Saturday, August 13, 2016

How Mircea Eliade delivered his Snake


I love learning about how other writers do their thing. It's fascinating to learn how the great Romanian scholar and fiction writer Mircea Eliade – prolific in so many genres – sustained and generated his creative production under almost all circumstances. He wrote stories in a secret police prison. He hammered out books under the shadow of his wife’s terminal illness and of the Red Army occupation of his country. He went on writing in conditions of penury and exile and raw terror (the terror of History, he called it again and again). He started early, publishing in a popular science magazine at fourteen (when he aspired to become an ichthyologist) and basically kept it up till the end of his life.
    Some of his larger projects he had to put down and take up again over many years  Ths was the case with his huge autobiographical novel Noaptea de Sanziene (pubiished in English as The Forbidden Forest) and with his pioneer study Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, an enduring inspiration to the neo-shamanic movement in the West since its first publication French in 1953.
     Then there are the books that Eliade wrote in a frenzy, abetted by both the demons of necessity and his greater creative daimon. I am thrilled by his account of how Șarpele (The Snake) streamed out of him over ten nights:.

I wrote the book in the course of ten nights, working between 11 and 3 or 4 a.m., in the spring of 1937.

He had to deliver the completed work on “Book Day”, otherwise the publisher would not pay him. But at the same time he was teaching at the university and proofreading a scholarly book that had to be ready by the same deadline.

I was overworked, exhausted, and in order to stay awake I drank coffee; then, so I could sleep in the mornings I took sleeping powders. Every morning Ciornei [his publisher] sent a boy to pick up the 15 or 20 pages I had written during the night and take them directly to the printer. I did not reread a single page of the two hundred which comprise the book; nevertheless, Șarpele is one of my most successful writings.

He had plenty of ethnographic and folklore material relevant to his theme. He did not consult it. “The writer in me refused any conscious collaboration with the scholar and interpreter of symbols.” He discovered in this way that “the free act of literary creation can…reveal certain theoretical meanings.”

Indeed, only after I read Șarpele in book form did I understand that in this book I had resolved, without knowing it, a problem which had preoccupied me for a long time.

Naturally, after reading this I was eager to read the novel that emerged from these nocturnal frenzies. There is no English translation, and my Romanian is hardly enough to order coffee, but I found an edition in French, titled. Andronic et le serpent and devoured it in one night. Strange, sexy, wild and feverish, a remarkable birth from those ten incandescent nights.
    The story of how Eliade produced this novel  deepens my conviction that for some of us the all-but-impossible deadline is a great prompt to commit the creative act. This has often worked for me.

Source: Mircea Eliade, “Autobiographical Fragment” in Norman J. Giradot and Mac Linscott Ricketts, Imagination & Meaning: The Scholarly and Literary Worlds of Mircea Eliade  (New York: The Seabury Press, 1982) 123


6 comments:

Live In Peace with ALL living things said...

Fascinating post, I wonder why we respond energetically to deadlines. Mircea's expeditious feat opens the possibility his writing occurred in liminal dream states. Mircea claims "The sacred always manifests itself as a reality of a wholly different order from 'natural' realities." The challenge is conveying the mysterious with language limited to secular mental life. I find words in conjunction with art a powerful language vehicle. Have you considered teaching a creative writing or art course to convey the mysterium facinans to the secular world? I shall read "With the Gypsy Girls" and "Night at Serampore" - thanks for the recommendations.

Robert Moss said...

I have been leading a five day retreat titled "Writing as a State of Dreaming" for many years. I will lead it again at magical Mosswood Hollow (in the greenwoods 45 minutes from Seattle) in May 2017.

Live In Peace with ALL living things said...

Lovely, good to know for the future. An online writing or dream work course would be most accommodating. Is that a possibility?

Robert Moss said...

All of my online courses for The Shift Network are stealth writing courses in addition to everything else they offer. I doubt that I'll offer an online writing course because I shrink from all the reading assignments that would entail. As i write, I see you may not be familiar with my Shift courses, which bring together wonderful intentional communities from all over the world map. Perhaps you will want to check them out.

Live In Peace with ALL living things said...

The Shift courses appear to use dream myth for self-healing. Do these courses teach practices for use in healing others, the planet, etc.? Thank you.

Robert Moss said...

Yes. Read the descriptions for my courses more closely if you are able to access them.