Scholarly article on topic 'Theoretical Aspects of Identity Discourse in Post-Totalitarian Cultures'

Theoretical Aspects of Identity Discourse in Post-Totalitarian Cultures Academic research paper on "Social and economic geography"

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{"Identity discourse" / "post-totalitarian cultures" / "revival of Otherness" / "re-recognition process"}

Abstract of research paper on Social and economic geography, author of scientific article — Nicoleta Ifrim

Abstract The issue of cultural identity and its forms of representation mirroring the relation between a specific national space and its essential cultural patterns should be placed in the contemporary multicultural dynamics, which has stirred different debates on coping with the identity through culture phenomenon. Under the sign of post(post) modernism and post-colonial experiences, Europe has witnessed the cultural revival of Otherness due to the national ‘voices’ which have begun to claim their right to cultural difference as landmark freed from the marginal/peripheral stigmata. It is the case of the Southeastern cultures which have undergone a major re-recognition process of re-validating their national values after the fall of the dominating totalitarian regimes which exerted both socio-political and cultural repression by means of over-ruling Marxist-Leninist paradigm.

Academic research paper on topic "Theoretical Aspects of Identity Discourse in Post-Totalitarian Cultures"

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Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 63 (2012) 35 - 40

The 4th Edition of the International Conference: Paradigms of the Ideological Discourse 2012

Theoretical Aspects of Identity Discourse in Post-totalitarian


Nicoleta Ifrim a *

a Senior Lecturer, PhD, "Dunarea de Jos " University of Galati, Romania


The issue of cultural identity and its forms of representation mirroring the relation between a specific national space and its essential cultural patterns should be placed in the contemporary multicultural dynamics, which has stirred different debates on coping with the identity through culture phenomenon. Under the sign of post(post) modernism and post-colonial experiences, Europe has witnessed the cultural revival of Otherness due to the national 'voices' which have begun to claim their right to cultural difference as landmark freed from the marginal / peripheral stigmata. It is the case of the Southeastern cultures which have undergone a major re-recognition process of re-validating their national values after the fall of the dominating totalitarian regimes which exerted both socio-political and cultural repression by means of over-ruling Marxist-Leninist paradigm.

© 2012 TheAuthors.PublishedbyElsevier Ltd.Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Dunarea de Jos UniversityofGalati

Keywords: Identity discourse, post-totalitarian cultures, revival of Otherness, re-recognition process

1. Introduction. Theoretical Aspects on Approaching Culture-rooted Identity

The process of cultural identity dynamics overtly relates to the socio-cultural perception of the tormented contemporary world focusing on ego-defining strategies in search for a new significance. As Alain Touraine has observed, "chaque fois que change notre regard sur nous-mêmes, notre environnement et notre histoire, nous avons l'impression que l'ancien monde est tombé en ruine et que rien n'apparaît qui puisse le remplacer. C'est ce que nous ressentons aujourd'hui mais, comme nous l'avons fait dans le passé, nous allons tenter de construire une nouvelle représentation de la vie sociale et d'échapper ainsi à l'impression angoissante de la perte de tout sens" [1]. The new "paradigme dans notre représentation de la vie collective et personnelle" [2] is culturally based on recognition / ego- realisation acts (Charles Taylor) by means of which "la reconnaissance de l'autre [...] consiste à voir agir en l'autre la construction du sujet, telle qu'on la sent agir en soi-même. Cette construction s'opère par l'élaboration de l'universel à partir d'une expérience sociale ou

* Nicoleta Ifrim, Tel.: +40 741350935. E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2012 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Dunarea de Jos University of Galati doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.10.007

culturelle particulière" [3]. The dialogical nature of the Self-viewed-as-Other Charles Taylor speaks about is rooted in the multicultural episteme favouring the negotiation patterns within which inter-subjectivity plays a key-role as "l'identité d'un individu se constitue dans le contact avec autrui et à travers l'échange continu qui permet au moi - le self - de se structurer et de se définir par comparaison et par différence" [4]. The multicultural scenario, based on identification and inter-identification acts, mirrors the ways in which individual - and, then, collective (national) - ego represents itself as both specificity and diversity, voicing its right of presence in the European scene: passing beyond the particular identity experience so as to grasp the transactional feeling of Otherness claims a conceptual shift in focus towards the dialogic theories of identity, as "l'expérience de la différence devient une valeur en soi, car non seulement permet-elle le déclenchement de la dynamique intersubjective - ceci est vrai de toute interaction - mais elle permet également à l'individu de mettre <à distance> son identité, de la mettre en jeu et de la faire évoluer en la comparant à d'autres modèles identitaires" [5]. Caught between the "moi dialogique" and "la reconnaissance", as Andrea Semprini argues in Le multiculturalisme, the cultures of the Margin, especially the post-totalitarian ones rising from the South-eastern Europe, have been looking for a place in the polymorphic Eurocentric milieu, portraying their cultural specificity by exporting either their national icons or their literary formulas adherent to European diversity. The Eastern aesthetic values carrying out the History' memory of pre- and post-totalitarian literature echoing the experience of the doctrinaire enclave - and its cultural reflections - are revived by means of de-structuring the political stigmata which has been replaced by the validation of aesthetically-rooted genuine works: the dominant political discourse imposing the "true, unique literature" has been annulled once the communist regimes fell apart and the freed writer places himself "in that position of liminality, in that productive space of the construction of culture as difference, in the spirit of alterity or otherness" (Bhabha) [6]. By defining culture as "a signifying or symbolic activity" - "the articulation of culture is possible not because of of the familiarity or similarity of contents, but because all cultures are symbol-forming and subject-constituting, interpellative practices" [7], Homi Bhabha deconstructs the major-minor / dominant - subjected dichotomy as culture turns self-relevant by its basic identity model: "[...] no culture is full unto itself, no culture is plainly plenitudinous, not only because there are other cultures which contradict its authority, but also because its own symbol-forming activity, its own interpellation in the process of representation, language, signification and meaning-making, always underscores the claim to an originary, holistic, organic identity. [.] What this really means is that cultures are only constituted in relation to that otherness internal to their own symbol-forming activity which makes them decentred structures - through that displacement or liminality opens up the possibility of articulating different, even incommensurable cultural practices and priorities" [8]. In his view, the contemporary alternative of eluding polarized cultural binarism is the emergence of the hybrid "third space" enacting the identification phenomenon ("a process of identifying with and through another object, an object of otherness, at which point the agency of identification - the subject - is itself always ambivalent, because of the intervention of that otherness. [. ] The process of cultural hybridity gives rise to something different, something new and unrecognisable, a new area of negotiation of meaning and representation." - [9]) which turns transactional within a socio-cultural frame where so-called "peripheral cultures" leave the inferiority complex behind to voice their own specificity imago. Overtly transactional or, in Bhabha's terms, "translatable" (he takes over Benjamin's concept of translation as "trope" pointing to "the activity of displacement"), marginal cultures become visible once they cope with the "non-sovereign notion of self", in other words the abolishment of the dominance exercised by the class-rooted Centre over the politically-mimetic literature, or of any other type of dominant interpretative discourse (DID - Alain Touraine). As in the case of post-totalitarian/colonialist cultures, "it is only by losing the sovereignty of the self that you can gain the freedom of a politics that is open to non-assimilationist claims of cultural difference. The crucial feature of this new awareness is that it doesn't need to totalise in order to legitimate political action or cultural practice" [10]. The communist utopia has legitimized the "founding mythology of the New World" resulting into various practices and discourses of the Centre whose key-strategy was homogenization of all existential levels: political, social, cultural etc. The class-rooted patterns of literary creation have portrayed ontological schemata mechanically reiterated along the narratives of ideological extraction, often counter-balanced by the grasp the different ontological imago in allusive, parabolic, double-oriented symbolical texts. This "subliminal difference"

has burst out once the Eastern communist regimes fell apart or, in Homi Bhabha's own words: "I mean, for instance, if you just begin to see what's happening in the Eastern Europe today: that's a very good example: people are having to redefine not only elements of socialist policy, but also wider questions about the whole nature of this society which is in a process of transition from a communist-state, second-world, iron-curtain frame of being. Socialism in both of the East and the West is having to come to terms with the fact that people cannot now be addressed as colossal, undifferentiated collectivities of class, race, gender or nation. The concept of a people is not 'given', as an essential, class-determined, unitary, homogeneous part of society prior to a politics; 'the people' are there as a process of political articulation and political negotiation across a whole range of contradictory social sites. 'The people' always exist as a multiple form of identification, waiting to be created and constructed" [11]. The collective identification as on-going process and not a pre-formed "given" construct is the key-word for the post-totalitarian cultures in search for their identity, closely following the six steps Guy Di Méo speaks about (in his turn, Edmond Marc Lipiansky considers the process of forming the personal identity as basic nucleus for defining the national/collective one's - see his Identité et communication, Paris, PUF, 1992): „La continuité, soit le fait de rester le même au fil du temps; la cohérence de sa propre subjectivité autour d'une représentation structurée et stable de soi; l'unicité ou sentiment de son originalité; la conception de sa diversité intérieure, au sens d'une reconnaissance des différentes facettes composant toute personnalité; la réalisation de soi par l'action, le sentiment d'être ce que nous faisons réellement; l'estime de soi au sens de la construction d'une vision positive de soi-même" (our emphasis) [12]. Therefore, in our view, these are the basics of the integrationist discourse the post-totalitarian cultures, especially the Romanian one, have to follow in order to fit in that unitas multiplex type of world Edgar Morin has mentioned, as the cultural space "est porteur d'un langage capable de véhiculer la mémoire collective et de donner forme à l'identité" (Christine Chivallon) [13]. The dyad memory-history functions as a nodal restoring mechanism bringing the experience of the Past into the on-forming present whose identity discourse conveys the dilemmas of integration, the search for the most appropriate strategies to select and aesthetically validate the literature of the totalitarian epoch in order to portray a culturally-based Eurocentric alternative of the East. In the Romanian communist age, the literary narratives coping with the theme of the totalitarian trauma through allusive, symbolical or even parable codes convey a special type of fictional verosimilité crediting the real history as "la mémoire détient un privilège que l'histoire ne partagera pas, à savoir le petit bonheur de la reconnaissance : c'est bien elle ! c'est bien lui ! Quelle récompense, en dépit des déboires d'une mémoire difficile, ardue ! C'est parce que l'histoire n'a pas ce petit bonheur qu'elle a une problématique spécifique de la représentation et que ses constructions complexes voudraient être des reconstructions, dans le dessein de satisfaire au pacte de vérité avec le lecteur" (Paul Ricœur) [14]. Looked upon as "history matrix" (François Bédarida), the memory, carrying out the struggle of the post-totalitarian cultures to re-define themselves according both to their own History and to the integrationist drive, is converted into discursive technique facing représentance (lieutenance) defined by Ricœur as "rapport entre les constructions de l'histoire et leur vis-à-vis, à savoir un passé tout à la fois aboli et préservé dans ses traces" or "l'attente attachée à la connaissance historique des constructions constituant les reconstructions du cours passé des événements" -"La représentance exprime le mélange opaque du souvenir et de la fiction dans la reconstruction du passé" (Paul Ricœur) [15]. "Le pacte de vérité" is always changing during re-writing History, thus the fictionalisation of the Past conveys the writers' "personal truths" shaped in identity-focused texts relating to Ricœur's ars oblivionis and ars memoriae (the first mediates the issues "de la mémoire et de la fidélité au passé", the latter "le pardon, celle de la culpabilité et de la réconciliation avec le passé" - Bédarida [16]) From this perspective, the Eastern post-totalitarian literatures, especially the Romanian one, are caught between the fictionalised replicas of the Past mirroring a collective traumatic experience and the quest for re-rewriting their own identity-focused discourses by means of which they can turn valid and recognisable on the European cultural stage. However, in these cultures still mirroring the Periphery stigmata, the change of view, from the We-I identity ("identifications culturelles et statutaires") to I-We identity ("identifications réflexives et narratives") [17], witnesses the impact of the identity crisis asking for the identification of the Autrui généralisé (Claude Dubar) - in our case the European cultural exclave - which "puisse permettre d'accompagner la reconstruction identitaire, de servir d'intermédiaire entres les anciennes identifications en crise, voire en faillite, et les nouvelles en gestation" [18].

The collective identity discourse slips from the dominant ideological narratives (omnipotent and over-ruling) towards ego-centred fictionalised experience portraying the writer's particular confrontation with the History' Terror (be it inner history or the "great" one, mirroring the whole epoch). The writing ego has to pass over its internal clivages brought forth by its memory as "il s'agit, pour lui, de retrouver des références, des repères, une nouvelle définition de lui-même et donc des autres et du monde. Ces nouveaux repères, ces nouvelles références sociales, différentes des précédentes, permettent progressivement d'incorporer une autre configuration identitaire, une autre arrangement entre formes 'communautaires' et 'sociétaires', entre 'identités pour autrui' et 'identité pour soi' " [19].

2. The Romanian Post-totalitarian Debate: Between the Memory of History and the "Revisionist" Urge

Within the post-totalitarian Romanian culture, the reference to the contemporary European paradigm and the drive for cultural integration of "national literature" as collective icon have stirred acute debates on the selection of the aesthetically valid literary works mirroring Romanianness, both from the perspective of the communist experience and its specific fictionalizations as well as from the Eurocentric formulae synchronizing the literary narratives to the contemporary Western trends. Nevertheless, the mixture of selection criteria, the permanent vacillation among the moral / ethical view validating the "politically non-subjected" literature and the aesthetically-rooted pattern of re-reading process, the conscious de-forming of the "founding mythologies" which has legitimized the collective fictional pact with the political and ideological mystifications or its replica, the revival of the validating process mirroring the representation / recognition function enhanced by the intercultural role played by the national myths - all these elements are voicing post-December phenomena and ideographic inter-relations in the contemporary Romanian cultural life. Marked by the occurrence of the revisionists / autonomists dyad reflecting the two poles of the critical discourse, the nowadays cultural debate copes with the issue of the writer's bi-polar options: as Alina Crihanâ argues in her book, "the autobiographic pact" and "the historical pact" (the author anchors her approach in Lejeune's Le pacte autobiographique and Eugen Simion's analysis on Genurile biograficului /The Biographic Genres [20]) initiate an identity-focused mythology of the writer defining his narrative authenticity of the epoch, in fact a ego-recognition process by means of the displacement strategies - the narration of the "Great History" inherently approaches the creative ego's personal history, sometimes even "illusory" or "mystified" through the mediating critical discourse (as Andrei Grigor argues in his article entitled "Iluziile literaturii române". Iluzionism / "The Illusions of Romanian Literature". Illusionists about Negrici's controversial essays - [21]). In its turn, as revealed by the articles published in the literary revues, the post-December critical discourse has witnessed the virulent demolishment of the representative writings of the 60's starting with its canonic authors: in 1990, Gh.Grigurcu considers that Marin Preda's novels are nothing but stereotyped extensions of the "culprit writing", as he "did not proved the courage of the sacrificial, ascetic seclusion within the limits of his writings, as his great contemporary colleague, Radu Petrescu, experienced" (our translation) [22]. Unfortunately, his "obsessive" theme already converted, in his case, into a subliminal inferiority complex portraying him as the "internally-exiled critic" - actually, it is the reversed effect of the public recognition of authority, he is the critical figure always in search for a place in the post-December critical canon - becomes symptomatic for the whole post-totalitarian "East-ethic" tendency: "Even if dictatorship and totalitarianism have passed away long ago [...], have definitely lost their prestige and historical legitimacy [...], we, the Romanian writers, are incapable of being solidary, stubbornly, even naively, repeating the same old mistakes: 'the ideological conflicts and intransigencies' are still present today, in the reconstruction period. [...] There are some voices in our country, in diaspora also, claiming the acute necessity of 'going on with the fight', of opening 'new dossiers', which may but maintain the general suspicion and the obstinate search for false leaders and real victims" (our translation) [23]. Yet, the author of these ideas rapidly changes his mind and starts in his literary revue, Contemporanul, a virulent attack on Preda, talking about "collaborationism", "nomenclature" and "intellectual abdication" which have made Eugen Simion, the mentor of the aesthetic autonomy direction, state: "Preda is a national writer and has been one during a period in which common sense

and dignity were rare qualities. Preda has always been a moral conscience. For many writers and people of this country, he has represented a turning point in literature, a modal example. [.] His minor compromise (but never when talking about principles) belong to the surviving struggle of the writer living in a totalitarian regime. But, be careful, I speak about surviving while striving to say the bare truth about 'the scurvies' epoch. ' Is this a little thing? In my opinion, it is the essential" (our translation) [24]. Paradoxically or not, the contemporary inquisitorial drive for finding the culprits by making up "literary dossiers" (the most representative authors of the '60 and their predecessors are the key-figures of the denouncing attack) reiterates the dictatorship methods, yet pointing out the revival of the post-totalitarian "captive mind" ever in search for the Ketman syndrome (Czeslaw Milosz) [25] both in the fictional writing itself as well as in the biographic profile of the writer. The crypto-ideology of the "revisionists" labelling the cvasi-nostalgic return to the omnipresence of the over-potent Centre (now founded on the "non-collaborationist" pact, a non-aesthetic criterion which by no means has to be placed at the core of the interpretative act), in fact a compensatory scenario manipulated according to the "new democratic wave" of "East-ethics". This "post-totalitarian replication" of the ideology of the 50's is now reloaded, converging to the same pattern of "manipulated memory" (actually, the whole literature of the Gulag is rooted in the fictionalisation of memory vs. history - see DoiniDa Milea's study [26]), Paul Ricoeur speaks about: "The manipulation of memory [...] result from the intervention of a disturbing and multiform factor that insinuates itself between the demand for identity and the public expressions of memory. [...] The ideological process is opaque in two ways. First, it remains hidden; unlike utopia, it is unacknowledged; it masks itself by inverting itself, denouncing its adversaries in the field of competition between ideologies, for it is always the other who stoops to ideology. [...] On the other hand, the process is extremely complex. [...] Running from top to bottom, from surface to depth, these effects are, in succession, distortions of reality, the legitimation of the system of power, and the integration of the common world by means of symbolic systems immanent in action" [27]. The recurrent "mystified fictions" - be they biographically made up so as to conveniently relate the "moral guilt" of the empirical ego to the "inconsistency" of the writing or displaying the "ethical écart" of both the writer and his narrative - are rejected by the "autonomists" who point out the real objective of reductive revisionism: as Constantin Coroiu states in 1990, "once the totalitarianism and the mutilating praxis of a fatal ideology fell apart, everybody thought that great values of the Romanian literature would reinforce their role in the national conscience and exercise their forming power over the contemporary and future generations. But our expectations and hopes are beginning to fade away. The negative practices of the 50's are re-enacted by means of which the biographies and literary works of our great authors - Arghezi, Sadoveanu, Câlinescu, Zaharia Stancu and others -are re-discussed from a politically- narrowed point of view. Eminescu himself is contested as being nothing but a hooligan" (our translation) [28]. From this perspective, we argue that contemporary critical discourse has to give away the "inquisitorial" impulse and aesthetically validate the works now freed from the "auto legitimising" morality, a counter-productive criterion used only for providing "critical authority" and feeding particular ego-centrism: the Romanian literature has to re-validate its national icons in order to voice its specificity within the European stage and to grasp the real sense of equilibrium between the "classical models" and the "pressure of the anti-canon" (see Antofi's study [29]).


This paper is supported by the Sectorial Operational Programme Human Resources Development (SOP HRD), financed from the European Social Fund and by the Romanian Government under the contract number SOP HRD/89/1.5/S/59758.


[1] Touraine, Alain (2005), Une nouveau paradigme. Pour comprendre le monde d'aujourd'hui , Fayard, 12-13.

[2] Ibidem, 13.

[3] Ibidem., 245.

[4] Cf. Semprini, Andrea (1997), Le multiculturalisme, PUF, 73.

[5] Ibidem, 75.

[6] Rutherford, Jonathan (1990), The Third Space. Interview with Homi Bhabha in Ders. (Hg), Identity: Community, Culture, Difference, London, Lawrence and Wishart, 220.

[7] Ibidem, 210.

[8] Ibidem., 210-211.

[9] Ibidem., 211.

[10] Ibidem, 213.

[11] Ibidem., 220.

[12] Di Méo, Guy (2008), Le rapport identité/espace. Éléments conceptuels et épistémologiques, halshs-00281929, version 1 - 26 May 2008,, 3.

[13] Cf. Di Méo, Guy (2008), ibidem., 8.

[14] Cf. Bédarida, François (2001), Une invitation à penser l'histoire : Paul Ricoeur, La mémoire, l'histoire et l'oubli, Revue historique, no.3 / 619, DOI : 10.3917/rhis.013.0731 -, 734.

[15] Cf. Bédarida, François (2001), ibidem., 736-737.

[16] Bédarida, François (2001), ibidem., 738.

[17] Dubar, Claude (2000), La crise des identités. L'interprétation d'une mutation, PUF, XI.

[18] Ibidem., 172.

[19] Ibidem, 172.

[20] Crïhanâ, Alina (2011), Aspecte aie memorialisticii româneçti posttotalitare: între pactul autobiografic pactul eu istoria / On the Romanian Post-totalitarian Memoir Writings : between the Autobiographic Pact and the Pact with the Great History, Europlus, Galati.

[21] Grigor, Andrei (2009), Iluziile literaturii române. Iluzionism / "The Illusions of Romanian Literature". Illusionists (2), in Caiete critice, no. 11.

[22] Grigurcu, Gh. (1990), Despre Marin Preda, neconvenOional/A Non-conventional Approch on Marin Preda, in Contemporanul, no.15 / July 27th, 4. All the quoted fragments are translated by us.

[23] Breban, Nicolae (1990), Riscul in culturä / The Risk of Culture(19). Mediocritatea ca boalä / Mediocrity as Plague (VII), in Contemporanul, no.30 / November 9th, 1. All the quoted fragments are translated by us.

[24] Simion, Eugen (1992), „Preda n-a scris niciun capitol despre Nicolae Ceauçescu". Interviu de C.Stänescu / "Marin Preda has never written any chapter about Nicolae Ceusescu". Interview by C.Stanescu, in Adevärul no. 159 / August 5th. All the quoted fragments are translated by us.

[25] Milosz, Czeslaw (1988), La pensée captive. Essai sur les logocraties populaires, Gallimard.

[26] Milea, DoiniDa (2005), Spatiu cultural çifiorme literareîn secolul XX. Reconfigurai / The Cultural Space and its Literary Forms in the XXth Century. Revisions, E.D.P., Bucharest.

[27] Ricoeur, Paul (2004), Memory, History, Forgetting, translation by Kathleen Blamey&David Pellauer, University of Chicago Press, 82.

[28] Coroiu, Constantin, Valorile literare politice / The Literary and Political Values, in Adevärul, no.125 / May 25th. All the quoted fragments are translated by us.

[29] Antofi, Simona (2008), Discursul critic actual între clasicitatea modelelor presiunea anticanonului / The Contemporary Critical Discourse between the classical patterns and the Dominance of the Anti-canon, in Communication Interculturelle et Littérature, no.1, May-June-July