The Roulette Player, whose motto (from T.S.Eliot) is altered here and so eloquent for the drama representing the core of this book: “I was 25 years old and I had no future. For a year now I was a teacher in some forgotten place in Colentina, knowing back then (and still knowing now), that it was the place from which I would retire” (p. 73).

I regret that the short space for this review will not allow me to problematize fully the ideas of this book, where Mircea Cărtărescu proves to be a master of the counterfacts “at reduced scale”. It is not the facts of major history that are displayed here (it would have been more at reach and inefficient), but those few “constants” which, by a subtle disturbance, could change the very substance of an entire universe. And, I am thinking not just of the well-known essay by Borges on the art of insult (and, at the same time an entire cabalistic tradition), but also the so-called “anthropic principles”, as it was postulated by physicists.

And finally, the discussion would deserve to take place especially because for Mircea Cărtărescu this reflexive area is so intertwined in the pages of his book that in order to distinguish the rationale (which is impeccable, trust me), is an adventure in itself. The school at the dodgy end of Coletina is no longer that “school no. 41” from The Levant, but a certain school 86, and the literary group which created the poetry of 80s generation is called in this book the Moon Literary Group (with a promising legendary of the name, at the opposite side of the reality of the earthquake from the 4th of March: “It was a young literary group, created about a year ago, whose name was taken from the huge, perfectly round moon, which floated above the University in the first evening of the group”, it is written at page 42). These are tiny variations, not randomly (and, in any case, more than just ironical insertions). Their meaning resonates with the meaning of the book in its entirety.

Despite of this realist infusion and the oneiric explosions so characteristic for Mircea Cărtărescu’s writing, the homogeneity (even more: the organic) is the dominant characteristic in Solenoid.

Even when the story focuses on the fauna of secondary school teachers from a marginal school (teachers who are ridiculously infatuated or cultivating a Biedermeier esoterism), or the story turns toward livresque conspiracy theories (where the accent falls always on the livresque element), or the narrative eye focuses om the nocturnal “visits”, the sensation is present.

The „anomalies” whose inventory is performed by this manuscript (we are still within the convention) grow from one another and get explained one by the other.

Whatever argumentation the analytic regime of the book, the novel remains extremely mobile regarding the epic significations. A random episode from childhood reverbarates till the very core of this universe. The meeting with a book by Ethel Lilian Voynich will lead to the exploration of the mysterious Voynich manuscript (researched without results including by the father of the formal manierism, Athanasius Kircher). The simple genealogical connexion will allow Mircea Cărtărescu to talk about pluridimensional spaces and, following Hinton, to unravel a spontaneous relevation of an old poem, where he had used the figure of tesseract (an apparently cube shaped object, which attempts to offer, in 3D, the illusion of the fourth dimension).

There are, everywhere, known and yet strange things, allusions and suggestions at times neither false nor true, literary traces of Escher like bodies. How deep can you go with the exploration? As deep as one wants, almost abysmal. And it’s enough just to think of the image of the yound leader who brings together the children in the Voila sanatorium: the boy named Traian (solid boy, blue-eyed, always sleep walking) makes us think both of Travesti (in the reality of the fiction) and to his lifelong friend, Traian T. Coșovei, who performed the same role in the dream team of the Monday Literary Group. Elsewhere, in the house with a strange naval shape, we can see not just a reminiscence of an urban area forever embeded in Mircea Cărtărescu s imaginary (Ștefan cel Mare Street and its surroundings), where Assan’s Ship is placed, but also an afinity with Anton Holban’s writing (in the novel Ioana, this excentric construction is mentioned). In Solenoid, the construction is fleshed out, it is invested with magic, no longer just a sailor ‘s whim, but an esential element of this universe: the place in which one of the five solenoids that powers a secret and occult Bucharest is burried. Concidencies, signs, aporias, encounters of worlds, all of which are necessary to construct a fantastic ontology.

The portrait, made out of a few brush strokes of psychologist Alfred Binet is a mixture of the author’s description and an openly urmuzian stylistic aproach. Maybe it would be useful to quickly note a quality that, although visible in Mircea Cărtărescu’s writing from the very start, has been sistematically ignored by reviewers. I’m talking about the natural capacity to create biographems of an astoniching unity (even when he only gathers pieces of scattered information). The technique would be archimboldian if it were fixed. But, in Cărtărescu’s case it’s not about simple contours, but vital authentic itineraries. In Solenoid, an entire period in the life of psychiatrist, experiemental psychologist and dream expert, Nicolae Vaschide, is told through an extreme dialectic exercise, a sort of poetic jazz in which we can hear sounds from Constantin Bacalbașa, Mateiu Caragiale, Ion Ghica and, of course, his spiritual sybling, Alecsandri. The same can be said about the description of the Minovici brothers, George Boole and other more or less famous supporting charaters.

 In light of these intersections and diffractions, I will only add that the fragment in which autofiction and gospel are mixed is of a human and, at the same time, heavenly precision, without equal in our literature. The same can be said about Solenoid, splendid and disconcerting even for a mind that created The Levant, Nostalgia and Blinding.

 Translated by Emanuela Ignățoiu-Sora and Cezar Gheorghe

1  The Monday Literary Circle (Cenaclul de luni) was created in 1977 by Radu Călin Cristea and leaded by Nicolae Manolescu. Its members later became known as ‚Generation 1980’ or the ‚Jeans Generation’. It was the most important literary group of its time. Some of its most prominent members are: Mircea Cărtărescu, Gheorghe Crăciun or Mariana Marin.

2  Car lights, window shops, photos (Faruri, vitrine, fotografii) is the first book published by Mircea Cărtărescu in 1980, Cartea Românească Publishing House.

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