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Eros, Magic and the Murder of Professor…

Eros, Magic and the Murder of Professor Culianu

by Ted Anton

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    Love & Sleep by John Crowley (bertilak)
    bertilak: John Crowley's association with Culianu is described in Ted Anton's book.
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    Out of this World: Otherworldly Journeys from Gilgamesh to Albert Einstein by I.P. Couliano (davidgn)

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The greater portion of Ted Anton's Eros, Magic and the Murder of Professor Culianu is a biography of the slain historian of religions, a Romanian national defector who was ascending to an accomplished position at the University of Chicago in the footsteps of his countryman Mircea Eliade. Anton's long-form journalistic approach braids the biographical narrative intriguingly with accounts of Culianu's own scholarship and writing of fantastic fiction. I think I've read a little over half of the academic works that are available in English under Culianu's byline, and this book does a decent job of glossing their theses and contents. Additionally, it has interested me in the volumes that he issued under Eliade's name after the older scholar's death, pointing out the extent to which Culianu used these as vehicles for his own bolder ideas.

The title Eros, Magic ... evokes Culianu's own seminal study Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, but the Murder of Professor Culianu is necessarily the event towards which the entire book is oriented. Culianu's daylight assassination at the University of Chicago Divinity School is still officially unsolved. Anton gives plenty of reasons for readers to suspect the involvement of the Romanian Intelligence Service (RSI), but efforts of the Chicago police and FBI to identify the murderer(s) were dilatory, ineffective, and possibly even compromised.

The book reads very quickly, with short chapters and engaging prose. There was an odd clinker, where Anton quoted Culianu's secretary bewailing his murder with "Not Mr. Culianu!" (17) And similarly, Anton has Culianu himself drolly remark, "Mr. Eliade had some pretty daring ideas after he died" (228). Having had a little firsthand experience of the University of Chicago, an institution that lionizes its faculty while sorely indenturing graduate students and treating undergraduates with grudging tolerance, I find it nearly impossible to imagine the title Mister rather than Doctor being applied to either of these men by their colleagues or staff.

The event of Culianu's murder begins the book, and returns at the end of the biography proper. Then the narrative proceeds to the funeral events and the murder investigation. All along, there are parallel accounts of developments in Romanian politics (a story that was new to me in many details). Culianu's engagement with current events in his native country waxed and waned, and he never returned in person. But his relationship to Eliade--perhaps the most lauded Romanian scholar of the century--made him an object of Romanian attention, which he sometimes leveraged through philippics published in Romania and abroad.

Perhaps the most surprising bit of the book was the appearance, after Culianu's death, of a suburban Chicago couple who claimed to be receiving spiritualist communications by somniloquy concerning the murder. This peculiar episode seems to have come from nowhere and led to nothing, but it cannot be dismissed as irrelevant, especially considering Culianu's personal and professional interests in the paranormal. But even eerier was Culianu's own longstanding fascination with the Borges story "Death and the Compass," and the ways in which he seemed to have divined his own murder.

Anton undertook this book while working at DePaul University in Chicago. It really pulls together an impressive amount of research. It had been on my shelf waiting for me for several years, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.
3 vote paradoxosalpha | Mar 13, 2017 |
It has been several years since the mysterious murder of the Romanian-born scholar at the University of Chicago. The Internet is not thin on discussions of this crime, complete with speculations on the perpetrator(s) and its motivation. Those who read Romanian -- as I do, a little -- will find the discussions fascinating in their own right. In the interests of Full Dsiclosure, I should note that I haven't checked the 'net lately about the Culianuamatter, so I have no particular axe to grind -- and indeed may be hopelessly behind-times on the investigation of this case (though I rather doubt it).
OK, in the book itself Ted Anton -- who doesn't know Romanian, or at-least didn't when writing this book -- attempts to tell the story, but falls uncomfortably flat on his backside by his indecision as to whether he should follow his profession (journalist/academic) or yield to the temptation to pursue some tripped-out speculations about metaphysics and biographical matter about which he had no possible way to know. After an excursus on Romanian politics and the checkered career of Culianu's older colleague and fellow-emigre Mircea Eliade, Anton exhausts almost a hundred pages of the book -- strategically placed in the center of the book, suggesting the author's belief in its importance -- in an undercooked fricassee of material thought-out poorly and expressed worse -- theorizing that somehow the victim's chosen field of scholarship -- the hermetic metaphysical tradition -- led to his murder. Had he been a professor of Social Work or Criminal Justice, one might understand how Culianu ended-up shot dead in a men's room in Chicago -- but aesoteric spirituality? Please . . . . To paraphrase SJ Perelman from another context, it's almost as if a computer glitch cut and pasted that hunk of text into the final version after the book had been edited. Then too, in the more straightforward journalistic parts of the book, Anton dangles a very tantalizing series of clues involving a family in the Chicago suburbs -- then drops them without comment.
Returning to Mircea Eliade -- attention, Americans: Mircea is bi-syllabic -- Anton points-out the well-known fact that he had had more than compromising fascist connections in his earlier career, and speculates that Culianu, a generation younger than Eliade, might be in a position to reveal similar embarrassing facts about other Romanians, either in the emigration, or in the new order which folloowed the fall of Nicolae Ceaucescu in late 1989. Culianu seems no to have behaved like someone engaged into that high-stakes game, and objectively considered, such revelations seem unlikely, although Culianu had done some intermittent polemical writing. Still, people are too often motivated by the subjective. All in all, it seems to me now as it did then, and should have posited by the Author, without the penny-ante mysticism: if he wasn't simply the victim of some weirdo who'd wandered into a University campus building, Culianu was murdered either by members of the Romanian emigre community or by Romanian secret-police agents, not so much because he was a political trouble-maker, but because he was feared to be, the proverbial loose cannon. It seems unlikely that another book will bewritten on this case, at-least in English, so it is extra-disappointing how badly this opportunity was wasted. As the old woodsman put it so well: when you aim all over a moose, you don't stand much chance of hitting him any place in particular place. ( )
  HarryMacDonald | Oct 24, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0810113961, Hardcover)

Police have been stumped ever since popular University of Chicago Divinity Professor Ioan Culianu was killed in the middle of a workday in a campus bathroom. The 1991 murder has offered few profitable leads. Author Ted Anton suggests strongly that radicals from Culianu's native Romania did the deed. If he's right, then the death of Culianu probably marks the first political assassination of a professor on American soil. The bulk of this book focuses on the life, times, and scholarship of a man heralded by many to be his generation's Mircea Eliade--as well as why Romanian thugs would have any interest in such a person. The case's apparent unsolvability is maddening, but Anton does a fine job of recounting its essentials.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:30 -0400)

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