REVIEW: Edited by Marin Diaconu, Zoltán Rostás, Vasile Şoimaru, Chişinău, Quant Publishing, 2011, 852 pages.

Cosmina Timoce-Mocanu (Institutul „Arhiva de Folclor a Academiei Române”)

The volume Cornova 1931, the title page of which lists Dimitrie Gusti and his contributors as authors, was edited by Marin Diaconu, Zoltán Rostás and Vasile Şoimaru, and appeared in the second half of 2011 at Quant Publishing, Chişinău. By taking a quick look at the contents, we note that these contributors are deliberately from different fields and time intervals. Thus, the studies of Ernest Bernea, Xenia Costa-Foru, Ştefania Cristescu, D. C. Georgescu, Anton Golopenţia, Traian Herseni, Ion Ionică, Domnica Păun, Mihai Pop, Henri H. Stahl, D. Şandru and Petre Ştefănucă are alongside the immediate reports of events dedicated to the monographic campaign at Cornova and alongside its contemporary reception written by Grigore Botezatu, Lina Codreanu, Iordan Datcu, Marin Diaconu, Sanda Golopenţia, Iulia Mărgărit,  Dora Mezdrea, Zamfira Mihail, Zoltán Rostás and Vasile Şoimaru.

In the present, canons of academic research are rather governed by the principle of deconstruction and restitutio gestures are rare, readers in the social sphere cannot but admire the efforts of editors Marin Diaconu, Zoltán Rostás and Vasile Şoimaru to carry out one of intellectual projects of the Gustian School. The volume Cornova 1931 represents, from this perspective, the terminus point of an editorial path that has had at least three more major episodes over eight decades. The first dates from the fourth decade of the twentieth century, when, in a letter dated June 21, 1931, addressed to Ştefan Ciobanu, Dimitrie Gusti asked for a contest to choose a

“a village in Bessarabia suitable for our monographic research that will take place there this year. We are looking for an old village of free peasants, who call each other Captains, and that is situated next to a monastery”. [p. 584]

That is why, between June 25 and August 13, 1931, the seventh monograph campaign, organized in the framework of what posterity would call the Sociological School of Bucharest, was held under the leadership of Dimitrie Gusti and with the participation of fifty-five people at Cornova. Campaign results were the subject of monograph lectures and conferences, which were held in Bucharest, under the aegis of the Romanian Social Institute, on Wednesdays in the months from January to April of 1932. Posters and reports of these lectures and conferences are included in the reviewed volume between pages 411 and 462, revealing to the reader that the idea of a future monograph of the Bessarabian village was announced by Gusti on January 16, 1932, in the discussions that followed the projection of sociological documentaries about Drăguş and Cornova:

“A filmed, Romanian sociology of villages, would stand beside the series of publications: the monographic sociology of Romania that will inaugurate its publishing with the three-volume monograph of the Bessarabian village of Cornova, thanks to the generosity of the American Rockefeller foundation (a monograph which we hope to provide the deciding argument to those who still do not know how old Romanian Bessarabia is)”. [p. 417]

The conferences resulted in studies, printed in 1932, in the tenth volume of the Arhiva pentru Știința și Reforma Socială [Archive for Science and Social Reform] or, in the coming years, in Sociologie Românească [Romanian Sociology]  and other specialized publications or even in books.

The second episode in the attempt of writing the monograph of  the village of Cornova occurs only six decades later, when, under the auspices of the Dimitrie Gusti Foundation and coordinated by Ovidiu Bădina, the resumption of research in the ​​Bessarabian village was attempted and the volume Cornova. Un sat de mazili [Cornova. A village of the deposed] was published in 1997. A third episode of the same monographic project took place in 2000, when Museum Publishing in Chişinău printed a book under the coordination of Professor Vasile Şoimaru, Cornova, written by a group of authors that includes: Ion Dron, Alexandru Furtună, Iurie Colesnic, Zamfira Mihail, Elena Ploşniţă, Petre V. Ştefănucă, Vlad Pohilă, Grigore Botezatu, Anton Golopenţia, Sanda Golopenţia-Eretescu, Henri H. Stahl, Emil Turdeanu, Ernest Bernea, Pompilu Gâlmeanu, Paul Bran, Ion and Tatiana Varta.

Representing in a way the fulfilment of the interwar intellectual project, the volume Cornova 1931 is an improvement compared to the works of 1997 and 2000, not only because of its size (852 pages, of which 815 are actual text and 35 are visual speech – the landscape seen by the photographer Berman, and a few contemporary looks), but especially because of the editorial formula adopted, that structures the text into four distinct parts.

The first part, from pages 7 to 400, called Studies, opens with a text written by Dimitrie Gusti – Sociologie românească [Romanian Sociology] – in which he explains the theoretical concept of the School, and which is followed by the articles of the monographers, published originally in 1932 in the Archive for Science and Social Reform. These articles were put in the order of the Gustian system of contexts: biological (D. C. Georgescu – Evoluția demografică a satului Cornova [The Demographic Evolution of the Village of Cornova]), historical (H. H. Stahl – Vatra satului Cornova [The Hearth of the Village of Cornova]), psychological (H. H. Stahl – Despre Inochentie și inochentism [About Inochentie and Inochentism]; P. Ştefănucă – Scrisori de război [War Letters]; E. Bernea – Contribuții la problema calendarului în satul Cornova [Contributions to the Problem of the Calendar in the Village of Cornova]), and of spiritual manifestations (Ştefania Cristescu – Parctica magică a descântatului de ”strâns” în satul Cornova [The Magical Practice of the “Ingathering” Incantation in the village of Cornova]; Emil Turdeanu – Un manuscris miscelaneu necunoscut [An Unknown Miscellaneous Manuscript]; Mihai Pop –  Contribuții la studiul limbilor special din Cornova: păsăreasca [Contributions to the Study of Special Languages in Cornova: Păsăreasca Language]), of units (Domnica I. Păun – Țiganii în viața satului Cornova [Gypsies in the Village Life of Cornova]), of relations (Traian Herseni – Categorii sociale cornovene [Cornovan Social Categories]) and of social processes (Anton Golopenţia – Aspecte ale desfășurării procesului de orășenizare a satului Cornova [Urbanization Process Development Aspects of the village of Cornova]).

Without insisting on the contents of these texts, we only point out that we are dealing with some of the best works of monographists: these are texts containing in nuce topics that they will further develop in their later work and which will provide the grounds for their theoretical or methodological reflection. For instance, the research of the issues of the Cornova calendar carried out by Ernest Bernea will underpin his later works Timpul la ţăranul român [Time for the Romanian Peasant] (1941), Cadre ale gândirii populare româneşti [Contexts of Romanian Folk Thought] (1985), Spaţiu, timp şi cauzalitate la poporul român [Space, Time and Causality for the Romanian People] (1997). Henri H. Stahl studies the techniques of geodesy, developing his “social archaeology” project, which he will later elaborate in the three volumes of Contribuţii la studiul satelor devălmaşe româneşti (1958-1965). Anton Golopenţia, being at his first monographic research in Cornova, is the first Romanian to study urbanization, a socio-economic and cultural process, to which he will later dedicate interesting notes in the Marginals  of the issues of Romanian Sociology in the years between 1937- 1939. (Cf. Anton Golopenţia, Opere complete.Vol. I: Sociologie. Edited by Prof. Sanda Golopenţia, Ph. D., introductory study by Prof. Ştefan Costea, Ph. D., Bucharest, Editura Enciclopedică, 2002, pp. 420-438.) The three case studies by Ştefania Cristescu discuss, very technically, different aspects of the phenomenon of incantations in the village of Cornova: the social construct of the magical agent, the frequency of magic formulas and, respectively, the type of the “ingathering” incantation. Giving a glimpse of a theoretical and methodological concept of sociological origin, without neglecting, however, especially regarding incantations, the acquisitions of the Philological School of Ovid Densusianu, the articles, together with subsequent research plans, with the texts of communications and five hundred observation sheets, will form the body of the volume Descântatul în Cornova-Basarbia [Incantation in Cornova-Bessarabia], edited by Sanda Golopenţia in 1984, and, in a revised edition, in 2003.

We consider the following three big sections of the book to be of a very special value, namely Despre a VII-a campanie monografică [About the Seventh Monographic Campaign] (pp. 403-590), Portrete sociologice [Sociological Portraits] (pp. 593-748) and Monografiștii. Fișe de dicționar [Monographers. Dictionary Files] (pp. 749-722), because they reconstruct the context of research and bring together not only textualized, finished ideas, but also a bit of the work that was put into them; not only the finished work, but also its editorial aspect, or work in progress, and the process of its reception in different times, too; not only the fulfilments of the Sociological School of Bucharest, but also its stumblings and failures.

Specifying, the second section of the book, – About the Seventh Monographic Campaign – represents an attempt to reconstruct the intellectual effervescence raised by research in Cornova by grouping texts edited on other occasions, and many of them unique, from various generic categories: announcements of conducting conferences or their brief reports, reviews of publications, obituaries, log files, observation sheets, letters identified on the field by monographists or letters exchanged between each other. Especially these epistolary exchanges will be, from this time on, unavoidable documents in any social history approaches of the Sociological School of Bucharest. For instance, in a letter addressed to Dimitrie Gusti, quoted from pages 405-406, Henri H. Stahl questions even the monographic method, as it was conceived by the mentor, showing him the practical limitations:

“A reclassification is needed, and for the upcoming campaign we will have to greatly reduce the number of monographists. In fact, it was your opinion, too: twenty monographists working efficiently are more than enough. The large number of participants brings an administrative strain that is not rewarded by the labor input accordingly. When there is more than one person working on a single issue, everyone hopes that the others will do the work. When there are few, each works in all areas, to the maximum. At least I, unhindered by administrative concerns, can now work not only on my problem, but on those of the others, in a completely different way and more prolifically than before”.

Furthermore, reading the same letters allows the reader to approximate the researcher-subject relationship during monograph campaigns, and the impact of this kind of research on the investigated community or daily fieldwork. I quote again, in this sense, a larger fragment for its novelty and savour:

“Nevertheless, Professor, I am doing quite well, although a bit alone. And if I happen to sprain a leg, then I enrich the folder of magic with files, because I get healed by dirt taken from the roots of a plum tree, boiled with flax oakum, and I am taken to all the women who enchant (by age and social status). I get along extremely well with the villagers. The knights of the first class, from the whole region, won’t organize a dance without me. They call me, and I am forced to do demonstrative dances, like we dance in Bucharest, in boots, with damsels who are barefoot. You know that in the village there is a fashion of the monograph: with buttoned-down shirts, rolled up sleeves and cut brims, i.e. hats in the forms of berets. This is a costume worn by elite knights of the first class. Vineyards haven’t started yet. But people are already preparing wine in small barrels, so that they have some by the harvest. The drunkenness in the village is generalized and appalling. At night, the whole village yells: monographist songs. They gather to pluck feathers, to spin, where I take part. Sometimes, lads cut themselves and come to me to whine. I put iodine on their cuts and complete files on morality. Thus, the village is completely different now, in autumn. Pathetic, but interesting”.

The Conversations section from the same part contains clippings focused exclusively on the monographic campaign at Cornova, of the interviews that were conducted by Zoltán Rostás with the monographists of the Sociological School, starting from the 1980s. The importance of the selected fragments lies not only in the fact that they motivate, criticize, evaluate from several, often contradictory, perspectives the results of the research. The motivation of the choice of the Bessarabian village as the space for research is briefly exposed by Henri H. Stahl:

“Cornova was, without a doubt, interesting. It was a completely new thing, because here we have to deal with the problems of a village that suffered because of the strong, cultural and administrative Russian influence. There you had a number of issues that were non-existent in other regions”. [p. 493]

Furthermore, the interviews show how the land of Cornova was by how it was received by such or such monographist. Thus, for Stahl, Cornova was “without a doubt, interesting” [p. 493], as it was for Mihai Pop and Roman Cressin, who thought of it as a “very interesting village of free peasants, pure Romanian” [p. 504], for Ernest Bernea it also marks the beginning of his scientific career:

“Cornova was very interesting; it launched me as a scientist”. [p. 501]

Gheorghe Focşa highlights the major differences of Cornova compared to other investigated villages, noting that “there was another environment at Cornova. Completely else environment” [p. 504], while, for this same reason, it was a disappointment for Paula Stahl:

“It was something completely else. The village was a village, because it was not paved, there was no sewerage, the houses were small, but for me, especially, it was desolation. I had nothing… not much to do around there, they were dressed just as people dress in the cities, with skirts and blouses or complete dresses made of linen purchased and tailored there…” [p. 503].

On the contrary, Marcela Focşa, who studied somewhat the same segment, remembers something else:

“Cornova was very funny (…) The atmosphere was relaxed, friendly, cheerful”. [pp. 498-499]

The Conversations show how monographists actually worked and had fun, where they stumbled in the implementation of the monographic method, and also how they theoretisized the various aspects of social reality and what was the impact of their works in time. Regarding the latter, criticizing the comments of Panaitescu and Giurăscu on the forms of joint property, Stahl notes:

“What is a Romanian village? There is not a Romanian village, there are multiple forms of Romanian villages. And then you have to know which these forms are. For this, you need to do research; you have to be a sociologist, not a historian. The documents don’t always clear up things sufficiently. You must have in mind the living image of the extraordinary differences between villages in the Romanian countryside today. There is no comparison”. [p. 495]

            I also call attention to the section of Sociological Portraits, masterfully complied by Zoltán Rostás for Dimitrie Gusti, Mihai Pop, Henri H. Stahl and Octavian Neamţu, by Sanda Golopenţia for Ştefania Cristescu, by Dora Mezdrea for Dumitru Cristian Amzăr and by Lina Codreanu for Gheorghe Focşa. We dare say that, beside these seven portraits, the work also contains another two, at a somewhat vague level: one of the priest Ion Zamă – a figure that follows the reader obsessively a long time after reading the book; the second is that of Petre Ştefănucă, a portrait that is emphasized through the eleven texts that belong to it, which are included in the pages of the book.

All these above mentioned aspects, as well as many others that can be discovered by reading the book, demonstrate that the editors of Cornova 1931 found the best formula for achieving what Gusti called, at the same conference of January 16, 1932, [p. 416], sociological monograph, i.e. “a synthesis in time and space of a part of a country”.