“I’ve been summoned. Thursday, at ten sharp.”

The above is from Herta Muller’s novel, The Appointment. We’ve talked previously about Muller (2009 winner of the Nobel Prize in literature) here and here.

The words are brisk, painful almost, when spoken aloud. Speak them: I’ve been summoned. Thursday, at ten sharp. A young woman working in a factory in communist Romania has been sewing notes into the trouser linings of men’s suits – suits that are to be sent to Italy. She is looking for a “Marcello”:

After the business with the first notes, I put Italy out of my mind completely. It took more than linen suits for export to land a Marcello, you needed connections, couriers, and intermediaries, not trouser pockets. Instead of an Italian I landed the Major.

Major Albu has summoned the young woman, at ten sharp, to be interrogated about her conduct. She has been ratted out by another factory worker – a man she has rejected romantically. For this “crime” (wanting to escape the dictatorship by marrying a mythical Italian “Marcello”), her life is completely shattered. Or rather, the shattering is accelerated because the world was never whole to begin with. Freedom is approximated only, and in short bursts, while riding on the back of her boyfriend’s motorcycle: Once or twice a week we’d go for a ride out of town, to the river. The lane through the beanfields – now that was happiness, good fortune, luck. The bigger the sky grew overhead, the more light-headed I felt.

The novel takes place on a tram ride to the interrogation. As she rides, the main character thinks about her past, her present, her future, all in a fragmented and non-linear dream-state. The writing is intense, vivid, impressionistic. It approaches prose poetry in some sections, and yet, the poetic elements seem utterly corrupted: how dare we extract beauty from such evil!

Fellow Chicago Boyz contributor TM Lutas has said that Herta Muller’s novels will be difficult to read. And this novel is hard to read – it meanders, it pokes, it cuts, it stings. The very pages bleed.

*How is it that such an ideology took hold of the imagination of some Western intellectuals? I can never understand it. And, speaking of capturing the imagination, is anyone familiar with the following project? I stumbled across it during one of my internet rambles:

With these failures in mind, Hamilton attempts to explain the wide acceptance of Marxist claims throughout the 20th century. The answer, he says, lies not in the theory itself, but in the way it is disseminated as people vouch for it, political parties adopt it, and academics and journalists embrace it. Hamilton draws on social psychology, conformity studies, and theories of cognitive dissonance to explain this persistence. – The Marxist Rhetoric: On the Relationship of Practice and Theory, Richard Hamilton (Mershon Center for International Security Studies)

4 thoughts on ““I’ve been summoned. Thursday, at ten sharp.””

  1. I’ll put the book on my list.

    I was re-reading Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s novels (finished 8 in 6 days) over the holidays. In one book (can’t recall which), a detective denounces a secretary for vacationing in the land of evil: Greece under the colonels. A few pages later, another detective goes to Rumania, where true socialism has been implemented and all is just and good.

    “How is it that such an ideology took hold of the imagination of some Western intellectuals?”

    Took, has taken, and remains with its death-grip on the overwhelming majority of “Western” intellectuals. In as far they subscribe, they are not Western except by compass direction.

  2. A good chunk of the people that I knew socially growing up were Herta Muellers minus the literary talent. I like the phrase “the very pages bleed”. This is an apt description of these people’s lives. They bleed because they have been profoundly wounded. In many cases, they bleed because they are lucky, they survived when so many others did not. And finally they bleed because communist inflicted wounds are ignored when others with lesser wounds are celebrated as noble victims so long as the inflicter is the right kind of villain. There’s something evil in our culture when we do that and tolerate others doing it.

  3. Tehag: “Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s novels” – more novels to add to my reading list.

    RJO: I really want to read the project I highlighted in this post – the paper or monograph or whatever. I’m really curious. I don’t know much about conformity studies, but such pressures are always there, particularly in the more hothouse intellectual environments.

    TMLutas: Wow. It is amazing – stunning, sad – to think about how many Herta Mullers are out there. I confess, even as a child, teenager really, of the eighties who witnessed (on television) the fall of the Berlin Wall and all that followed, I didn’t start thinking about the human cost of those systems in a serious way until recently. I had a lot of bumper-sticker knowledge, but nothing else to go on. Thank you for your comments.

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