The Aesthetic as “Secondary”


Virgil Nemoianu’s book A Theory of the Secondary. Literature, Progress and Reaction (1989) develops a theory of literature and the aesthetic, which provides a theoretical map of Nemoianu’s activity as a literary critic. This study is conceived as a defense of the heterogeneous, disorderly, reactionary type of discourse, often associated with literature in the context of modern and contemporary paradigms dominated by the epistemological paradigms of the exact sciences, sociology, history, and so on. The purpose of the book is to legitimize an aesthetically grounded axiology and to redefine the relationship between the so-called discourses of the principal and those of the secondary. Covering a wider range of fields and topics than Nemoianu’s earlier books which focused on particular cultural genres and movements such as the idyll and Romanticism, A Theory of the Secondary is their theoretical complement; the unveiling of the critic’s aesthetic philosophy.

Nemoianu started his American academic career with a Ph.D. dissertation about the idyll,[1] titled suggestively, Micro-Harmony. In it, he reassess the aesthetic value and social relevance of this marginal genre which was not granted much attention in the late 1970s. Despite the fact that its concern for this concept of literary history may seem outdated, Nemoianu approaches the idyll very much like a personal theme and he turns it into a subject foreshadowing several of his later areas of interest. Being raised in the quiet rhythms of the former Austro-Hungarian province of Banat[2], the young comparatist discovers in the idyll a vivid macro-structure, an ideal human image still operating surreptitiously and nostalgically in the social and cultural life of the Romanian province.

Micro-Harmony, however did not address the problem of the Romanian ethos or Romanian idyllic texts but sketched the wider profile of a socio-cultural matrix of understanding literature, which Nemoianu developed in his later books. The critic’s next project, The Taming of Romanticism explores the “softer” versions of European Romanticism produced during the so-called Biedermeir[3] age (1815-1848). The theme itself is a development of the Nemoianu’s long-standing interest in marginalized discourses and the secondary, with a special emphasis on the dialectical relationship between “the high” and “the sentimental,” idyllic Romanticism.  […]

[1] Micro-Harmony. The Growth and Uses of the Idyllic Model in Literature. Bern: Peter Lang, 1977.


[2] Situated in the South-Western part of Romania, Banat is one of the Romanian principalities which along with Transylvania was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.


[3] The Taming of Romanticism. European Literature and the Age of Biedermeir. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University press, 1984.


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