Anca Manolescu: There is a passage in the Tescani Diary where Paltinis is seen, in terms of season-wise symbolism, as a sort of preparatory stage looking ahead to times to come. "The winter of philosophy?? The winter of circumstances? Maybe. But also the winter of inner respite, of communion; winter as a strategy for an active, if sheltered, survival until the coming of spring." Was there, back then, a sense of follow-up? Or were you experiencing the context, the moment and the meeting in their intrinsic substance? Andrei Plesu: The fragment you are speaking of dates back to 1989, when the Paltinis episode had already come to an end, but political change still seemed improbable. There was nevertheless a sharper sense of crisis and expectation than at the beginning of the '80s. Some sort of edginess filled the air, although I did not believe then, in November '89, at Tescani, that the regime was about to collapse. It's even less accurate to think we lived the Paltinis episode as a safe island, as some kind of "station" on the way to liberation. We were simply enjoying what is gemütlich, as the Germans say, about winter. There is a winter idyll, an indoors atmosphere, replete with the pleasures of a warm room, in consonance with the frost outside when you see it as a spectacle of beauty, not as a threat to one's physical integrity. And there is a winter conviviality: sitting there in a warm room, in the company of a couple of friends, drinking tea or boiled tuica and talking philosophy. Rather than the fierceness of the season, or of the times, winter meant to us the fairy-tale air, the inner comfort that go with it and are made of conviviality and isolation within a private space. We did not think of Paltinis as an outpost, as a place where you take arms against a world of circumstances, or as a waiting room where you keep looking out of the window in expectation for the train of history. It was neither. It was, indeed, a place where we lived the quiet delight of conviviality. It was winter seen from behind the windowpanes, where it is warm and you go about things you take comfort in. The Paltinis episode was a truly invigorating experience for us. Each of its winters ended up in a sense of plenitude, a wealth of projects and the stamina to do things. We always felt as if we went there for a re-loading of our batteries, which we lived for its own sake and in pure joy. "Easing off" was the key word of those times. There was nothing grim or hardened about our life in Paltinis. Nor about our study. We did our reading and talking in a way that had nothing of the sourness, stiffness or grand manner of school proceedings - we did it, I will say it again, in conviviality, convinced that we were offering ourselves primarily a time of joy. It was a space of joy and therefore a tonic solar space, not one of cramped attempts to survive. It was not survival: it was living, pure and simple, it was life in the most substantial sense of the word. A.M.: But was it not precisely the adversity around, the impossibility to do authentic work in the official space, that created the need for, and made imperative the existence of, a solution like Paltinis? Andrei Plesu: One thing needs clarifying, especially today, when there is no end to interpretations of the Paltinis episode: we did not make a choice then. We were not faced with several options for our lives. We did not say to ourselves: what shall we choose? Do we go out in the streets, do we venture acts of personal dissidence, or do we set for Paltinis? No! To us, Paltinis appeared as a destinal offering. It loomed up as an occasion. It was a kairos. The lucky thing for us was that we happened to be perfectly open to this occasion, that we let it seize us, aware that it was a gift and grateful to find that this gift grew within and made us happier men. Paltinis was not a reaction - be it one of refusal, protest or evasion. It is only now, on looking back, that it can be analysed as one of many alternatives for a life under communism. But at that time we were not faced with a choice. The only thing we opted for was to respond to that occasion. A.M.: Also, I find it inadequate to analyse the options, movements and decisions made at that point using criteria that are specific to a democratic society. Without placing things against their right context, one can only end up with false images. It was, after all, a different sort of world. Andrei Plesu: It is wrong to judge any moment in the life and history of a reality by the data of another moment. It is even wrong to judge the Romania of 1990 by today's criteria. It is even less appropriate to use the same criteria in judging the period of the '80s. Unfortunately, this is what we constantly do. I would like to say something here that I have already said on several occasions, but I feel the re-statement is welcome. It is not only criteria that must be adequate. We must never forget that any world, any type of world, including the concentration universe, the jail world, let us call it, is - potentially at least, yet often actually - a whole world, a world in its entirety, containing all the elements of a complete world. Certainly, the proportions differ, the recipes vary, but the inventory of elements, the "chemical" inventory of the "worldly" is present in any type of universe. Well, the Romanian world in the communist years, which we condemn today, and rightly so, was nevertheless a whole world, in which joy was possible, and love was possible, and culture was possible. Not that it was the regime that made them possible, not that "it wasn't as bad as they say". It was very bad! But even a very bad world has its fissures, its resources, its opportunities that make possible the saturation of the global recipe of a world. So in Paltinis we lived the tonic episode, the episode of joy and free commitment that was possible in that sort of world. A.M.: What's more, the fissures, resources and opportunities that are there in a very bad world will be explored with the intensity of the alternative. Today, the offer is much more varied, yet that leads to a less spectacular result in terms of a qualitative search. Andrei Plesu: Indeed, we enjoyed and benefited from that moment to a larger extent, and so did the public. When the Paltinis Diary was published, the Romanian world shaked with a vibration that one can no longer imagine today. On the contrary, its effect now is more of a counter-vibration. I often feel that the Paltinis episode and group are now scrutinised with a rather severe, critical eye. But back then, the book and everything that happened in Paltinis brought about a sort of emulation in our world. In therapeutic, hygienic terms, that emulation was very important. I would say that both we and the surrounding world were enriched by that episode in a way that would no longer be possible today. A.M.: For us, its readers, the Diary was the proof that acts of high culture could be performed that were alive and shaping. It was a sort of axis and a guarantee that we were intellectually alive, that we could participate in such a feat, be it only by means of our readings. Andrei Plesu: This is indeed a thing to remember or to be reminded of in case it's been forgotten. For the drive to judge that episode by a sort of political exigency or "political correctness" - which has nothing to do with its actual data, its real contour - is bound to fake things completely. If we cannot understand what truly happened not only with Paltinis as such, but with its entire impact, the reverberation into a whole way of life and thought it produced, we will analyse a phantom, not a fact of life. A.M.: Paltinis itself consisted of several circles. Andrei Plesu: In this respect, Noica had a sort of symphonic genius. Without our realising it then, he orchestrated several Paltinis'. There are other groups, too, that claim participation in the Paltinis atmosphere for themselves. Any of their members could say, Et in Paltinis ego. Noica was not necessarily keen on making these groups communicate, he had separate strategies and projects for each of them. Signs have actually become visible of parallel Paltinis'. There was, for instance, a Paltinis of Vasi Zamfirescu, who even wrote a book on it. Other voices keep being heard too, claiming regular contact with the place and correspondence with Noica. So Paltinis witnessed a playing on more than one clavier, which makes of it a reality that is so rich and so specific to that moment. A unique reality, too. A.M.: At the end of the Paltinis Diary, a question is raised by G. Liiceanu concerning the validity of the life configuration there: "But was not this 'liberation' (in spirit) a fleeing from history?? This lateral, subdued and undertone liberation, that might be held guilty for its intellectual egotism, was and continues to be the form of survival for some of the greatest values of today's Romanian spirituality." Andrei Plesu: If that means we practised a form of culture that was passive and escapist, it is only now that such words can be said and such analysis undertaken. But, I will repeat it, we did not live that episode in circumstantial awareness, peeping over to the larger context. We acted in a spontaneous and fully committed manner, following an inner necessity. Another theme is worth discussing, though: to what extent philosophy, which usually connotes also wisdom, is an efficacious existential attitude. I in particular was stirred by this interrogative demon, as I was looking for very direct solutions of embodying wisdom, and not only for a living and exploring of it at the level of the text. That was, so to speak, my daily private mutiny, which Noica denied in its principle, saying that I was practising a sort of search that was not "disinterested", that instead of allowing ideas to carry me along, I was always looking for "recipes", always looking for techniques. But that was my search, and maybe that was not the appropriate place for it to exist. In Paltinis there was no delivery of techniques, and neither was there a delivery of political programs, or conspiracies. What was delivered there was what Noica himself called the "pure joy of culture". He meant culture in its traditional sense, so to speak: ideas, texts, dialogue. A.M.: After the Paltinis episode, the grace of which was also due to its community life, you made your dissidence explicit and so had to move away from Bucharest: the Tescani episode followed, one that proved to be much more demanding - an episode of solitude. Is your act of dissidence, and hence the Tescani period, related in any way to the Paltinis lesson? Andrei Plesu: It's a strange thing. In Paltinis, I was the one who did not fit in completely to the schema of the place. Or who had moments of guilty inadequacy. At Tescani I became more of a Paltinis man that I'd use to be while in Paltinis proper; I felt I was re-constructing the model. I might not have had the Tescani option without that model. After all, I was banished from Bucharest and the exile could have taken me anywhere. The first variant was Bacau. Tescani became possible also due to the existence of the archetype of that way of life. When I went there, I did it with the awareness that I was being offered a chance to recreate something of the Paltinis way of life. Which literally happened. I, for instance, am not in the very least fond of walking, but there I respected a regular program of cyclical walks, as I did my program of reading and studying. Unfortunately I was deprived of the chance of dialogue, except in the rare moments when I had visitors. And dialogue was a decisive element of Paltinis. Even so, I remember being ready, whenever I had the chance, to revive the Paltinis-like stylistics of dialogue, either by reading from what I had written in Tescani, or by provoking discussions on a given theme. It was an almost abstract need that grasped any occasion presenting itself in the form of an interlocutor who chanced to pass by. As a matter of fact, the very title of my book, The Tescani Diary, is slightly ironical. I told myself that, although I was living a different type of event, I could try and make Tescani an echo of Paltinis, just as a minor theme echoes a major one. For what I set for myself there was a life of natural rhythms, I might say. I decided not to be serious but as to my readings and my most intimate concerns. I decided to let myself carried away by the immediate level of experience. By what met the eye. By the nature around. By several people. By several prima facies experiences. In writing this Diary, I did not seek for any deep probing, I did not care about profundities, even though there might be some here and there in the text. In short, although Tescani was less than Paltinis in terms of scope covered - if only for the simple reason that I was alone -, although the moment had a different make, although my presence there was due to different reasons, in spite of all these differences, the model was there, underlying the whole experience. A.M.: It was also there implicit in the grace allowing you, in times of danger and loneliness, to write about things you enjoy. The wisdom lying at the core of the Constantin Noica model was here being tested and put to work. Andrei Plesu: Undoubtedly. Noica taught a very important lesson - one of which there isn't much talk today, for if there were, the quite severe current analysis of the political echo his presence had would take on an altogether different quality. For it was precisely a lesson with political import. In the mental space of Paltinis, the concept that was systematically "deconstructed" - if I were to use current vocabulary - was that of victim. The language and psychology of Paltinis refused this element. We did not go there as victims of communism or as anticommunist combatants. What drove us there was precisely the feeling that there were values and commitments that could free you from the vicious circle executioner-victim, aggressor-aggressed, dictator-terrorised population. We broke out of this circle and lived joyfully and free at a level that, for us, at that moment, was the supreme one. Tescani made me feel that this lesson worked. And not only at a mental level. It proved palpably efficient. I was talking of pragmatic strategies, of putting things into practice. Not for one single moment did I experience the Tescani episode from the position of the victim, of the "doomed" character living a drama. My experience was, on the contrary, one of relaxation and of the effortless, quite spontaneous refusal of the status of the victim. Which is disappointing to some of the readers of the Tescani Diary. I met people who told me, "I bought the book with the hope of finding there, besides an on-going under-textual Jeremiad, whole pages of political 'opposition', of militant anticommunist discourse. But I didn't." What they found there was some merely sketched brushstrokes. This is one of the effects of my "inability", rather than willed decision, to interiorise the status of a victim. A.M.: The Paltinis Diary, as well as the memorial or epistolary literature published after 1989, also refers to the theme of the circulation of publications: as coming from abroad, passed on to friends, commented upon. Andrei Plesu: Noica had his almost candid way about these things. He managed to stay in touch with his friends from abroad, who sent him some periodicals. He was, for instance, a very passionate reader (a passion that we never shared) of Science et Vie. He wanted to be updated not so much on the strictly philosophical side of the intellectual life in the "other" Europe, as on what was happening in scientific inquiry. The world goes on, there is a modernity ever more gloriously outlined and the "philosopher" needs to be informed, to be updated? On the other hand, I would say that, curious as it might seem, it was not the access to the latest information, or the more or less illicit reading of bits of Western European bibliographies that kept us there. Being aware that this was chance information that we could not get on a regular, reliable basis, we chose to be safe with the classics. This was yet another of Noica's themes, i.e. that, given the scarcity of information, our advantage was that we could still visit the classics with innocent minds. In the West, you needed to be informed on the latest commentaries on Aristotle, whereas in Paltinis we could keep to Aristotle himself. This exquisite pleasure of visiting the classics, of engaging in commerce with the acknowledged values, with an already shaped and accepted "canon" was part and parcel of our formation. Some younger colleagues might say that it was only unfortunately so, since we are thus left more insensitive to the canonical revolutions of our days. I can't tell. But at that point, this "imposed" conversation with the major texts was a vital one for us. A.M.: Is it so important to be tuned in to the times? Paltinis enjoyed the privilege of the intermission. Andrei Plesu: Under those circumstances, yes, it was a privilege. It is by no means compulsory to be tuned in to the times. Yet, I think it isn't wise not to take evolutions into account. Whenever I find myself in a critical mood as to the developments of "post-modernity", I feel guilty too. My concern is not to slip into the classic generation gap, where every generation discards whatever comes after. I believe that the century is much more interesting and challenging than we can imagine and that, without indiscriminately embracing it, we need to face and vigorously assume it. Any solution that grows out of withdrawal, nostalgia or false solemnity can only be unhealthy. A.M.: Moreover, our generation has had the chance to live in two different worlds. Andrei Plesu: That is a big chance, indeed, which we will nevertheless be the only ones to have enjoyed. We can already see that this type of experience cannot be imparted. The generation that happens to be situated in only one context cannot help not being blind to the preceding context. The young people who are now in their twenties may well wonder what we mean when we speak of the "other" world. I have to admit, though, that it was not our case (to be part of this sad scenario of the generation gap). Most of us grew in families who instilled in us, from the earliest age, the nostalgia of another epoch. Even though we had not been direct participants in that epoch, we were raised in a world which overtly bore its marks. To me, the inter-war period, the family life from before WWII was alive thanks to the tales told over each and every lunch. This is history now. And maybe we are to blame for that. What were we inspired with in the '50s and '60s? With the memory of a world that did well and should be revived. Whereas what we have to say about the world we lived in is, and cannot be other than, a negative discourse. We speak of an ugly world that had better be abandoned. One cannot but resent this type of discourse. The young generation now does not care to listen to analyses of times past that use an exclusively negative language. That is something to reflect on and should urge us to look for the positive discourse we can offer. We need to give some more consistent thought to a type of message that is tonic, affirmative, since the discourse of "the wounded who lived a sore life" is extremely spiteful, a kind of discourse that has no shaping power. A.M.: It seems to me that after 1989, both Gabriel Liiceanu and yourself initiated institutional projects that were first conceived in Paltinis and thus appear to be the actual result of that type of vitality. Andrei Plesu: This is worth a thought: things usually come into being in forms different from what you first planned. But they do. It is a coming into being that includes even deviations from the project. A young man wrote a letter to Gabriel Liiceanu, saying, "Paltinis did not prepare you for today's world. And the kind of discourse you conceived then did not prepare us for today's world either." I agree. I had the same feeling myself. Back then, we did not think strategically about the future, we did not plan another world.  Nevertheless, there is a visible outcome of Paltinis in today's world. It is different from what people in general expected or even from what we ourselves thought it would be. It did not trigger what Noica hoped for, that is the members of the group to pursue brilliant academic careers. That is what Noica ultimately expected of us. For Gabriel, he envisaged the history of philosophy. As for me, he was a bit uneasy about my resistance to any clear track, as he saw it. At any rate, he expected of me to make a clear choice of, and work hard inside, a well-defined domain. Things turned out differently. But they did turn out somehow: we caught this fever of establishing institutions, which he had too, but in a hostile milieu. He kept repeating, "I could set up foundations in plenty." He always lived with the frustration of not being able to give a body to his projects. We ourselves, while in Paltinis, took over something of his unembodied projects; we would conceive editorial plans, imagine philosophical associations? We never got to actually achieve any of these things, but the mere thinking of what they would be like made us happy. After 1989, the moment had come for us to put those projects into practice. I would say that at least some of the inspired dreaming in Paltinis finally came true, since Gabriel Liiceanu has realised a great editorial project and has thus been able to publish books that were essential to our formation and that might shape others too. It so happened, or we made it happen so, that all of us who lived in Paltinis ultimately managed to found something. I'd say that the New Europe College is itself a sort of Paltinis differently situated, adjusted so as to suit present conditions. It is not a school for wisdom, yet the idea of an intellectual community and of open debate on which it is founded comes from my Paltinis experience. A.M.: Coming back to that young man's letter you mentioned. It's worth noticing that in those times, even in countries like Czechoslovakia - where the opposition clearly shaped and expressed political thought - the technical skill of government, the pragmatic ability to efficiently organise things was not ensured by the preceding theoretical reflections. Vaclav Havel himself said it, during a Bucharest encounter with Emil Constantinescu and Nicolae Manolescu. Andrei Plesu: Indeed. Yet, we may well raise the question of our potential guilt here. In Paltinis there was no project for another world, nothing was conceived of in terms of preparatory strategy. Such projects did exist in other countries of the "communist camp". People or even whole categories of people did exist there who could approximate, even though only theoretically or mentally, a possible change, who could envisage it in political terms. There were no such people here. That is why, as far as we are concerned, we may well keep up the question mark on our reluctance to think in practical terms of the probable state of affairs after the change. Take Poland. They proved capable of political thinking that was much more practical and strategically substantial. Another variant is the Hungarian one: they did not have a project like the Poles, but they had a communist government that adjusted itself to new trends, allowing a minimal reform project to work slight changes into its own body of assumptions. And that led to a less dramatic turning point. The idea of reform was not alien to people in the very leading apparatus. Or, Romania had neither a well-articulated opposition outside government, as Poland did, nor a reforming wing inside government, as it happened in Hungary. And this is why we are still in transit today.  These being said, I would also add, in response to the young man, that there are things which no one else can do for you. If people expect us to make efforts that should spare them any effort, then this is an expectation we cannot fulfil. I cannot eat for someone else, I cannot think for someone else, I cannot build for someone else. I can do all those things uniquely on my behalf, merely hoping that they will radiate effectively. The young generation is right in demanding reference points, in expecting some kind of orientation around. Yet it should not depute the issue of its own destiny to some abstract mentors. A.M.: I will ask you a rhetorical question: is Paltinis still possible today? Andrei Plesu: No! Definitely not! And it's for the better it isn't. First of all, because the idea to clone a moment of grace is inconsistent. The value of Paltinis also resides in its being unrepeatable. If we serialise Paltinis, the model itself will decay, the serialisation will work against it as well. Secondly, because we live in a different world and, of course, Noica is no longer around. And the figure of the mentor is crucial here. After all, we no longer live under the same sky and the stars play a different tune? Reiteration seems to be both impossible and undesirable. But if today's Paltinis is called New Europe College, then yes! A.M.: Th New Europe College is, indeed, a Paltinis of our times, in the sense that it is a scientific reunion of fellows that is quite alive, truly invigorating and highly competent; yet, it is not based on personal affinities or common intellectual interests, it does not involve a special human bondage. Paltinis welcomed a type of encounter that was informal, absolutely free and that held on thanks to shared events. Today, everything in the intellectual domain is or tends to be institutionalised. We are no longer very keen on the informal. It is probably the normal course of things: we have invested in the public space what we were not allowed to expose previously, and we tend to feel that whatever lacks its geometry and prestige is of a minor importance. Andrei Plesu: I have already spoken of the community side of Paltinis. It had the quality of the colloquial, the group there had become a unitary organism. I feel bound to say that there is something we lack nowadays as a premise for a community of the same type. Paltinis was a community space, yet one of its ingredients was loneliness as well. We were together there, and Paltinis became, at some point, a place for pilgrimage, yet, circumstances considered, it was, within the context of the day, a moment of solitude too. It was Noica's solitude, his "winter", surrounded by our small centripetal solitudes. When I say solitude, I mean good solitude, in this case. Part of our lives was also the awareness that what we did there could not turn into an institution, could not have direct bearing on our public lives, that it was a solitary experience. Now, it seems, the good face of solitude is shaded away. People have lost their sense of the benefic solitude, that is of the individual's confrontation with his question, with his star, with his wager. Emphasis is now placed differently, hierarchies have changed, things go by other rhythms and, for the time being, there is a loss of solitude setting in. The informal type of group cannot exist unless three or four people agree to experience good solitude together. A.M.: Bonds must have been created among these solitudes that are of a quality less and less likely to be obtained today. Andrei Plesu: Sure. We now tend to replace our friendships with "partnerships". I believe friendship to be a vital matter for the life of the spirit, for the realisation of what is best in each of us. Paltinis needs to be understood in these terms too. It was the background against which a very special sort of human relationship developed. Friendship is different from partnership, different from collaboration, and surely different from the "gang". It is vitally important that one can run an informal seminar on Plotinus while somebody else is making coffee or preparing sandwiches by his side, and digressions are welcome, so that everybody's personal life enters an Einklang with philosophical debate. Such an experience is an organic, integral one. It is not one of strict specialisation. We did not specialise in any direction in Paltinis. We were not the conscientious students of a professional master. We were that now and again, too, but this is not what defined our relationship in Paltinis. We were a group that opted for a shared complete experience during certain time intervals. Noica would sometimes call these intervals, function of how many days they lasted, Trismeron, Hexameron, Decameron. They were "days", we could say "works and days". But those "days" meant whatever is part of a day: dinner, walks, chattering, amusement and so on. A.M.: It becomes transparent in the Paltinis Diary that he felt somehow responsible for your destiny, just as you yourselves felt responsible in a way for one another's destiny. Andrei Plesu: He in particular would take our destinies upon himself and of course that was a challenge for us too; we would talk a lot, even when he wasn't around, and, without vanity or tenseness, we would consider what we had to do. The uniqueness of the episode is also determined by the initial resemblance of the participants. You don't get together with someone unless you are already together with him in some sense, or respond to him already. Gabriel and I are quite different persons, but we do have something essential in common, which is the premise of a strong bond and makes common experience possible. This is, again, a gift, even though Noica thought he was the cause of it, simply because he had decided that we should become friends. He might not have succeeded in that. Not all of Noica's projects were successful, especially when it came to people. Yet, with us, Gabriel and I, the project was successful. And I suppose that, in a larger sense, even though it's not the same type of relationship, it worked with people like Sorel Vieru, as well as with the group of Andrei Cornea, Radu Bercea, Thomas Kleininger and so on. A.M.: Let us come back to the theme of contrasts. Amid the gloominess and derision of the official life before '89, you made the experience of intellectual and personal authenticity. Today, one is faced with much more numerous and diverse opportunities, yet of a more uniform quality, which no longer encourage such episodes. Andrei Plesu: This makes me think of the subtler side of a "common place" related to the question of initiation. They say it takes a need of a master in order that the master appear. Not quite. Sometimes the master appears as a point of contrast, not of aspiration. I mean to say that a personal aspiration is not absolutely necessary. When an atmosphere or a milieu is in a state of extreme decay, structuring reference points are spontaneously generated. When there is a great ? I would not say need? but lack of models, the models will appear. I would call it an almost natural process, which occurs even in the absence of disciples who are highly capable and ready to be the receptacles of those models. The master appears anyway. So it may be that no masters are to be found today not because there are no people to wish for them. I remember students I had in '92-'93 saying, "Weren't you lucky to have Noica! Why aren't we that lucky?" So the need seems to be there. What we lack are the contrasts that engender formative quakes and storms. What we have is a sort of superficial dynamic homogeneity that discourages the tension of authentic quest, while only favouring a feverish craving for profitable solutions.