How I met Gabriel Liiceanu  

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Though inordinate, this childhood memory was quite far from being an extraordinary event, and as such, I wasn't going to write about it. But a recent, excellent article but this quasi-famous disciple of an even more famous philosopher caused me to reconsider and share this story with you.

Plesu-Liiceanu-NoicaI’ve mentioned Gabriel Liiceanu together with ctp in Antiamericanism and Double Standards, and together with Plesu in 1974. I’ve mentioned the latter far more extensively (he’s somewhat more appealing and less pedantic), in “philos-eseist”, dilemando; in bonjour, paresse! I have him reading the following Toparceanu poem:

Întrebare şi răspuns  by George Toparceanu
Rumegând cocenii de pe lângă jug,
S-a-ntrebat odată boul de la plug:
- Doamne, pe când alţii huzuresc mereu,
Pentru ce eu singur să muncesc din greu?...
La-ntrebarea asta, un prelung ecou
I-a răspuns din slavă: - Pentru că eşti bou...

I’m not going to translate it (it’s about an “ox / bull / fool” who asks God why does he have to work like an idiot while others live leisurely), but I can tell you that in Romanian, “fool” can be translated with ejprost or, the far more common, “bou” which literally means “ox”. It is this latter word that is used in an article by Gabriel Liiceanu on how not to be a fool, linked below. This is also the article that convinced me to tell you this story, mostly because I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I can’t even remember if it was before ‘89 or after, but I’m quite sure it was around that time. I was visiting a friend, Dan, who was Rita’s nephew. He was a super-duper electronics enthusiast and helped me with a number of projects, such as adding a stereo jack with a resistor and capacitor in series to my old phone so that I can record conversations on the magnetic tape, and many others. I don’t even remember where they lived, it was probably close to Gara de Nord – I do remember taking the streetcar to get to their place and always having very interesting conversations. In particular, Dan (or “Danucu” as his family called him but he didn’t like it), had two “magician” whiskey glasses, which had their liquid in the “glass walls” and I’d always encourage him to play the trick on me, pretending I don’t remember it.

That day, Dan wasn’t at home, or had to leave early, and his mother, who was a very nice and kind person, told me as if bragging that she can bring Liiceanu in. I didn’t know who Liiceanu was. Back then, I probably didn’t know what “philosophy” is and likely knew more about punane, though less than Gelu Voican Voiculescu. She told me “Liiceanu” with such a voice inflection that I decided it wasn’t right to refuse, and played along, encouraging her or simply agreeing.

Liiceanu arrived shortly thereafter. We sat down, he studied me, I was a bit nervous. He broke the silence with a comment or a question, I tried a response, he exchanged a glance with our hostess, then left. She asked me “see? he came!” and though I nodded in agreement, I can’t say it was a life-changing moment.

Maybe I should’ve gone after him, like Rocky after Mickey, but I didn’t. Perhaps he was right to leave: I was unaware of how far, how quickly a good mentor can push you and most of all I did not really know who he was.


Liiceanu is famous for “The Păltiniş Diary” (1983) which is inspired by the time he spent with his mentor, Constantin Noica, in that location. There’s even a story told in the “Adevarul” article linked below:

One morning, Noica is contacted, when coming out of his cabin in the Paltinis, by a mother who had come from far away to meet him. Near this lady, her child, taken over the mountains and counties to meet the VIP. As for the purpose of travel, the mother had stated to her offspring that he will meet "a philosopher", an explanation which obviously left the little one in a slight state of perplexity. "What is that philosopher, Mommy?" "Ask Mr. Noica" replied the mother. And Noica looked at the little one and said: "Philosopher's kind of a priest upside down."

There is something to be said about women being the social glue that facilitates human contact and networking between the men of yore, who were somehow a bit socially inept, though far less than today’s specimens. Today we have the Internet, but for many of us, that’s not even a poor substitute, it’s nothing but a time sink and an infinite book harder on the eyes.

Noica imagined a way to systematize philosophy around four authors: read Plato and you have the entire pre-Socratic period, read Aristotle and you have the whole Middle Ages that has resulted from it, read Descartes and you have all the modernity up to Kant, read Hegel and you also get Husserl, and Heidegger, and even Marx.

We learn that Noica imposed some tough conditions on his disciple-wannabes”: they had to know French, English and German, but also Latin & Greek. About 100 books had to be read before serious study was possible. For his disciples, he was a connection to the “Romanian cultural normality” of Eliade, Cioran, Eugen Ionescu. But really, I cannot say much more about Noica’s philosophy, apart from quoting Wikipedia:

The 20th century is thought to be dominated by science. The model of scientific knowledge, which means transforming reality into formal and abstract concepts, is applied in judging the entire environment. This kind of thinking is called by Noica "the logic of Ares", as it considers the individual a simple variable in the Whole. The existence is, for this scientific way of considering things, a statistical fact.

In order to recover the individual senses, the sense of existence, Noica proposes, in opposition with "the logic of Ares", "the logic of Hermes", a way of thinking which considers the individual a reflection of the Whole. The logic of Hermes means understanding the Whole through the part, it means identifying in a single existence the general principles of reality. This way of thinking allows one to understand the meaning of the life of a man oppressed by the quick present moment.


It is very interesting how his two disciples have evolved. Plesu, who was apparently more iconoclastic likely to annoying his master with stories about food, has become likeable and jovial even though he smiles and laughs seldom, whereas Liiceanu is a little too pedagogical – always frowning in his TV appearances; whereas Plesu seems to be frowning mostly due to his trademark unibrow, Liiceanu frowns for seemingly because that’s what philosophers do (a habit he has possibly formed in his youth, when first reading Kant). Apart from his famous “Journal”, he is known for his directorship of the largest and “most serious” Romanian publishing house – Humanitas. It was thus not surprising that he got to interview Nobel prize winner Herta Muller when she came to Romania (playlist: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and, based on his friendship and commonalities with Plesu, had a series of TV shows with the latter (i.e., 50 minutes). Here’s how Liiceanu starts his article about Alexandru Dragomir, whom Noica “feared” even though AD had dedicated himself to proletarian work:

Dragomir was the only "tribunal" that Noica "feared" the only one who gave his texts before publication and whose observations would consider. After Noica’s death, in 1987, Sorin Vieru, Andrei Pleşu and I, left "orphaned", were "taken over" by Alexandru Dragomir (after a while we were joined by Horia Patapievici as well). (..)

One morning (it was post-1990), going to his home on Arch Street, I found him with a book on the working table. "Oh, so you write" I cried triumphantly, as if I had caught him doing something fishy. "So why not publish?", I continued. - "Because I’m not in-te-res-ted!" - "Then why write?" - "I don’t write, in the sense that you understand it. I take notes. I note. I write for me."-"Why?"-"Why? To understand. So that I don’t die an ox! "

This is probably the noblest endeavour of all, and it is also one of the main reasons I have a blog. It is something I’ve been trying to explain to Blegoo, every time he bugged me about it (and it happened repeatedly). Liiceanu continues:

Alexandru Dragomir was the first to give me the feeling of meeting the kind of human who aims, with a programmed tenacity and considering this the supreme duty of man, to understand the world with his mind. Thus he began his day with a long walk through the mankind’s market of ideas. But how do you choose, after you visited a good part of the culture stalls, just those ideas which, gathered in a bundle of the mind, make you reach an understanding that is closer to the truth than a hollow erudition or a foolish rant? Noica had a prompt recourse to speculative delirium. Dragomir, to the moral obligation to understand the world, clean sweeping the rational mind of its prejudices, but together with the passions of the soul and the self-indulgences of the ego. To ponder in front of every thought, to constantly search for the demarcation between "knowing" and "not knowing" were for him the mandatory elements of a healthy spiritual diet. Dragomir was the last (or first?) Romanian scholar concerned with finding an answer to the question "what does it mean to think?" and the practice of thinking in the purity of its act.

I'll give an example. Dragomir has raised the question of the conditions under which a dialogue is possible. Socrates was the first individual of our species that had set the rules of "talking" with a well-defined purpose. It is necessary, he would tell his interlocutors, to meet after we put our egos in parentheses and forgot about "everyone’s justice," in a place above us that still incorporates everyone. The dialogue condition was reaching that impersonal nether-region of spirit called logos, "reason", whereby the only important thing is the truth. Those involved in the dialog looked like a bunch of game hunters whose game, once captured, belonged to all. But if so, can we talk to anyone? Can the royal hunt for truth start with hunters who, before departure, already have their own game in the wallet? Are there people trapped in a presumption of knowledge that makes them unable to freely search for truth?

What Dragomir called “dialogue” (most likely in the Socratic sense) I call “debating” or “debate” – but I certainly didn’t get as far as I would’ve liked to in my journey.

Liiceanu’s articles are a bit more aggressive in their attempt to wake up the reader than Plesu’s, even though the latter is no boring potato either. This may be the reason why he was on the receiving end of some serious accusations, from plagiarism (“plagiocephaly”) to collaborationism to fascism.

Sources / More info: bou-dragomir-liiceanu, adv-paltinis, liiceanu-plagiat, Jurnalul @ Humanitas: scribd & share, andries-interesant, sana-gvv, gcb-gvv, scribd-apel, wiki-liiceanu

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