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Present Past, Past Present: A Personal…
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Present Past, Past Present: A Personal Memoir

by Eugène Ionesco

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The Romanian absurdist playwright, Eugene Ionesco (1909 [not 1912]-1994) and this is the second of his autobiographical volumes. He is concerned here with who he has become, who we are, and what role The Individual plays in history.

We exist. In this prison, this dream, this farce, which has only a slight possibility of being real, there is the testimony, the traces of lives lived. He is consciously sketching the real events, adding reflection.

He recalls his childhood in Romania, and his father the lawyer who appeared before the Bar in Bucharest during the communist regime. Paris. Bucharest. Life in wartime France in the 1940s, to his commentary on life in the 60's. Present tense - "we are moving...we are still at the house...the image becomes sharper."

Memories of childhood leave deep marks. He writes and finds an explanation for his hatred of authority and abhorrence of the word "fatherland"--the country of the father. [16] His father believed all opposition was wrong. "As far as I was concerned, all opposition was right". [18]

This is not a bildungsroman, but a "nel mezzo della vita" after the midpoint of his life. [12] He writes knowing the risk of being vulnerable, to himself. He opens up about suffering. [21] Mother trying to drink of a silver chalice filled with iodine, perhaps knowing her harsh husband would stop her.

"Up to the age of thirty-five, one can look back at the valley that one has come from. But now I am going down the other side and the ohnly valley that awaits me is the valley of death". [26] He indulges in the effort to be conscious of the incomprehensible and then to join Husserl and Kant in contradicting Extus Empircus. [31] And then he tells an amusing "children's story". [33].

Ionesco gives us some of his best isolations here. For example, "Before I can tackle this block of memories, I find myself back in the present, in present events." He recounts the rearming of the Egyptians by the Russians in June 1967j after the extraordinary defeat of eighty million Arabs who had encircled the Jews to kill them. [38] Of the Egyptians he says the French people are now "fond" of them--"people like them because they were defeated, of course, but also because they're killers".

"People like killers. And if one feels sympathy for the victims it's by way of thanking them for letting themselves be killed. This complex, this state of mind is not so difficult to anaylze now that we're acquainted with the various schools of psychoanalysis." He sees anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism. [38] He refutes those [Sartre] who say the "Jewish problem doesn't exist", and equates it to doing away with Jews. [39] "The world would be a harsh sad place without them". He struggles to believe in God.

He writes about critics -- illustrating how their work has perished while the actual writers they judged, continue to live. [42]

Never hesitates to jump into present events. "Politics are no longer the organization of the City, they are the disorganization of the City, they are a desire to turn things upside down and to destroy...". [44] In 1967, he notes the modern revolutions are "like the Christian revolutions that destroyed cultures; they are like the Moslem faith that destroyed Byzantium and the monuments of Athens. All revolutions destroy libraries of Alexandria." [44]

He compares Baudelaire, who shares with Edgar Allen Poe, the distinction of being "against his time". Or Dante, "the enemy of the Renaissance", a partisan of Hohenstaufen who desired a universal empire. And Petrarch, a straggler who "wanted to restore the Roman Empire". [50] So, should a writer be of his/her age, or behind, or ahead? "Our ideas are not historical"--they fall away, reappear, crystallize later, ebb and flow, at every moment. "Nonetheless we represent our time even if we are against it". [51]

"Hitler gave a speech yesterday at the Reichstag which has of course been reproduced, as usual, in all the papers of the country." Ionesco realizes that Hitler believes that all believers/ideologues will adopt these "ideas", as dogmas, upon which a "new science" will be founded. And with this science, "anything can be proven". [53]

This is a rich resource. It makes me feel profoundly elevated to join such an eyewitness, such a fearless man. And to realize, to feel some sympathy for the public, which had to bear the news that Nazis thugs took over the brilliant Weimarians, shattered Europe, and Japanese Imperial armies were winning every battle in China and the Pacific. And until Pearl Harbor, no one was going to stop them. ( )
  keylawk | Jan 21, 2014 |
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