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“Out of twentieth-century Romania’s political nightmare come these five essays of sunlight and clarity. . . . A mosaic of the grime and farce of the dictator’s world transformed by Manea’s brilliant and insistent decency.” Richard Stern
The Dictator and the Artist
978-0-8021-3375-5 • $12.00 • Paperback • Sep. 1993
The overthrow of Nicolae Ceauşescu revealed to the world a regime whose grim despotism was so powerful and pervasive that it almost defies comprehension. For Norman Manea, who left Romania in 1986, the terror the regime imposed on its citizens was matched, on another level, by the irrevocable choices it forced upon its artists.
In On Clowns: The Dictator and the Artist, Manea explores the realm of pain, anger, and fear that confronts the creative mind in a tyranny. Patiently, carefully, and precisely, with a sense of humor and humanity made all the more powerful for the seething anger that lies just beneath, he catalogs the techniques with which a malevolent power binds the artist to itself: the subtle torture of censorship, the politics of substitution, the opiates of nationalism and ideology. With equal passion, Manea catalogs what the artist must rely on to survive under such circumstances: the masterful disguise of the buffoon, an aesthetic inseparable from ethics, a hatred of mediocrity, and, whenever the opportunity arises, a healthy raspberry to the dictator.
Like Kundera, Milosz, and Kiš, Manea is Central European not only because of where he was born but because of his spiritual outlook and his cultural horizons. In the formulation of Danilo Kiš that Manea cites, “Consciousness of belonging to Central Europe is itself in the end a kind of dissidence.” In On Clowns, as in his fiction, Manea shows how artistic creativity and intellectual freedom go far beyond dissidence: they are a morality, anathema to the “captive mind” of the Communist dictatorship, that enables artists to survive and resist oppression.