Words of Exile
Sanda Golopenţia

            When I was seriously asking myself whether I ought to leave or not, one of the forms my deliberation would take was: are there things I want to do here and can?t, which it would be possible to undertake somewhere else? Is it worth trying to initiate them somewhere else? I left in doubt ? among the accomplishments of the Romanian exile there was to me one part that could be appealing and inspiring: Monica Lovinescu and Virgil Ierunca?s extraordinary prestations as Romanian anchors at Radio Free Europe, but it could not be repeated, and not by us anyhow. For me, who had no political projects, the word exile was now gaining a vague element of ?promise? (I evoked it in the beginning of this text) which I was cautiously questioning: wasn?t it an alibi in disguise? Am I not an emigrant who believes she is exiled?

            Once in the United States, I remember the sadness with which I looked at the few, thin, terribly thin Romanian magazines and newspapers edited by people of good-will in conditions of isolation and surrounding skepticism. In Romania there were topics and words that were forbidden or taboo, but due to our old and magnificent professors (magiştri we used to call them), Al. Rosetti, Iorgu Iordan, George Călinescu, Mihai Pop, the journals and publications in general were solid, even in the absence of remarkable graphic conditions they had a professional look and their contents were synchronized with what was going on in the world. The American Romanian Academy (ARA) was slowly configurating itself in the eighties; with initial frictions due to tense political confrontations, the way of cooperating was often odd. I remember that at one of the first meetings in which I took part, in Texas, putting toward travel money a severely thought over amount, I talked about the shadow in which a good part of the activity of the Bucharest School of Sociology was kept in Romania. After my lecture, one of the ARA members, a lawyer of whom I keep warm memories, told me I used too many neologisms and did not speak Romanian Romanian, while proposing to me, since he ?already had a name in writing,? to rewrite and publish the lecture I had delivered in a more appropriate form. With the exception of Thomas Sebeok, who was relentlessly struggling to expand the coverage of the journals and publications of the Bloomington Semiotics center and who accepted, when he did not invite, contributions on Romanian issues, any Romanian piece sent for publication was met with superior doubt and unhidden indifference. On Sebeok who, although he had come to the States at a young age, after spending his childhood in Switzerland, had remained, as far as inner discipline and capacity for joy were concerned, a serious, unadjustable Hungarian exile, lonely and workaholic, I would like to write once more extensively. Slowly, at the Modern Language Association and at ARA, workgroups were set up, dissolved and rebuilt. The exile ? our group of exiles ?was oppressed. Each of us had become extremely vulnerable, the experience before leaving had fed distrust, the new generation was clashing with at least one, if not two, previous ones. Everybody was right and wrong as well, estranged as they had been from the bedrock of personal serenity and permanently or temporarily ?deprofessionalized.? What was clear was that the promise of exile in its initial form, no matter how modest, could not be kept.

            Regarded as a personal inner vow, adding itself to many others (to the promises of youth, of one?s advance into a profession, of the relationships we commit ourselves to for life), exile opens anyhow in my mind the perspective of a double failure. On the one hand, the one expressed by the departure itself, whether internalized, assumed, accepted or not. And, on the other hand, the natural failure of everybody?s life, unremarkable for those who experience it among others who struggle alike with comparable failures, but in a somber echo with the first one for those who singled themselves out through departure.

            Still, in order to differentiate exile from emigration, I keep attaching the meaning of ?mission? to the word exile, used in an active sense to talk about those who voluntarily leave their country without the aim of finding material well-being: the minimal mission of not forgetting, not overadjusting, of protecting the source culture in oneself while sharpening it by rubbing it against other cultures. A ?freely assumed commitment? which, accomplished on one side and unaccomplished on many, accompanies the days of people like me, burdening but enriching them as well. The Alfeus river, the legend says, flows through the Mediterranean Sea and comes out on the land of an island, not far from Syracuse. Roger Caillois compared his return to the objets-fées (the fairy-objects) of his childhood, the world of nature and especially of rocks, after thirty years spent in the world of books and scholarly disputes, to the return to land of the stubborn river. To me, the tense Alfeus functions as the emblem of exile without excessive adjustments. It fought to remain compact, on the move, unblended in the Sea waves. Maybe it got salty on the way. But once on the other side, the Alfeus River still flows and in the end it will bury itself by vanishing in the ground, not in water. One can empathize with such aquatic obstinacy and enjoy it like a talisman.

            It is an unyielding and straight exile in which it gives me pleasure to believe.

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