Oana Fotache Dubălaru

4A Literary Transcodifications/4
Session 4 – July 2, 15:30 – 17:30

From Ekphrasis to Worldmaking. On Painting in Mircea Cărtărescu’s Novels

There are numerous references to the universe of painting in Mircea Cărtărescu’s writings, regardless of their genre (poetry or fiction). Moreover, the writer’s style and literary imagination have an intense visual quality that is best characterized by its connections with the Mannerist and Baroque worldviews, though not limited to these periods as such. Cărtărescu mentions artists as diverse as Altdorfer, Goya, Bosch, Tiepolo, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Rubens, Michelangelo, Piranesi, Desiderio Monsú, Giorgio de Chirico, and many others. His descriptions of characters, landscapes, dreams, buildings, hallways, etc. often employ specific terms from the discourses of art theory or architecture.  

Besides these ‘thematic’ references (to employ Gérard Genette’s distinction from Paratexts, 1987, Engl. transl. 1997), there are important ‘rhematic’ ones that function at the level of analogy and assign a strong visual mark to the verbal representation. Physical details, sensations, even states of mind acquire a certain stability and precision as if they were painted, that is, already represented by some anonymous and invisible artist. This kind of appeal to artistic techniques and genres in place of a traditional ‘realist’ representation defamiliarizes the narrative and turns the story into a strange, magical, or nightmarish account. 

Drawing on W.J.T. Mitchell’s and Murray Krieger’s theories of representation (1994, 2014; 1992, 2019), as well as on fictional worlds theory, my paper investigates the modes, functions, and possible interpretations of Cărtărescu’s use of the painterly detail in his novels Nostalgia, 1993, Blinding, 1996-2007, and Solenoid, 2015. Between the poles of ekphrasis and the devices of worldmaking (as well as world-escaping), the Romanian writer’s fiction explores the unrepresentable and the ways of conveying it to the reader. 


OANA FOTACHE DUBĂLARU is Professor of Literary Theory at the University of Bucharest (Romania). She has taught courses and published on modern literary theory, comparative literature, history of literary ideas, and exile studies. She has taken part in several research projects in Romania and abroad, and is a member of the scientific boards of the journals Romània Orientale (Italy), Dacoromania litteraria (Cluj-Napoca), and Annals of the University of Bucharest – Philology series. Her recent publications include: The Map and the Legend. On Mircea Cărtărescu (co-edited, forthcoming 2020); „Imported Traditions. Negotiating European and American Models in Romanian Literary Studies” (with Mircea Vasilescu), in M. Rajakumar (ed.), Western Higher Education in Global Contexts (2018); „Did Romania Move South? Representations of Geocultural Identity”, in Journal of World Literature, 3:1, 2017; Round Trips. Literary theory routes in postmodernity (co-ed., 2016).