Artworking Gellu Naum’s Zenobia
‘…she is like a magnifying glass in which the world changes size, naturally and by itself, in slow patterns, and doesn’t strive to exist; through her, eclipses disappear in an all-absorbing clarity.’
—Gellu Naum, Zenobia
The writer, artist and poet, Gellu Naum helped create the celebrated group of Romanian Surrealists in Bucharest of the 1940s but the best surrealists leave categories behind and take aim at something altogether more shamanic. And so with Naum. His labyrinthine texts reward a close reading… they pleasure your sense of being lost, not for the escapism but for the alchemy, the transformation.
Writing of Naum in Hyperion, Valery Oisteanu says:
“There are only a handful of surrealists in the world who have invented new strains of the ‘freedom of imagination virus’, and whatever name by which they are known — neo-dada, postsurrealists, Lettrists, Situationists, Pataphysicists, etc. — they constitute a brotherhood of dreamers and they discovered (and continue to discover) each other even in total darkness, in the underground, or in the absolute void.”
A Joyful Wisdom
Naum’s 1985 novel Zenobia: Writings From An Unbound Europe reads like an affirmation. His narrator emerges from the swamps hand in hand with his eponymous lover. There’s something magnificent, animal and sacred about Zenobia. She’s real and unreal, flesh and pure idea. Their love binds them and focuses the surrounding chaos into something negotiable. Their reality emerges from faith… in words to define and ill-define but ultimately in each other and in their power to create their reality.
His wife, the artist Lyggia Naum, was his inspiration and Naum seems to be celebrating their union by establishing the landscape of its wounds — its peaks and troughs, pleasures and pains… its trail of blood. Zenobia is granted reality not just as invisible ‘muse’ but as fleshy other who cuts a swathe inside the ‘swamplands’ of the text and beyond its horizon. The textual fragmentation leads through a quagmire of ill-logic but ultimately you want to wallow in this mud for the dirt, the sheer jouissance.
This wisdom is of the body. A body lost and found, dead and alive, remembered and forgotten — and it is joyful.
Surrealism means, above all, to borrow a turn-of-phrase of Naum’s,
“that something happens to you.” All the rest is — literature.’
—Simona Popescu, Hyperion 2015