Severin’s Choice: Marcel Cornis-Pope


‘’Intercultural translation is by definition boundary-crossing, facilitating interaction and response.’’

Interview with the literary criticist and theorist Marcel Cornis-Pope, Professor of English and Media Studies,
Department of English, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, USA.

I know that you’ve been a lucky child in your birth city, Arad, Romania: the library of your father was huge. Do you remember the first books which impressed you?

– I was born in Arad but my early education was begun in Cluj, in the library of my father
which occupied two different rooms in our house. My reading interests developed
gradually, negotiating some truce between classic Romanian literature (my father’s focus)
and my first explorations in English and American literature. J.D. Salinger, Virginia
Woolf, Thomas Pynchon and Thomas Wolfe were my first interests.

At what age did you discover the beauty of the English language, which became
over the years your first tool of daily communication? Is English now your daily
inner life, too? And what is the language of your dreams?

– I started studying English in school in fourth grade. In addition to my first readings (of
Salinger’s stories, for example) I spent too much time (according to my father) listening
to that “horrible” English music (Beatles and their followers). Gradually, English became
the language of my inner thoughts and fantasies.

Your main hobby is classical music, as I know, a good nourishment for a rich
spiritual life. Do you play any instrument?

– At the beginning I tried to negotiate some truce between classical music and pop and rock
music. Both styles interested me, though I found rock music more appealing to my own
temperament. I had a good voice and I learned to accompany myself on the guitar.

You are among the Romanian intellectuals who remained vertical during the
communist dictatorship. How difficult was for you to fight with the pressures of
nomenklatura and political police?

– It was quite difficult especially in terms of what I wanted to write and publish. Many of
the texts I wrote had to go through different rewrites to be able to pass censorship or were
never published.

I’ve noticed that you are one of the thinkers who are encouraging the
collaboration between political and cultural imagination, though almost
everywhere the political life is dirty. Do you believe that in the post-communist
societies this could be one of the paths to the democratization process?

– Whether we like it or not, the political plays an important role in our thinking and
expression. Post-communist societies need to learn to negotiate new ways to address the
political implications of contemporary thinking and expression.

This issue of ‘’Levure littéraire’’, founded by your former student in Timisoara,
the well-known writer, Rodica Draghincescu, is dedicated to ‘’Translation- word
nourishment, clothing, map and craft’’. I remember that you won your first
Romanian Writers’ Union award, in 1975, for a translation from English. Can you
tell us some words about the importance of translation in our time? Can we say that the critical
interpretation of the literary texts is a kind of translation?

– Whether we are aware of it or not, translation plays an important role in all our
statements. We translate our own ideas into new expressions, retranslate ideas we have
discovered in other writers, and—as your next question suggests—all our interpretations
of texts are modes of translations, more or less accurate or suggestive.

The Polish sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman asserted that in our era
we need specialists in the field of translation between cultures. In my opinion you
are one of them, but can you explain to our readers which are the main tasks of
such experts?

-Translation between cultures is essential to the process of reciprocal understanding.
Otherwise, cultures would be estranged entities, gesturing towards each other but not able
to cross the boundaries of their respective discourses. Intercultural translation is by
definition boundary-crossing, facilitating interaction and response.

Probably among the Romanian theorists of literature, Adrian Marino was the first
with a significant international audience, followed by you, Virgil Nemoianu,
Matei Calinescu, Mihai Spariosu, Monica Spiridon, Toma Pavel and others. I had
a moving personal relationship with him. Did you also meet him, did you admire
his ideas and books?

– Adrian Marino was a great guide for my more complex literary explorations. Many of the
early ideas (transcultural, deconstructive, dialogical) that I was able to develop were
directly inspired by theorists like Marino.

Are you satisfied by the efforts to reintegrate in Romania the cutting edge
contributions of several generations of expatriated Romanian theorists?

– I am happy that this process has finally started and that Romanian literature is richer and
more complex as a result. The intertextual dialogue with the expatriated writers is still not
fully developed but we are moving in the right direction.

I began to be in touch with you 15 years ago, when I was writing the essay on
postliterature and one of my references became your book, ‘’Narrative
Innovations and Cultural Rewriting in the Cold War Era and After’’, published by
Palgrave Press, in 2001. Are you still interested by the new changes of paradigm
in the history of culture?

– Changes of paradigm have always interested me, but they need to be viewed in their
complexity that often includes a resistance to change.

You are a well-known literary theorist and an organizer of reading debates with
your students. Can you pick up, in this plethora of contemporary ‘’stories of
reading’’, a theory fitted to our challenging era?

– As I have suggested above, as a “deconstructionist” I was always interested in the
tensions that texts develop from inside, tensions that are often left unresolved.

Do you intend to write fiction? Who are your preferred fiction writers?

– I have “written fiction” in my translations, which have covered important writers and
their complex works (Salinger, Pynchon, Thomas Wolfe, Vonnegut, Ken Kesey, Dylan
Thomas).

What is your opinion, are the new cultural theories able to play a major role in
innovative literary, like in the past? I remember that during the 70’ties and 80’ties
years of the communist regime in Romania, I read a lot of interesting books of
criticism, translated and published by ‘’Univers’’ and they influenced me as a
poet.

– The new theories can inspire new approaches and modalities of writing, but they need to
be used cautiously, as hints and options rather than required approaches.

What could be the role of literature in our time, is it diminished compared to the
Modern era?

– Literature remains an important window through we peep at the world, but this window
has to be continually refreshed and redefined, opening new vistas in the way we make
and receive literature.

Marcel Cornis-Pope is Professor of English and Media Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, USA. His publications include ‘’Anatomy of the White Whale: A Poetics of the American Symbolic Romance’’ (in Romanian, 1982), ‘’Hermeneutic Desire and Critical Rewriting: Narrative Interpretation in the Wake of Poststructuralism’’ (1992), ‘’The Unfinished Battles: Romanian Postmodernism before and after 1989’’ (1996), and ‘’Narrative Innovation and Cultural Rewriting in the Cold War Era and After’’ (2001). He has also published numerous articles on contemporary fiction, narrative studies, and critical theory in journals and collective volumes. In 2010 he completed with John Neubauer the editing of a four-volume “History of the Literary Cultures of East Central Europe: Junctures and Disjunctures in the 19th and 20th Century,” which explores East Central European literatures from a comparative-intercultural perspective. His most recent book-length publication is an international collection entitled “New Literary Hybrids in the Age of Multimedia Expression: Crossing Borders, Crossing Genres,” published at the end of 2014 by John Benjamins Publishing Company.

EDUCATION:
1979 Ph.D. magna cum laude, American and Comparative Literature University of
Timişoara, Romania
1971 Graduate Summer School, University of Birmingham, England
1968 M.A. in English and American Literature, Babeş-Bolyai University of Cluj,
Romania
1966 English Summer School, Oxford University, England
Ph.D. Dissertation: “Theory and Form of the Symbolic Romance: Herman
Melville and Thomas Wolfe”
M.A. Thesis: “Robert Frost: Poet of Clarification”
ACADEMIC APPOINTMENTS:
2012- Professor of English and Media Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University,
USA.
2010-2011 Professor of English and Media Studies, Co-Chair, Department of English
Virginia Commonwealth University
2006-2010 Professor of English; Director of PhD Program in Media, Art, and Text
2000-2006 Professor of English and Chair, Department of English, Virginia
Commonwealth University
1991- Professor of English, Department of English, Virginia Commonwealth University
1988-1991 Associate Professor, Dept. of English, Virginia Commonwealth University
1987-88 Andrew W. Mellon Faculty Fellow, Comparative Literature, Harvard University
1985-87 Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Northern
Iowa
1983-85 Senior Fulbright Lecturer, Department of English, University of Northern Iowa
1977-83 Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Timişoara, Romania
1968-77 Assistant Professor, Department of English, University of Timişoara, Romania
HONORS, AWARDS:
Elske V.P. Smith Lecturer Award, College of Humanities, VCU, 2015.
Cornis-Pope Lectures in Media, Art, and Text. Annual program in honor of my research
and teaching, launched in 2012.
Elected member of the Academia Europaea, 2012.
VCU Award of Excellence, 2007 Convocation, Sept. 25, 2007.
Speaker at the Phi Kappa Phi initiation ceremony, the Greater Richmond Convention
Center, November 2007.
Fellow-in-Residence, the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies in Humanities and
Social Sciences, Wassenaar, Sept. 1, 1999-June 30, 2000.
The 1996 Phoenix Award for Significant Editorial Achievement (presented by the
Council of Editors of Learned Journals).
Member, the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi (inducted April 25, 1996).
Nominee, SCHEV Outstanding Faculty Award (1995).
Nominee, VCU Distinguished Scholarship Award (1995; 1996).
Humanities & Sciences Distinguished Lecturer Award, VCU (1994).
Humanities & Sciences Distinguished Scholar Award, VCU (1991).
Andrew Mellon Faculty Fellowship, Harvard University (1987-88).
Fulbright Teaching and Research Award (1983-85).
The Romanian Writers’ Award for Criticism (1982).
The Romanian Writers’ Award for Translation (1975).
A.C.L.S. grant for research in the U.S. (1972)
British Council Fellowship, University of Birmingham (1971).
British Council Fellowship, Oxford University (1966).
Listings: Contemporary Authors Online; Who’s Who in the South and Southwest; Who’s Who in
American Education; Who’s Who in the World; Who’s Who in America (2009, 2010,
2011, 2012, 2014, 2015), Who’s Who: Romanian Writers Abroad, etc.
RESEARCH
I. PUBLICATIONS
I. BOOKS
2016-2017 Forthcoming Chinese translation of Narrative Innovation and Cultural
Rewriting in the Cold War Era and After (London: Palgrave Press, 2001).
Simplified Characters Chinese Characters translation. Beijing: Beijing Yanziyue
Culture & Art Studio.
2014 New Literary Hybrids in the Age of Multimedia Expression: Crossing Borders,
Crossing Genres. Ed. Marcel Cornis-Pope. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John
Benjamins Publishing Company. 456 pp. Published as part of the Comparative
History of Literatures in European Languages (CHLEL) sponsored by the
International Comparative Literature Association—see
http://www.ua.ac.be/main.aspx?c=.CHLEL
REVIEWED by Assumpta Camps, in Recherche Littéraires/ Literary Research 32 (Summer
2016): 108-112. Other references to New Literary Hybrids in the Age of Multimedia Expression
in Recherche Littéraires, pp. 2, 5, 179, 180, 183, and 209.
2010 History of the Literary Cultures of East Central Europe: Junctures and
Disjunctures in the 19thand 20thCenturies. Ed. Marcel Cornis-Pope and John
Neubauer. Vol. 4. “Types and Stereotypes.” Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John
Benjamins Publishing Company. 714 pp. Published as part of the Comparative
History of Literatures in European Languages (CHLEL) sponsored by the
International Comparative Literature Association—see
http://www.ua.ac.be/main.aspx?c=.CHLEL
REVIEWED by Florentina Răcătăianu, Virgil Stanciu, Aurel Sasu, and Liliana Pop (vols. 1-4), in
Tribuna (Romania), 203 (February 16-23, 2011): 15-19; Vol. 4 by Fausto Bedoya in Rampike
(Windsor, Canada) 20.2 (2011): 79.
2007 History of the Literary Cultures of East Central Europe: Junctures and
Disjunctures in the 19thand 20thCenturies. Ed. Marcel Cornis-Pope and John
Neubauer. Vol. 3. “Shifting Literary Topographies.” Amsterdam/Philadelphia:
John Benjamins Publishing Company. 524 pp.
REVIEWED by: Miloš Zelenka (vols. 1-3) in World Literature Studies 1.1
(2009): 77-80; Libuša Vajdová: (vol. 1-3) in World Literature Studies 1.2 (2009): 89-91; Florin
Berindeanu (vols. 1-3) in Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature 53 (2007) 227-32;
Monika Báar in Comparative Critical Studies 4.3 (2007): 468-71; Ileana Orlich in Recherche
littéraire/ Literary Research 24.47-48 (Summer 2008): 51-58. Vols 1-3 reviewed by Marek Paryz
in Akzent (Lublin, 2008): 146-48; Vol. 3 reviewed by Fausto Bedoya in Rampike (Windsor,
Canada) 16.2 (2008): 78-79.
2006 History of the Literary Cultures of East Central Europe: Junctures and
Disjunctures in the 19thand 20thCenturies. Ed. Marcel Cornis-Pope and John
Neubauer.
Vol. 2. “The Making and remaking of Literary Institutions.”
Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. 514 pp.
REVIEWED by: Andrei Corbea in Arcadia 44.1 (January 2009): 198-200; Monika Báar in
Comparative Critical Studies 4.3 (2007): 468-71; Letitia Guran, The Comparatist 30 (2006): 129-
35; vol. 1 and 2 reviewed by Nikola Petković in “Nezaobilazni knjiżevnopovijesni document
Srednje Europe” in Novi List (Dec. 24, 2006).
2004 History of the Literary Cultures of East Central Europe: Junctures and
Disjunctures in the 19thand 20thCenturies. Ed. Marcel Cornis-Pope and John
Neubauer.
Vol. 1. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing
Company. 648 pp.
REVIEWED by: Vladimir Biti, “Prema novol književno-kulturnoj historiografiji,” Knjižna
republika (Zagreb) 5-7 (2008): 317-23; Michael Heim in Comparative Literature 58.3 (Summer
2006): 261-63; Jóseph Szili in “Westward Hoe or Half-Way between Eastern and Western
Europe,” in Neohelicon 33.2 (December 2006): 247-61; Letitia Guran, The Comparatist 30
(2006): 129-35; Andrew Wachtel in The Slavonic and East European Review 83.3 (1 July 2005):
522-23; Andrei Corbea in Arcadia 40.2 (January 2005): 479-81; Dirk Uffelmann in Kakanien 1
(25 August 2005): 6 pp. http://www.kakanien.ac.at/rez/DUffelmann3.pdf; Anca Băicoianu,
“‘Europa natală’ şi literaturile ei” (“Native Europe” and Its Literatures) Cuvântul 10.12 (Dec.
2004): 11; Diana Kuprel, Idea&s 1.1 (Autumn 2004): 63; Magda Teodorescu, România literară
37. 32 (18 August 2004): 21.
2001 Narrative Innovation and Cultural Rewriting in the Cold War Era and After (New
York and London: Palgrave Press). 336 pp.
REVIEWED by Florentina Anghel in Colocvium 1-2 (2008): 193-94;
Kevin Finucane in The Journal of Experimental Fiction, 2007; Stacey Olster, MFS Modern
Fiction Studies 50.3 (2004) 769-71; David Seed, The Yearbook of English Studies 34.1 (January
2004): 346-47; Alex Feerst, American Literature 75.2 (June 2003): 447-49; Jerome Klinkowitz in
American Literary Scholarship: An Annual 2001 367-68; Jerome Klinkowitz in South Atlantic
Review 68.1 (Winter 2003): 112-15; Brian McHale in The Comparatist 27 (May 2003): 172-74;
Book Review Digest June 2003; Maria Ioniţă in Recherche Littéraire /Literary Research 19.37-38
(2002): 371-73; Adam Katz in Book Review Digest (June 2003); Adam Katz in American Book
Review (January/February 2003): 29-30; Marc Singer in Symploke 10.1-2 (2000): 225-27; Cristina
Chevereşan in “Rescrierea şi inovaţie: Alternativă post-modernă,” Orizont 7 (2002): 6.
2001 Tentaţia hermeneutică şi rescrierea critică: Interpretarea narativă în zodia
poststructuralismului. Trans. Corina Tiron. (Bucharest: Editura Fundaţiei), 414
pp. Romanian translation of Hermeneutic Desire and Critical Rewriting (1982).
REVIEWED by: Monica Spiridon in Observatorul cultural 77 (August 14-20, 2001): 32;
Luminiţa Andriciuc in Obiectiv 1.31 (19 September 2001): 8B; 1.37 (26 September 2001): 11A;
Codrin Liviu Cuţitaru in Observatorul cultural 85 (October 9-15, 2001): 14; Ion Buzera in
Observatorul cultural 85 (October 9-15, 2001): 16 http://www.observatorcultural.ro/Manualul-de-
poststructuralism*articleID_1159-articles_details.html; Dana Chetrinescu in Orizont, 14.3 (2002):
29; Liana Haitaş, “Rescrierea ca generare a nelimitării” (Rewriting as a Generator of
Limitlessness”), Piaţa literară 2.8 (15-30 April 2002): 9. Ion Buzera in Proximităţi critice
(Craiova: Scrisul Românesc, 2004), 58-62.
1996 The Unfinished Battles: Romanian Postmodernism Before and After1989
(Iaşi: the Polirom Press & the Soros Foundation, Ex Libris Mundi series), 192 pp.
REVIEWED by: M. Tejerizo in Europe-Asia Studies 50. 7(November 1998): 1302-1304; Christian
Moraru in The American Book Review 19.3 (March-April 1998): 12, 14; Adam Sorkin in
Romanian Civilization: A Journal of Romanian and East Central European Studies 6.2 (Fall
1997): 107-10; Voichiţa Năchescu in Orizont 9.8 (27 August 1997): 4; Jeanine Teodorescu-Regier
in World Literature Today, 71.3 (Summer 1997): 578; Monica Spiridon in România literară 30.4
(29 January 1997): 21.
1995 Violence and Mediation in Contemporary Culture, vol. coedited with Ronald
Bogue (SUNY Press), 207 pp.
REVIEWED by Peter M. Magolda, NASPA Journal 34.2 (Winter 1997): 164-
68.
1992 Hermeneutic Desire and Critical Rewriting: Narrative Interpretation in the Wake
of Poststructuralism (New York: St. Martin’s, 1992; London: Macmillan Press,
Inc., 1991), 370 pp.
REVIEWED by: H. Ruthrof in Semiotica 100.1 (1994): 69-93;
Mihai Spariosu in The Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 22.2 (June 1995) 361-62;
Ileana Orlich in International Fiction 21.1-2 (1994): 111-14; Pia Brânzeu in Orizont 3 (1994);
Lawrence M. Porter in YCGL 41 (1993): 218-19; W. Baker in Style 26.4 (Winter 1992): 657;
Cristian Moraru in Contrapunct 3 (November 1992): 1, 5.
1982 Anatomia balenei albe (Anatomy of the White Whale: A Poetics of the American
Symbolic Romance). Bucharest: Univers, 430 pp.
Sections of this book have appeared in English as follows: “Moby-Dick,”
Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature (New York: Harper & Row, 1991); “Inside a Stratified
Whale: Melville’s Textual Semiotics and the Postmodern Novel.” Ed. John Deely, Semiotics 1985 (Lanham,
New York: University Press of America, 1986), pp. 289-301; “A Classification of the Interpreter (Reflector)
in Modern Fiction.” Eds. Marcel Cornis-Pop et alia, Caiete de semiotică, I (University of Timişoara Press,
1981): 131-54; “Contemporary Metafiction: A Pragmatic Approach.” Eds. Paul Miclau and Solomon
Marcus, eds., Sémiotique Roumaine (Bucharest: Université de Bucharest, 1981), pp. 209-22.
REVIEWED by: Virgil Nemoianu, American Studies International, 1984; Mircea Mihăieş,
Orizont 34. 31 (5 August 1983): 8; Irina Mavrodin, România literară 15.20 (13 May 1982): 7;
Zorin Diaconescu, Tribuna 14 (1982); Paul Dugneanu, Luceafărul 11 (1982); Cornel Ungureanu,
Orizont 11 (1982); Ştefan Avădanei, Cronica 10 (1982); Mihai Dinu Gheorghiu, Convorbiri
literare 88 (3 March 1982): 6.

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About Constantin Severin

Constantin Severin (constantinseverin.ro) is a Romanian writer and, as a visual artist, the founder and promoter of the award-winning concept known as archetypal expressionism. He is the author of eight books of poetry, essays, and novels, and his poems have been published by major Romanian and international literary magazines. He is one of the editors of the French cultural magazine Levure littéraire.
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