Theme Essay

Dialectical Despair: Gherasim Luca, Gellu Naum, and the Hazards of a Non-Oedipal Life



This article looks closely at an argument that took place in the 1940s between the Romanian Surrealists Gherasim Luca and Gellu Naum. This argument centered on the question of whether love can ever act as a transformative social force, or whether it is too fatally embedded within the existing social situation ever to work in this way. In the 40s Luca had just published a series of texts laying out his “anti-oedipal” theory of love and revolutionary action, and Naum responded to this with his sharply critical “Inventatorii banderolei” (The Inventors of the Banderole), which to my knowledge has never been translated into English or French. I argue that what was really at stake in their argument is despair: Naum’s claim that Luca has misunderstood crucial elements of Surrealist and Marxist thought ultimately resolves into an accusation that Luca has yielded to despair and resignation. Luca, for his part, accuses Naum of the same thing. I show how, despite the fact that they were actually in agreement on many points, each believes that the other has prematurely given up the revolutionary struggle as well as his faith in the transformative power of love as a result of mistaken and pessimistic views about the relationship between the individual and society. In the first part of the article I outline Luca’s anti-Oedipal ars vivendi and trace corresponding attitudes in Naum’s work. In the second part of the article I examine in detail one of Naum’s allegations in “Inventatorii banderolei”: that Luca’s despair is due to his misuse of the Hegelian and Marxist concept of the “negation of negation.” I show how Luca has not misused but has deeply engaged with this concept, partly through his ideas about “dialectical despair.” Finally, I show how these ideas illuminate the question of love outlined at the beginning.

Keywords: Gherasim Luca, Gellu Naum, Romania, Surrealism

How to Cite: Hansen, C. (2015) “Dialectical Despair: Gherasim Luca, Gellu Naum, and the Hazards of a Non-Oedipal Life”, Dada/Surrealism. 20(1). doi: