What's wrong with the West? Is the Western world in its final stage
of decline? Are we seeing the death throes of the Western civilization? Is Western
Europe going to be Islamized, Africanized or taken over by millions of migrants
from Africa or Asia? Are we witnessing the disappearance of the white race?" As
a journalist with Radio France Internationale, Romanian playwright Matei
Visniec is facing questions like these on a daily basis. In his latest volume, 'The
Last Days of the West", which appeared at the Polirom Publishing House, Matei
Visniec has tackled these questions, this time with the instruments of a
writer, through philosophical fables, short stories and confessions. The launch
of his volume was another occasion for writer and journalist Matei Visniec to
meet his Romanian readership.
One of the meetings, hosted by the Humanitas
bookshop, was moderated by critic Ion Bogdan Lefter, who also made a
presentation of the volume.
"Matei Visniec tells us he felt the need to write about these
things using the prose genre. He has published on this theme before, both
essays and articles, also at Polirom. He is returning to it now, albeit in
literary form, and he is not trying to pass judgment or make dark prophecies,
but to place before us texts that discuss topical themes: ethnic, linguistic
and cultural diversity, migration, the past and the present, values, reason and
the excess of rationality."
Settled in France in 1987, where he has been working as a journalist
for Radio France Internationale, Matei Visniec told his Romanian readers how he
lives between two cultures, two professions and two languages, and how a
topical issue can be turned into fiction:
"I try to save the first part of the day by writing
fiction, which sometimes is rooted in current realities too. However, in the
past years I have been mostly interested in depicting paradoxes and dilemmas in
the messages I get at RFI, in the newspapers I read and in the commentaries I
hear. So, I'm detecting dilemmas and
paradoxes in the current reality, just like those who find gold using special
tools. Because what interests me the most are not the problems of the society.
Because problems, just like in mathematics, have solutions. Therefore, I am
interested in dilemmas, because dilemmas have no solutions, and we know that
from the Greeks. That's why I am interested in social, human, psychological dilemmas and I believe this is how I started writing the book. I started
compiling all these dilemmas that I discover in the surrounding environment."
With his life split between France and Romania for
more than 30 years, Matei Vişniec says today's Bucharest sparks in him a
mixture of pain and joy:
"Unlike all the other European
capitals that I know, perhaps with the exception of Belgrade, I think Bucharest
is moving very slow. But I still come to Bucharest with great pleasure, because
there is so much positive energy, so many people that I like, so much
creativity. This is an old theory of mine, that Romania has more talented kids
per thousand inhabitants than other countries have, precisely in order to make
up for the fact that there are more corrupt politicians per thousand capita.
So, in an organic manner, the Romanian land strives to balance up the two
situations, and it creates more talents, more creativity to offset the
incompetence and destructiveness of politicians. So to me, Romania is, as I
often say, the place where I come to charge my batteries to fill myself with
positive energy. It is a launching pad for the playwright Matei Visniec,
because theatre festivals in Romania are very important. The Sibiu Theatre
Festival, for instance, is an extraordinary international festival. Also, an
increasing number of foreign stage directors come to Romania, where they can
have essential meetings. So Romania has managed to create important cultural pilgrimages."
Matei Visniec's plays have been translated and staged in more than
30 countries. As a writer, Visniec is the recipient of a great number of
awards. His first such distinction was in 1984, when he received the Romanian
Writers' Union Prize for Poetry for his debut volume, The Wise Man at Tea time.
In 1998, Visniec also received the Romanian Academy Prize, and in 2016, Visniec
was awarded the Romanian Theatres' Union Prize for the contemporary playwright with
the biggest number of plays staged. In France, Visniec was, a couple of times,
the recipient of the Press Award at the International Theatre festival in
Avignon. In 2009, Visniec scooped the European Prize awarded by the Society of
Stage Authors and Composers. In 2016, Matei Visniec's novel, 'The merchant of
novel openings' was awarded the Jean Monnet Prize for European Literature.