24th February 2021, 12:30pm


On Thursday at 6pm, Jim Howell's pre-recorded talk will be available to access via the Manchester Lit & Phil website. You can register for 'Dying Laughing - a short walk around Romanian culture' by clicking here.

NB: If you have already registered for the event you will be contacted on the day with details of how to watch the talk.

In the meantime, as part of our ongoing series of interviews with our speakers, we had the chance to talk to Jim about his love of Romania and Lucien Blaga.

Q: Could you share an interesting anecdote about your time rambling through the Romanian countryside?

A: Quite often I would hitching up into the mountains. These had not been collectivised and were little changed from what they had been for centuries. During all these journeys I never had trouble finding food and shelter and never once did the question of payment arise. Perhaps the most surreal time was an afternoon I spent on the terrace of a peasant farmer’s house discussing the artistic merits of different kinds of wood block printing techniques used to produce the initial letters for bibles and sermons in Romania before modernity hit. I still have the book I was given that day.

Q: How was your experience in Romania as a student?

A: I was sponsored by the British Council in 1972 for post graduate studies in Romanian. The country and its leader, Ceausescu, who had not then begun his descent into madness, were then well regarded by many Western countries. Looking back on it the signs of the coming tragedy were there but I did not spot any of them. There were restrictions and you had to be aware of the limits but the relationship of a foreign student with the authorities was relaxed compared to that France a few years earlier.

In my student hostel I was the only Brit. There were lots of other Europeans while my next door neighbours were Russian on one side and Vietnamese on the other. Opposite were people from Somalia and from the Congo and just down the line were Americans, (North and South) and even a couple of North Koreans, who were in my class at university.

The teaching of the language was by very traditional methods but probably best for class with members from seven nations and effective enough for us to be able to put on a sketch at the students’ Christmas bash! After the first term my tutor encouraged me to travel round the country as much as possible and to record my impressions.

Q: What was it about Lucien Blaga that attracted you?

A: I have always loved poetry and then as now I was fond of the seventeenth century metaphysicals such as Donne and Herbert. Lucian Blaga had been fairly recently rehabilitated was and coming back into public consciousness when I was there. I found I liked his verse for the same reason as these English poets. It always took time to read and to savour but the result was well worth it.

Q: Is there a particular line from a poem that you enjoy, could you share what you like about it?

A: There are so many as Blaga’s subject matter was so wide. But the one I have chosen is both because it is a summary of what he was trying to do both as philosopher and as poet and because it is most beautifully written to set out a complex idea with an image that seems simple but which can be thought over for a long time.

'I’m always translating. I translate

Into Romanian

The song which my heart

Whispers softly to me in its own tongue.'

— Words from 'The Rhymer' by Lucian Blaga


Thanks to Jim for taking the time to speak to us. We hope to 'see' you soon!




**Please note that booking closes at 1700 on the day of the event, and we are not able to process registration requests after that time.  If you believe you have sent a registration request but have not received a confirmation email with joining instructions, then please contact the office as soon as possible.  Enquiries regarding bookings sent to the office after 1730 on the day of the event may not be answered.**