From Necrology to Necromancy: Exploring the Afterlife of Communism

Discussion hosted by Florin Poenaru. With: Vasile Ernu, Vladimir Bulat, Bogdan Iancu, Valeriu Antonovici

Maybe there is no death as we know it. Just documents changing hands (Don DeLillo)

In post-communism, the history of communism has been told from the perspective of a happy-end: the demise of communism and the triumph of capitalism and democracy. But, as the exuberance surrounding the 1989 events soon withered under the pressure of more mundane, and less colorful, preoccupations, so did the consensus of a “happy” dénouement of communism. It soon became apparent that there were not so many reasons to cherish, or at least not for the majority of people. The term “transition” was thus coined precisely as a catch-all phrase, a theoretical and practical limbo, designed to deal with the ensuing disenchantment and the absence of collective happiness. However, once happiness was called into question, the “end” of communism itself was doubted, so much so, that the lack of happiness was attributed to its surviving remnants. While communism was proclaimed dead and buried, some of its elements were still depicted as haunting the present, disturbing its harmony and normal functioning. Thus the “happy-end” soon appeared in its inverted, but true form: a nightmare populated by ghosts of the past such as the Securitate agents, by vampires sucking the blood of the new fragile economy, by specters with old habits, by phantoms of dead ages and people, by shadows of run-down and ill-fated buildings, by phantasms of better times, by memories of repressed desires, by visions of different and unfulfilled futures. In a way, transition, particularly in its anti-communist stance, was nothing more than a general societal attempt to wake up from this nightmare, to purge the present of its past shady nuances and history of its murky underbelly.  

Instead of adhering to the mainstream necrology of communism, this series of round-table discussions represent a spooky invitation, if ever was one, to necromancy: a collective conjuration of spirits, ghosts, phantoms and specters in order not necessarily to predict and influence the future, but to understand the past and the present. While participants are free (and highly encouraged) to bring to the table their own haunting phantoms, the talks will be loosely structured around two main poles: the “body” and the “city”. The distinction is neither theoretical, nor methodological, but simply a formal ordering around two complex phenomena, aiming to focus our discussions. Henceforth, some suggestions as possible key issues:

-          The political and social life of dead bodies: the role and function of burials, exhumations and re-burials in post-communism.

-          The political cartography of mourning: dealing with the (dead) bodies of victims and perpetrators

-          Resting in Peace” in un-peaceful times: traveling dead bodies, the changing geography of cemeteries, mausoleums, and memorials.  

-          From dead bodies to bodies in stone: statues and Statue-Parks, museums, archives, documents, collections, etc

-          Dealing with the “dead undead”: Lenin’s mummy, Ceausescu’s shrine, etc

-          Dealing with the “undead dead”: industrial (and other) ruins, flats, underclass, alternative stories and histories, Casa Poporului, etc

-          The Ghost of Communism (“nostalgia”, “the revival of the left”, etc) vs. the Dracula Complex (the rise of the dead asking for justice and/or punishment)

-          Rituals of exorcising vs. Rituals of invocations

Wednesday, 20.10.2010 | 19:00

Bucharest Event