In the fictional world, the writer creates an imaginative projection of a certain people, caught up in the turmoil of a particular period of time. The process, similar to that of photocopying reality, implies the act of unraveling the essence of an individual through the typization of a character. Therefore, in literature each character stands up for the multitude, voicing the corporeal self who can still be seen acting upon the stage of society.
For example, the fictional Jew functions as a portal to the real world of Jews, and every utterance or action reiterates the speech or performance implemented by the real actant. A gipsy as well will animate the real gipsy’s trajectory through life. Nevertheless, one shouldn’t forget that an imitation doesn’t imply authenticity, and that a copy is not the original. In order to add fuel to the fire, to make gipsies more alluring, writers used ingenious devices, seasoning their narratives with stereotypes or other clichés borrowed from the collective representations of peripheral representatives. The discourse of a wandering race becomes the discourse of a writer who sets into motion the peripheral Logos. This marginal word separates the central character from its peripheral counterpart. It functions like a frontier, a wall made of a thick layer of glass, separating races and people, and making thus literature a kaleidoscope of real glimpses into the endless battle of the self versus the other.
The discourse of a wandering race unfolds the symbols and signs of the periphery in a “hetero-cosmos”, a term coined by Sidney which refers to the fictional universe (McHale, 55). Therefore, the representation of the gipsy character as a wanderer is projected on an imaginative screen, according to the vision of each writer. Nevertheless, each “hetero-cosmos” reinforces the belief into a possible world. This possible world, in order to appear real, it has to be believed or mentally visualized by both the writer and the reader (McHale, 64). Consequently, in a possible world the discourse of a wandering race expresses the reality of signs and signifiers whose meaning hides the ideology of the 19th century writer regarding the periphery. If we take into consideration, Ingarden’s polyphonic theory, each discourse has many layers of meaning. For example, nouns show our conceptions regarding the world of objects, and the phrases reflect a certain condition or state of things (McHale, 60). The seme “gipsy” is a sign in itself, signifying the wanderer and the outcast, the free man who crosses the border of society. Moreover, used in a phrase, it enlivens the dialectics of space and time where space implies vastness and freedom, while time is a cyclic loop where the ancestral past meets with the reality of the open road and with the future of an elusive arrival.
According to Bahtin, each discourse embedded in a narrative stands for a point of view, expressing the conceptual system of a socio-ideology shared by both the real social groups and their fictional representatives (qtd. in McHale, 256). The gipsy image as a wanderer is socially and ideologically constructed by the 19th century society, an issue which often reflects in literature the outcast condition of the Romany. The gipsies represent an exotic ethnic group, embodying the universal fascination and fear towards the unknown. Being one of the most controversial characters of world’s literature, the gipsy depicts every human being’s primordial fear of darkness. Either we are talking about dark spaces or dark skinned people, the world of shadows elicits the terror of wandering outside the protective space of light. The wanderer or the peripheral embodies the threats and allures of human nature, because the peripheral element stands outside the circle of law and order. What doesn’t bend its will to the common prerogatives will always pose a threat, because that someone or something has the power to interfere with the order of the circle, since it doesn’t fear the law’s retribution. Therefore, the discourse of the wanderer brings forth the image of the biblical Cain who after murdering his brother, was banished from the society of men. Moreover, no one was allowed to kill him or else the wrath of God would manifest itself sevenfold. If Cain becomes a taboo, so does the gipsy who wraps himself in mystery and tricks the non-gipsy. It is all a matter of perception, because the gipsy image as a wanderer, like any other images, has been mentally constructed by the non-gipsy other according to wide spread attributes and preconceptions. Thus, the term “image” refers to “the mental silhouette of the other, who appears to be determined by the characteristics of family, group, tribe, people or race” (Leerssen, 4).
Like any other fictional character, the gipsy is the product of the writer’s imagination, the latter using the gipsies as a special racial product that symbolizes the Arheus or the archetype of the primordial human, who can become a vessel for both good and evil. Although, they do not fall into a racial category, being only an ethnical social formation, in literature they stand apart, forming a queer and unique race. Furthermore, David Mayall reminds us that the initial meaning of the term “race” “referred primarily to a class or group of people or things” (Mayall, 90). The main argument is that the image of a literary character is physically and psychically represented as a racial sign. The discourse of a wandering race sustains the writer’s ideology regarding the social function of the peripheral character. Furthermore, it reflects the gipsy condition as it is mirrored in the collective mind, revealing the stereotypes and prejudices that lead to the construction of the image of the wanderer, a character viewed as a potential danger for the 19th century non-gipsy other.
On account of the self versus the other cultural clash, the main duty of a writer becomes the understanding of the social reality. Hippolyte Taine discusses the influence of the epoch, the moment and the topos over the creative process, without which any piece of art would only be meaningless and without connection to reality. Furthermore, Taine distinguishes between the physical man, the one subjected to the immediate gaze, and “the man invisible”, the one whose essence is revealed within, the one who ceases to be a corporeal being in order to exist as a soul (Taine, 4). The gipsy as a character is the dark skinned foreign who speaks a weird language and has other customs than the civilized majority. This physical gipsy is none other than the outer man reflected in the epoch, in a certain moment and a certain space of the non-gipsy’s encounter with the peripheral ethnic representative. His physiognomy marks the visual image we encounter in the 19th century literature. To give just one example, when Emily Brontë brings before the reader the dais of a monumental novel from where Wuthering Heights rises as a space of torment and angst, the reader encounters the dark skinned Heathcliff who is “as dark as if it came from the devil” (Brontë, 45). We have here the depiction of the wanderer, of the outcast who doesn’t come from the world of man. He is branded by the colour of his skin, i.e. by his visual image and the way this is perceived by the other people, and doomed to live in exile.
But not just the outer man reflects in literature the image of the peripheral and the unclassifiable. There is also the inner man who becomes in the hands of the writers a most outstanding fictional material ready to be carved and moulded, and restored to the world of fiction where each character reveals a unique history and a destiny of its own. For example, in the Bogdan Petriceicu Haṣdeu’s drama, Răzvan ṣi Vidra (1867), the scene where the gipsy Răzvan shows mercy to the boyar Sbierea, the character reveals the superiority of a noble soul, which coming from the peripheral and from a despised category of people, is meant to suggest that sometimes the one whom evil is expected from is capable of performing good deeds. And all depends on context or circumstances.
If we are talking about the 19th century Romanian Principalities and the State of Transylvania, we first need to focus upon the desire of unification. The general aim includes the abolishment of slavery and national unity. This aspiration is even shared by the gipsies who are getting tired of wandering around. For example, the gipsies of Ion Budai-Deleanu express in Ţiganiada (1800-1812) the desire of being assimilated into the Wallachian culture: “Părăsindu-ṣi viaṭa pribeagă (…)/Să nu mai îmble din ṭară ȋn ṭară,/Nici să mai fie altora de ocară!”(Budai-Deleanu, 50). People feel alienated from one another, gipsies and other poor peasants live only to serve the boyars and their state is similar to that of cattle, which are only fit to plow the earth. The Romanian gipsies may not be physical wanderers, they do not roam from place to place, but they stay tied to one land because they do not have a choice. They are slaves, deprived of any freedom. Still, they travel, crossing the boundaries of perceptions, leaping from one image to another. The Romanian gipsies are psychological wanderers, and if we read Ţiganiada, we see how Parpangel, who wasn’t allowed to leave Vlad the Impaler’s army, travells to hell and back in a manner similar to Orpheus’ journey. Unlike his Romanian counterpart, the Victorian gipsy, although he is not a slave, is not a local either. Regarded with suspicion by the Victorians, he receives the same treatment as the savages the British have encountered during their colonization expedition. Due to his dark physiognomy, the gipsy is turned into the cannibal who preys upon the white, or the Indian/Arab who lusts for white women. For the 19th century writer, the gipsy character is none other than the savage, the alien individual who lives among the civilized white people. Confining the gipsy inside the literary walls proves to be an indirect missionary attempt to tame the foreign element and to appropriate it. R. H. Codrington emphasizes that “one of the first duties of a missionary is to try to understand the people among whom he works. (…) When a European has been living for two or three years among savages he is sure to be fully convinced that he knows all about them; when he has been ten years or so amongst them, if he be an observant man, he finds that he knows very little about them, and so begins to learn” (Codrington, 118). Thus, understanding becomes a key factor in decoding the gipsy discourse. Furthermore, the word “people” applied by Codrington to the savages highlights the humanity inherent in every human being, be it savage or civilized. The gipsies are a group of people, fictional people since we analyze them from a literary point of view, but anyway, they are people. Therefore, apart from the racism and oppression the gipsies have suffered from, they revive in literature the restless human with no earth ties, dwelling in the unfathomable house of this universe.
Prof. drd. Andreea Smedescu
(Postat decembrie 2018)