A poet, philosopher, translator, and dramatist, Romanian writer Lucian Blaga (1895–1961) narrowly missed winning the 1956 Nobel Prize for Literature because of Soviet government interference. Blaga created the field of philosophy of culture and the concept of Mioritic Space, both of which became key concepts in the development of a Romanian national identity.
Blaga was born on May 9, 1895, in Lâncrâm, Transylvania, in what was then part of the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire but which became Romania. He was the ninth child born to a Romanian Orthodox priest and his wife. Interestingly, the future poet did not speak until he was four years old, but once he did, any concerns raised as to his intelligence were quickly put to rest. His education was a predominantly German one, and he was especially influenced by the philosophical texts of Friedrich Nietzsche, Gotthold Lessing, and Henri Bergson. Blaga attended primary school in his native village, but after his family became destitute upon the death of his father in 1908, he was forced to withdraw from secondary school. He resumed his schooling in Sebeş, where his family moved in 1909, and completed his secondary schooling in Braşov.
Blaga published his first poems in 1910, and two years later he traveled to Italy, where he scoured libraries for books on philosophy and visited historical sites. In 1914 he published "Notes on Intuition in Bergson," his first philosophical article. From 1914 to 1917 he avoided serving in the Austro-Hungarian army by taking theology courses at the Sibiu Orthodox Seminary, then moved to Vienna, Austria, where he studied philosophy and biology at the University of Vienna. In 1919 his first volume of poetry, Poemele luminii (Poems of Light), was published. His thesis titled "Culture and Cognition" earned him a Ph.D. in philosophy in 1920, the same year he married.
Nominated for Nobel Prize for Literature
Blaga moved back to Romania in 1920 and published plays and more poems. He and a group of prominent Romanian writers established the journal Gîndirea (Thought) which was devoted to exploring Romanian national identity and which became the most influential literary magazine of its day. In 1921 the Romanian Academy presented Blaga with the Adamachi Award and in 1922 his thesis was published.
In 1926 Blaga began a career as a diplomat and journalist as the press attaché to the Romanian legation in Warsaw. A year later he was transferred to Prague, where his daughter, Dorli, was born. Another transfer in 1932 took Braga and his family back to Vienna. He made his first speech, "Eulogy to the Romanian Village," before the Romanian Academy in 1937. One year later his diplomatic career took him to Bucharest, Romania, and then to Lisbon, Portugal.
In 1939 Blaga returned to Romania to become a professor of the philosophy of culture, a position created specifically for him, at the University of Cluj. The Romanian Students' Union published On Philosophical Cognition, the first part of Blaga's course, in 1947, followed by his Anthropological Aspects the next year.
The 1949 Communist takeover of Romania forced Blaga to give up his academic chair at the University of Cluj, and he was also banned from further publishing. He found work as a librarian and resigned himself to publishing translations of German authors such as Friedrich Schiller/Schelling and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He became the Romanian Academy's head librarian in 1951. In 1956 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, on the proposal of Italy's Rosa del Conte and France's Brazil Munteanu. Blaga was on the verge of receiving the award when the communist regime in Bucharest dispatched emissaries to Sweden to make false political allegations in protest of his nomination.
Silenced as a writer and intellectual, Blaga died of cancer on May 6, 1961, in Cluj, Romania, and was buried three days later, on his birthday, in the Lâncrâm church garden, near Sebeş. In 1962 his writings began to be published once more, many of them edited by his daughter, and in 1995 the University of Sibiu changed its name to Lucian Blaga University.
Formulated Philosophy of Culture
Blaga was known as both poet and social philosopher, and his poetry is often examined in relation to his philosophy. The two are inseparable, linked "like Siamese twins, with the same blood running in their veins," according to Dumitru Ghise in Romanian Review. In his work, Blaga investigated day-to-day village life and its mythical traditions and devised an original philosophy of culture, distilled the essence of Romania, and fixed the nation's position in the world. In his poetry he reworked Romanian folklore to illuminate the relationship between the individual and his society. For instance, Blaga proposed that the pastoral folk ballad "Miorita" (The Little Ewe Lamb), of which there are over 900 variations, are mirrored in the Romanian landscape and portray nature and man as two inseparable entities. He felt the layout of the Romanian environment to be represented by the ballad's alternating accented and unaccented syllables, the unaccented syllables reflected the distinctive arrangement of peasant houses alternating with green fields.
Blaga applied his philosophy to religion as well. He believed that Protestantism and Catholicism encouraged the development of cities while Orthodoxy contributed to the growth of villages: Western villages were miniature cities no longer possessing their creative originality and rural character, while Eastern cites were overgrown villages that retained their primitive creativity. Therefore, the uniqueness of the Romanian national character was born of Orthodox dogma resulting from semi-pagan folklore, and the elements that distinguished Romanians from Serbs and Bulgarians were manifested most obviously in the output of folk artists and poets. As a result, self-definition through the Romanian cultural unconscious established an original perception of "Romanianness."
Blaga's Theory of Mioritic Space
Blaga asserted that mystery is the tenet behind all creation, an elusive principle he called the "Great Anonymous" because it can only be ascertained residually in nature and not seen directly. For Blaga, the Great Anonymous forms the collective ethnic consciousness, or cultural soul, of the Romanian people. This collective consciousness functions as the cornerstone of his theory of "Spatiul Mioritic" or Mioritic Space, which offers a definition of Romanian national identity by means of the characteristics that distinguish cultures from one another, including differences in environment and landscape. He envisioned life as a search for the origin of all creation and mystery and believed that each unique culture, born of its environment, is humankind's creative reaction to that search. As environment contributed to shaping the Romanian lifestyle and the Romanian lifestyle helped shape the environment, collective experiences occurring within the environment over time caused a unique culture to develop. As a consequence, national identity defines itself and can only be fashioned by the members of a specific nation.
Blaga argued that factors such as history, politics, and geography all influence the development of national identity. Considering the impact of such diversity and constant change of identity led Blaga to advance his theory of "style," a concept essential to his understanding of the roots of national identity. To Blaga, style comprised the complete number of categories employed by a people to distinguish historical periods, ethnic communities, and works of art from each other. He believed style emerges from unconscious primary and secondary groupings in the mind—a stylistic matrix—and that these serve as a nation's roots. Many matrix combinations exist and, consequently, there are various interpretations of the style of national identity. Primary categories contain prime instincts, such as the desire to form order, while secondary categories contain preferences for massive or delicate movement or calm. Blaga's theory of the stylistic matrix holds that it is the complex fusion of the characteristics of a community and its individuals that determines national identity, and that since experience is ongoing and new elements are incorporated into the community, this identity is constantly changing. It is in this manner that cultures develop regionally while occurring inside the same general context.
Blaga, as a humanist, did not subscribe to the view of German philosopher Oswald Spengler that culture is a parasitical result of a soul alienated from man and thus a means of suppressing him. He argued the contrary: that regional culture and mankind's creative destiny are entwined; that culture is a means by which an individual is able to transcend his mortality, endure the moment, and experience fulfillment.
Reflecting his philosophical beliefs, shadow and light, naive candor and wisdom, spontaneity and restraint constantly crisscross in Blaga's poetic work. The poetry simultaneously affirms and denies, with the poet reaching out toward transcendence, stirred by the spectacle of nature and cosmic grandeur yet suffering from an inner exile. This personal experience mirrors a universal condition: that creation attempts to find and reunite with its source, but encounters obstacles in nature established by the Great Anonymous.
Contemporary Authors, Volume 157, Gale, 1997.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 75, Gale, 1993.
Central Europe Review, October 25, 1999.
English-Language Web site for Lucian Blaga,http://homepage.ntlworld.com/rt.allen/life.html (December 22, 2003).
"Lucian Blaga (1895–1961)," Welcome to Romania Web site,http://www.ici.ro/romania/culture/l_blaga.html (December 22, 2003).
"Lucian Blaga: Romanian Poet and Philosopher," Simply Romania Web site,http://www.simplyromania.com/ (December 22, 2003).