Oana Cogeanu (ed.), Travel and Intercultural Communication in Europe, Iași, 2016, Editura Universității „Alexandru Ioan Cuza”, 2 vols: 191 p., 225 p. (bibliography, graphs/illustrations included)

Travel and Intercultural Communication in Europe is a publication made up of two volumes (the first one-‘Enticing Culturesʼ, the second one- ‘Views of the Eastʼ) and it is edited by Oana Cogeanu, lecturer at the English Department of Al. I. Cuza University, author and publisher of a series of articles and materials on cultural and travel studies (e.g. Introduction to African-American Literature, 2013; Wounded Bodies, Wounded Minds, 2014). These two volumes comprise works that were presented at the international conference, Going East: Travel and Intercultural Communication in Europe that took place in Iași, Romania, in June 2015. The event was part of the wider project inspiringly called ENTICE (acronym that stands for ‘East-North Travel and Intercultural Communication in Europeʼ), and developed under the umbrella of Iceland/Lichtenstein/Norway initiative (the so-called EEA grants) aimed at supporting economic, educational, as well as civil society activities of the countries of Central, South-Eastern Europe and the Baltics.

As the cover of the first volume, ‘Enticing Culturesʼ, suggestively shows-a tightly knit pattern, an interwoven network of paths that could not diverge, the book deals from a preponderantly theoretical  perspective with the interactions between cultures, better said, with their mutual influences and the disappearance of the border between shaper vs. shaped/host vs. receiver culture. ‘Enticing Culturesʼ is equally addressed to the specialized audience of social sciences and the humanities, as it puts to trial various methodological contributions like text mining, qualitative surveys, Alain Bergalaʼs film aesthetics theory (p. 55),  to fields such as linguistics and communication studies, anthropology and ethnography, and to the wider public due to the realistic and lively image that the articles succeed to provide in which concerns the action and reaction at work when two cultures come in contact; beyond theory and the course room, the need of cultural immersion (p. 42) as a buffer against cutural shocks resulting in psychological traumas imposes itsef as a priority not only at the basic level (e.g. when trying to manage language skills), but also, more generally, when going to a certain country for study or work. Despite the traditional view of the overwhelming influence that the Western cultures usually have on the ‘Easternʼ-that is more backward ones-in reality there is a constant negotiation and mutual interferences between the two, as one of the articles in the volume shows. To this latter we will return at a later time.

‘Enticing Culturesʼ is split in three parts, and we may roughly say that the first one deals with the peculiarities and challenges stemming from different contexts of intercultural communication; the second part tells about the experiences as such from a migrant, refugee, or simply ethnographic perspective, whereas the last one tries to give some solutions (e.g. ranging from linguistic to online marketing) to the shortcomings (e.g. stereotypes) deriving from the situations of intercultural communication.

In more detail, the first section explores the latest trends and methods in intercultural communication in a context in which there is a consenus that language fluency should be supplanted by cultural knowledge, hence the situation of communication between the two cultures becomes an intercultural journey that affects identity ultimately (p. 38). The second section draws on surveys and interviews with ‘Easternʼ refugees and migrants in Poland, Spain, Greece or Italy and it sees them through the lenses of the locals, namely through the prism of the ‘othernessʼ in the attempt to warn against the difficulties of integration; moreover, it contains a review of a concept like ‘East European peasantryʼ, and the way it has been employed by Western scholarship via “travel diaries, picturesque descriptions, administrative or ecclesiastical reports (…) monographs” (p. 114) to show how embedded the idea of ‘othernessʼ is in the host culture, and how the mechanism of this intricate process works. The third section aims at raising the awareness of the lack of objectivity of the online discourse about a country by analyzing the websites of various travel agencies, governmental institutions by virtue of sophisticated software; in addition, the status of translations on an increasingly digital publication market is questioned, and the relation between text and image is revisited, as well as the shortcomings of English as lingua franca, and its possible replacement by Esperanto, which will reduce the inequalities among the users resulting from differences in pronunciation or writing.

As already mentioned, we are drawing now attention to an article that emphasizes the dramatic ‘in-betweenessʼ of the work migrants, namely their creative adoption of the rules of the local society they are now a part of doubled by the attempt to observe, while in the new societies, traditions and customs they used to observe when back home. Indeed, Adina Hulubaș in The Broken Mirror: Eastern-European Migrantsʼ Attempt at Recreating Home in Host Societies (pp. 69-81) refers to the manners in which people coming from societies where archaic thinking is still in place (e.g. the Balkans) respect rituals related to the so-called rites of passage, even when they are hundreds of kilometers away, and even with the risk of being regarded as ‘barbariansʼ by the more secular societies. The author calls this phenomenon long distance nationalism, an “intermingling of inherited folk knowledge with the new assumed identity” (p. 70), where “maintaining traditional practices is a psychological compensation for their troubled destiny” (p. 77). This feeling of being ‘neither there nor hereʼ is translated by the journey that the individual makes within himself, so not only as a geographic distance (p. 72), process that renders notions like ‘centerʼ and ‘peripheryʼ fluid, and, ultimately, interactions like the national, cultural ones-intricate.

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Similarly, from a ‘center- peripheryʼ perspective we may view the contributions of the second volume, ‘Views of the Eastʼ. Apart from representing a kind of case studies of the theories and points of views announced in the first volume, hence dealing with the practical application of issues pertaining to culture and identity, the materials comprised here are a contribution to the domain of travel studies. In the form of travelogues, novels, memoirs, movies, photo albums and academic papers, the authors described in this book share to their audience at home their perceptions and ideas in relation to their journeys in Romania and further East. The places, the people, and the customs are investigated from the perspective of the traveler, meaning that they are integrated in his system of beliefs in a dialectics of ‘usʼ and ‘theyʼ. As the classic sources in the domain argue, having in mind Edward Saidʼs Orientalism, Larry Wolffʼ s Inventing Eastern Europe, Maria Todorovaʼs Imagining the Balkans or Vesna Goldsworthyʼs Inventing Ruritania, ‘Eastʼ is not so much a geographic point of reference but rather a mental one. Furthermore, people travel ‘Eastʼ to rank cultures, to self-assure themselves that ‘Westʼ is after all ‘superiorʼ, and, particularly, to find in the places they travel to the things that, after all, are typical to their cultures and societies. This way, stemming from a deeply felt need of the Enlightenment society to order, monitor, and classify other cultures, perceived by necessity as being alien, and finishing with the projection on those remote lands of the issues at stake at home, the Western traveler is mentally colonizing the ‘Eastʼ.  Accordingly, the ‘Eastʼ is erotic, cruel, savage, just like Transylvania and its embodiment, Count Dracula of Bram Stockerʼs eponymous novel is. Yet, as we will see in one of the articles, the ‘Eastʼ can be the land where unsettling things happen, it can be the place that upsets the traditional ‘center-peripheryʼ power relations.

Consequently, ‘Views of the Eastʼ adds to this picture some more images and analyses of the Romanian case during its modern and contemporary epochs, and, more importantly, a glimpse of ‘the Otherʼ in reference to Romania (e.g. under the category of exoticism, African lands are introduced by a classic Romanian writer). Thus, the volume enriches the existing sources on travel writings authored by Romanian travelers, but also those having at the center Romania as visited land. Of the first category we mention the works of the nineteenth century writers like Alexandru Odobescu or the Anthology of Romanian travel writing that appeared in the 1980s[1], but also the study of Wendy Bracewell in an anthology that deals with the way the Easterners, that is Romanians look to the West[2]; of the second category we mention the notable works of Alex Drace Francis who wrote about contemporary views of Brits travelling to Romania (e.g. the period 1945-2000)[3].

The complexity of the West/East dynamics are explored in innovative articles that move swiftly between domains as distinct as, for instance, historiography and translation studies. This constant negotiation between cultures, of which we talked in the case of the first volume too, is expressively suggested by the Aquila that spreads her wings as if to embrace the both worlds, the West and the East alike.

The first section of ‘Views of the Eastʼ, called ‘Self and Otherʼ, contains a selection of materials that deal with the way the ‘Western eyeʼ reflected Romania throughout time. ‘Self and Otherʼ opens up with an article that explores the views of four writers and artists on Romania: the eminent specialist in German studies, as well as contributor to the cultural history of the Habsburg Empire, Claudio Magris, the French sociologist who spend some good years in Romania, Claude Karnoouh, the American journalist who specialized in the 1980s in the Balkan history- Robert D. Kaplan, and Dominique Fernandez, the French novelist who travelled in the 1990s in Romania and co-authored together with the architect Ferrante Ferranti a book-album of the country and of its most important spots; all of the said authors label the visited land in the category of ‘the Otherʼ and identify under its layers of modernity its “peculiar archaic, rural features” (p. 17), everything, including the landscape and the Roma community being interpreted in the key of archaism, whose meaning for the modern life was investigated by the historian of religions, Mircea Eliade.

The second article deals with a less known English traveler to Transylvania, Andrew Archibald Paton, who visited the Habsburg province in the aftermath of the 1848 Revolution. It seems, in the spirit of the definition of travel that the articleʼs author provides (e.g. “to travel has meant to know-to see, to learn, to understand facts and people, to notice differences and resemblances” in short [R.G] “to share knowledge” (p. 46)), Paton himself is an objective observer of the multicultural environment of the imperial Transylvania, commenting that national assimilation would not modernize a people, but rather laws and education (p. 55). Although the aim of the article is to introduce one of Patonʼs books that has been almost unknown to Romanian public[4], as paradoxical as it may seem in the case of a work that has extensive and thought-provoking passages about the Romanian community of Transylvania of the given epoch, the author is rather issuing tantalizing remarks instead of commenting passages of the work in more detail.

The third article is related to the novel of the known writer, Noble laureate, Saul Bellow, Deanʼs December, which describes at length Communist Bucharest of the year 1978, when the author visited it in a private matter[5]. As the author of the article shows, the novel is partly an existential testimony, partly a political writing, and partly travels memoirs. The writer bounces between his home town, Chicago, and this city, at the end of the world, in which he finds himself almost unexpectedly. Yet, by the help of good literature, the discrepancy resulting from this competition-“this tale of two cities”- is not a simple West vs. East one, but rather a personal reflection of displacement, of multiple overlapping peripheries like geographic, historical, moral. A page of Romanian history described in ironic and grotesque strokes, against which the system of repression is singled out in its bare cruelty, gives the measure of one classic theme of the discourse of the‘ Westʼ on Eastern Europe (e.g. at least from the eighteenth century onward, according to L. Wolff), namely the culture of submission and of authoritarianism. Nevertheless, it would have been interesting if the article had dealt with the multiple ‘Eastsʼ of Bellow (alias Corde in the novel): himself the son of Lithuanian-Jews émigrés in Canada, during his childhood he experienced the ‘East-Westʼ mental switch, hence his visit to yet another ‘Eastʼ leaves room for some reflection on the degrees of ‘Easternessʼ of a culture as well as on the shifting points of reference of the observer.

One of the best articles of the ‘Self and Otherʼ section, as it deals at length with the intricacies of West/East dynamics, is the one of Iulia-Mădălina Pintilie, The “Other” and the Eastern Threat in Bram Stockerʼs Dracula (1992) and the Novel (1897). As the title shows, the material is based on the classic novel of the Irish author, as well as on the popular movie of Francis Ford Coppola about the fictional character Count Dracula, a Transylvanian Middle Age noble, allegedly a member of a military order nicknamed by the Ottoman enemies- The Devils. More exactly, the author shows the difference of emphasis from the novel to the film. Bram Stockerʼs book describes a network of mutual influences ‘West-Eastʼ, ‘East-Westʼ: firstly, the ‘Westʼ via Jonathan Harker reveals the ‘Eastʼ as a world of cruelty, madness, and disease (pp. 108, 111), and the territorial symbol of this decay is Transylvania, a wild land filled with dark forces; secondly, the ‘Eastʼ -via Count Dracula himself who visits London- takes into possession the ‘Westʼ, at both material and spiritual level (pp. 104; 116). Consequently, the movie is not centred on West/East dichotomy, but rather on the Romantic restlessness of Count Dracula, seen as a lonely soul in eternal quest for love; yet, here too, the author of the article identifies a tendency to classify the worlds as belonging to the ‘Westʼ, and, respectively, to the ‘Eastʼ: London and the scenes shot there are presented in soft colours (shades of greenish-gray) as if to symbolize innocence, whereas those depicting Transylvania are reddish in colour in reference to sin, decadence, eroticism (pp. 114-115).

Count Draculaʼs (e.g. Eastʼs implicitly) tendency of undermining the colonial power, as underlined in this article, can be read in the key provided by Ulrich Bach when discussing the characters of Leopold Sacher Masoch, the author of the famous Venus in Furs. Accordingly, the periphery that is supposedly feeble is the site where unsettling things at the address of the centre may happen (e.g. political unrest, questioning the status-quo of the imperial order, shifts of cultural paradigms, etc.). This way, the periphery becomes a paracolonial space, a site where the power experiments invert the notions of the ‘Westʼ, and, respectively, of the ‘Eastʼ: East colonized the West. “(…) the colony is precisely the site of destabilization, where cultural hierarchies lose their credibility, and values lose their integrity. Thus, it is at the periphery of the empire, in a paracolonial space that a mixed race emerges and change ferments, the distillate of which alters the intellectual metropolitan culture”[6].

The second section, ‘Travelling Eastʼ deals with those authors and works that exploited places located further ‘Eastʼ. Following seventeenth century contributions to the discovery of China from a social and economic perspective, the eighteenth century writings described it from a historical point of view; the article called Towards the Far East in 18th Century Romanian Culture (pp. 123-137) presents the first source existing in Romanian language on Chinese history, an almost neglected work up to this day. The second article of the section explores the travel to Africa of a known Romanian nineteenth century writer, Vasile Alecsandri. Alecsandriʼs voyage is under the sign of Romanticism, both chronologically (e.g. the described journey took place in 1853) and mentally (e.g. to him, travel is “(…) when, free of any alien influence, it follows the temporary whims of imagination and takes shape without preparation and without an established purpose” (p. 139). In fact, this is the first account, in Romanian, of a Romanian voyager to Africa (p. 147), hence we may consider that many of the themes initiated here were later developed by the other travellers (p. 147). Such a theme is the one of exoticism of the African lands. Partly indebted to the already mentioned Romantic views, Alecsandri paints a comprehensive landscape in which the contrasts (e.g. civilization vs. barbarianism, rich vs. poor, imagination vs. reality) take the first stand. In short, he is much influenced by the Western literary canon of the time with respect to Africa (e.g. journeys to exotic places). Apart from elaborating on what exactly meant to an ‘Easternerʼ like Alecsandri travelling further East, the article should have dealt in more detail with exoticism as both cultural and aesthetic category. As Hans Christoph Buch says, exoticism is based on “a dialectic of closeness and distance, on a mutual mixture where the distant seems near and the near distant”[7].

Part of the materials of the last section investigates the mythic under layers of the modern city, as it is the case of the prose of the German novelist Christa Wolf; the ‘Easternessʼ of the Eastern Germany is doubled by mythical figures of the East via intertextuality. In addition, the section comprises investigations related to the way in which travel can be a solely inward experience via temporal interchangeability (e.g. temporal dynamics that include a mix of past, present, and future alike (p. 214)) as well as storytelling (e.g. the act of connecting people through art and context, individual and community dynamics (p. 218)).

Concluding this description of the two volumes that explore the trends and the intricacies of intercultural communication is to say that they represent a valuable contribution to several fields at once, of which linguistics and travel studies are the most conspicuous. Furthermore, the interdisciplinary and even transdisciplinary approach of the discussed materials recommend Travel and Intercultural Communication in Europe as an innovative methodological enterprise among academia and wider public alike. Finally, it is meant to address stringent social phenomena like the cultural integration of the migrants or the de-construction of many a time a self-sufficient Western centered cultural paradigm.    

[1] Drumuri și zări. Antologie a prozei românești de călătorie, Ștefan Cazimir (ed.), București, Sport-Turism, 1980.

[2] “East Looks West: East European Travel Writing on Europe 1600-2000”. Călători români în Occident secolele XVII-XX (Romanian Travellers to the West, Seventeenth to Twentieth Century), Nicolae Bocşan, Ioan Bolovan (eds.), Cluj-Napoca: Institutul Cultural Român, 2004, pp. 11-23.

[3] “Sex, Lies and Stereotypes: Images of Romania in British Literature, 1945-2000”. The Traditions of Invention. Romanian Ethnic and Social Stereotypes in Historical Context Leiden&Boston: Brill, 2013, pp. 233-249.

[4] The Goth and the Hun or Transylvania, Debreczin, Pesth and Vienna, in 1850-published in London in 1851.

[5] As husband of the mathematician Alexandra Bagdasar, daughter of high-rank Communist officials of late 1940s.

[6] Ulrich E. Bach, Tropics of Vienna. Colonial Utopias of the Habsburg Empire, New York: Berghahn Books, 2016, p. 22 (this text is Bachʼs quotation from Russell A. Bermanʼs work of 1998, Enlightenment or Empire).

[7] Ulrich E. Bach, Tropics of Vienna, p. 51.

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