Marcel Cornis-Pope, Author, Translator, Editor, and Academician.







Constantin Severin








Constantin Severin:- 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?


Marcel Cornis-Pope: – 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.


CS: – 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?


MCP: – 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.


CS: – Your main hobby is classical music, as I know, a good nourishment for a rich spiritual life. Do you play any instrument? Who are your favorite composers?


MCP: – 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.


CS: – 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?


MCP: – 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.


CS: – 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?



MCP: – 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.


CS: – 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?


MCP: – 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.


CS: – 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?



MCP: – 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.


CS: – 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?


MCP: – 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.


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


MCP: – 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.


CS: – 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 paradigms in the history of culture?



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


CS: – 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?


MCP: – 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.


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


MCP: – 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).


CS: – 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.


MCP: – 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.


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



MCP: – 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.










About Marcel Cornis-Pope


Born February 14, 1946, in Arad, Romania; immigrated to United States, 1983.




Babes-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, B.A. and M.A. (English), 1968; University of Timisoara, Ph.D. (magna cum laude; American and comparative literature), 1979.


Author, translator, editor, and academician.


University of Timisoara, Timisoara, Romania, assistant professor, 1968-77, associate professor of English, 1977-83; University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, senior Fulbright lecturer in English, 1983-85, adjunct associate professor of English, 1985-87; Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, associate professor, 1988-91, professor of English, 1991—, chair of department, 2000.




International Comparative Literature Association, International Association of Literature and Philosophy, Modern Language Association (member of South-Atlantic affiliate), National Council of Teachers of English, Association of Department of English, American Comparative Literature Association, Society for the Study of Narrative Literature, Southern Comparative Literature Association, Romanian Studies Association of America.



British Council fellowship, 1966, 1971; Romanian Writers’ Award for Translation, 1975; Romanian Writers’ Award for Criticism, 1982; Ful-bright Teaching and Research Award, 1983-85; grants from University of Northern Iowa, C.I.E.S., 1984, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 1989, National Endowment for the Arts, 1991, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1992, CH&S, 1993, and Soros Foundation, 1995; Andrew Mellon Faculty Fellowship, Harvard University, 1987-88; Humanities & Sciences Distinguished Scholar Award, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1991; Humanities & Sciences Distinguished Lecturer Award, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1994; Phoenix Award for Significant Editorial Achievement, Council of Editors of Learned Journalists, 1996; fellow-in-residence, Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences, 1999-2000.



Modern Fiction (college edition), University of Timisoara (Timisoara, Romania), 1981.

Anatomia Balenei Albe: Poetica Romanului American Epopeic-Simbolic, Univers (Bucharest, Romania), 1982.

Hermeneutic Desire and Critical Rewriting: Narrative Interpretation in the Wake of Poststructuralism, St. Martin’s Press (New York, NY), 1992.

The Unfinished Battles: Romanian Postmodernism before and after 1989 (essay collection), Polirom (Iasi, Romania), 1996.

Narrative Innovation and Cultural Rewriting in the Cold War Era and After, Palgrave (New York, NY), 2001.

Also author of numerous articles for academic journals and magazines, including Critique, Comparatist, Comparative Literature, and College Literature. Editor of Comparatist, 1992-98.



Ion Brad, The Outlying Temple, illustrated by Laurentiu Buda, Dacia (Cluj-Napoca, Romania), 1975.

(And author of introduction) Thomas Wolfe, Priveste, Înger Catre Casa (translation of Look Homeward, Angel), Univers (Bucharest, Romania), 1977.

(And author of preface) Kurt Vonnegut, Fii Binecuvîntat Domnule Rosewater (translation of God Bless You Mr. Rosewater), Univers (Bucharest, Romania), 1980.

(Author of preface and bibliographical note) Dylan Thomas, Fiicele Rebecai (translation of Rebecca’s Daughters), Facla (Timisoara, Romania), 1982.

(And author of preface) Ken Kesey, Zbor Deasupra Unui Cuib de Cuci (translation of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest), Univers (Bucharest, Romania), 1983.

Dorin Tudoran, Optional Future: Selected Poems, preface by Ion Bogdan Lefter, Romanian Cultural Foundation (Bucharest, Romania), 1999.

(With Johann Welzenbach-Marcu; and author of introduction) Petru Iliesu, Romania: Post Scriptum, Planetarium & Brumar (Timisoara, Romania), 1999.



(With Constantin Cheveresan) Caiet de Americanistica: De la William Carlos Williams la Charles Olson; înnoiri în Lirica Americana Contemporana; Pentru Uzul Studentilor, Universitatea din Timisoara, Faultatea de Filologie, Colectivul de Literatura Engleza (Timisoara, Romania), 1983.

(And author of introduction) Anghel Dumbraveanu, Iarna Imperiala (translation of Royal Winter), Everyman’s Library (Bucharest, Romania), 1986.

(And author of afterword) Lucian Blaga, Poems, Ohio State University Press (Columbus, OH), 1989.

(With Ronald Bogue) Violence and Mediation in Contemporary Culture, State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 1996.

Anghel Dumbraveanu, Lacrima timpului/The Tear of Time: Poeme/Poems, Cogito Publishing House (Oradea, Romania), 1997.

(With John Neubauer) History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe: Junctures and Disjunctures in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, J. Benjamins (Philadelphia, PA), 2004.



Literary scholar Marcel Cornis-Pope once told CA: « I began my literary education in my father’s library, which contained one of the richest private collections of literature, art, and philosophy in postwar Romania. » Cornis-Pope went on to follow in the footsteps of his father and mother, both of whom had an intense interest in literature. He began publishing literary reviews and translations from contemporary American literature in the local press while he attended college in Romania and published several book-length translations from American literature into Romanian, including works by J. D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Wolfe, and Ken Kesey. In 1975 he received the Romanian Writers’ Award for the best translation of Romanian literature into languages of international circulation. Despite his accomplishments, he once explained: « Though liberalized briefly, the political climate in Romania operated in unpredictable ways, thwarting many of my literary and scholarly efforts. » In 1983 he traveled to the United States on a Fulbright Award and eventually became a naturalized citizen.





Commenting to CA on his scholarly writings about literature, Cornis-Pope once noted, « All my books have broached literature from a broad comparative and interdisciplinary perspective, bridging literature studies, cultural philosophy, and social theory. » For example, in his 1992 book, Hermeneutic Desire and Critical Rewriting: Narrative Interpretation in the Wake of Poststructuralism, Cornis-Pope attempts « to bridge what he sees as the widening gap between pedagogy and theory, » as noted by Laurence M. Porter in Comparative and General Literature. In the process, he addresses such issues as narratology, deconstruction, critical rewriting, and feminist literary theory. Horst Ruthrof, writing in Semiotica, noted that « the frame of the discussion is marked by two boundaries: the search for a secret in the text and a sociocultural form of critical rewriting. » Porter felt that the final chapters, focusing on his students’ readings and revisions of their initial essays, should have been left out. He also noted, « He sounds like an outstanding teacher, and once he has moved from his painfully conscientious but unoriginal perusal of theory into pedagogy, he has much to offer. » International Fiction Review contributor Ileana Alexandra Orlich commented that the « book formulates an effective interactive model of literary interpretation and pedagogy exploring fruitfully the tension between different modes/phases of reading and critical reformulation/rewriting. »






Cornis-Pope’s The Unfinished Battles: Romanian Post-modernism before and after 1989 collects essays published by the author over the course of ten years. The author focuses primarily on late twentieth-century Romanian literature and criticism as he presents his case, as he states in his first essay: « A careful analysis of the present socio-political context suggested not only that postmodernism—as literary and cultural response—has not outrun its usefulness, but that in some ways it had found an even stronger justification in the post-communist societies of Eastern Europe. » Writing in Romanian Civilization, Adam J. Sorkin felt the first four essays are « the strength of the book » because of their broad focus on literary-critical and cultural theory and analysis, while the final six essays focus more specifically on Romanian literary history. Sorkin found what he called « a number of minor problems, » such as a lack of editing, different citation forms, and no index. Nevertheless, he commented that the errors « negate neither the book’s importance nor its readability. » Europe-Asia Studies contributor Margaret Tejerizo, however, found the final chapters, on Romanian writers Marin Preda and Andrei Codrescu, to « represent the outstanding overall achievement of this work. » The reviewer went on to call the book « an exciting and extremely challenging work. » Jeanine Teodorescu-Regier, writing in World Literature Today, commented, « Cornis-Pope’s thought-provoking remarks and his ability to place his material in a larger perspective allow him to rethink a culture that invented Dada, the absurd, and [what Codrescue called] ‘techniques of sabotaging history.' »






Most reviewers have viewed Cornis-Pope’s 2001 book, Narrative Innovation and Cultural Rewriting in the Cold War Era and After, as a solid defense of post-modern fiction. Writing in symploke, Marc Singer noted that the author « attempts to reclaim postmodernism from its critics, particularly those who dispute or ignore its political content, and to reunite some of its wildly divergent characterizations. » In the book, Cornis-Pope discusses authors such as Thomas Pynchon and Robert Coover, as well as surfiction, which includes such strategies as experiential poetics and rewriting personal and collective history, and post-modern feminist fiction with a focus on Toni Morrison. In his review of the book, McHale commented, « If one aims to exorcize this guilty conscious [about artistic innovation], one needs to be able to say exactly what postmodern innovation is good for. Cornis-Pope has an answer to this: it is good for helping us to imagine alternatives to the polarized thinking that was a legacy of the Cold War world-view. » Singer found that some of the author’s « arguments are often burdened by less relevant references and citations » but nevertheless called it a « worthwhile study. » Maria Ionita, writing in Literary Research/Recherche littéraire, noted that the author’s « argument in favor of a rereading of postmodernism is indeed compelling. »

As for Cornis-Pope’s own take on his view of post-modernism, he once told CA: « If being ‘postmodern’ means being between worlds, I can certainly claim that label but only to the extent that it defines an active engagement and redefinition of boundaries rather than a mere celebration of liminality. I continue to see myself as a builder of intellectual bridges: between criticism and pedagogy, between theory and practice, between literature and other forms of cultural discourse. »



Cornis-Pope, Marcel, The Unfinished Battles: Romanian Postmodernism before and after 1989, Polirom (Iasi, Romania), 1996.



American Book Review, March-April, 1998, Christian Moraru, review of The Unfinished Battles: Romanian Postmodernism before and after 1989, pp. 12, 14.

Comparative and General Literature, Volume 61, 1993, Laurence M. Porter, review of Hermeneutic Desire and Critical Rewriting: Narrative Interpretation in the Wake of Poststructuralism, pp. 218-219.

Europe-Asia Studies, Volume 50, 1998, Margaret Tejerizo, review of The Unfinished Battles, pp. 1302-1304.

International Fiction Review, Volume 21, issues 1-2, 1994, Ileana Alexandra Orlich, review of Hermeneutic Desire and Critical Rewriting, pp. 111-114.

Literary Research/Recherche littéraire, Volume 19, issues 37-38, 2002, Maria Ionita, review of Narrative Innovation and Cultural Rewriting in the Cold War Era and After pp. 371-373.

NASPA Journal, winter, 1997, Peter M. Magolda, review of Violence and Mediation in Contemporary Culture.

Romanian Civilization, fall, 1997, Adam J. Sorkin, review of The Unfinished Battles, pp. 107-110.

Semiotica, Volume 100-1, 1994, Horst Ruthrof, review of Hermeneutic Desire and Critical Rewriting, pp. 69-93.

Symploke, winter-spring, 2002, Marc Singer, review of Narrative Innovation and Cultural Rewriting in the Cold War Era and After, pp. 225-227.

World Literature Today, summer, 1997, Jeanine Teodorescu-Regier, review of The Unfinished Battles, p. 578.


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