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Henri Coanda and the quest through illusion: the connection with Brancusi.

The iron birds racing to the future

Henri Coanda, together with his Romanian predecessors Traian Vuia and Aurel Vlaicu, are among the undisputed pioneers of a revolution in science and technology: avionics. Similarly, the German and the British romantics are among the undisputed pioneers of a revolution in culture: the boundless deep psychological exploration. The latter reputedly led to the appearance in the 20th century of increasingly more sophisticated ramifications of psychological research, like analytical psychology, cognitive psychology, psychotherapy, existential analysis, psychotronics, etc. Henri Coanda's discovery of jet propulsion in 1910 can be said to be a romantic landmark, a great transforming paradigm shift in Thomas Kuhn's (1996) sense: this is the moment when the romantics' lofty dreams of exploring the highest places on Earth began to come true. Vuia, Vlaicu and Coanda are among the most important personalities worldwide who made possible the romantic dream of conquering the boundless spaces of the cosmos. In this context, Coanda's personality as leader of a major scientific revolution having deep implications for human civilization is an exemplary model which demonstrates the validity of the hypothesis that, regardless of space and time, scientists and artists work in similar ways. Thus Coanda points out the following:

It is useful not to omit the fact that the scientists, who belong to the so-called rigid, sober world of technics, can be also poets and it is even proper that they should create poetry. (Coanda; cf. Firoiu 1971: 21) [my translation]

Poetry, in this respect, is a category of the spirit which makes the very scientific dialogue possible, so much so that even mathematics, one of the most exact sciences, is revealed as a field having a poetry of its own (Firoiu 1971: 67); more than that, for Coanda the pilots are the "poets of the sky" (Firoiu 1971: 228). In this horizon, if poetry can be said to deal most with illusions, then it is a special kind that poetry is endowed with, namely the kind of illusions that, as yet unfulfilled dreams, can fill the mind and the soul with the "fire" of creation. To this sort of poetry, dealing with this sort of "illusions" (unfulfilled fervent dreams), was Coanda referring as foundational for any creative endeavour.

In the first part of the present research, we analyze the elements in Coanda's biography that lead to the conclusion that the literary-artistic and the scientific processes are associated, going hand in hand to make scientific discovery possible by tackling head-on the illusion-versus-reality equation, and that these processes in Coanda's case evince the romantic structure of his personality.

Feeling and talking to the wind

Coanda confesses that in the years of his childhood he saw, felt and internalized ("I took inside myself") the wind, to which he attributed "weeping"; he saw the sea [the North Sea] roaring, playing and heaving "due to those huge, invisible bellows animated by the wind" (Firoiu 1971: 48). He felt attraction, but at the same time he felt terrified (Firoiu 1971: 48) by this powerful display of forces. He listened to the wind, to its free movement, to its unbounded greatness and to its joyfulness. This view of the wind as a universal animating force of life manifest in the form of "invisible bellows" reminds us of the romantics' doctrine about the wind of inspiration (afflatus), to be traced back in time as far as Democritus. The strongly metallurgic image of the invisible bellows as the animator of the waves of the sea reminds us of William Blake's mythology: the description of Tharmas's world of agitated waters which exist both inside and outside the body. Be it reminded that Tharmas is one of the four Zoas, namely the "Parent Power," approximately equivalent to the Father in the Christian Trinity. In this sense, the bellows for Blake are the human lungs, which blow the wind inside and outside the body; the earth's lungs, which blow the wind round and round in vertical streams; and the cosmic lungs, which blow the wind through the spaces of the universe.

Like many of the romantics (among them Blake, Shelley, Coleridge, and others), Coanda was fascinated by the wind, by its deafening roar and weeping, and this lifelong fascination led to the most important revelation: his mission to study the wind and decipher the laws governing it, as well as the laws governing flight. So Coanda loved the weeping or joyful wind all his life and kept it inside himself, as it were. The romantics tried something similar, in a different register: to study the laws governing the "wind of inspiration." In this context, the famous example of Friedrich Holderlin is relevant: his poetry described the essence of poetry, which is why Holderlin was rightly called the "poets' poet."

Interestingly, Constantin Brancusi seems to have done for modern sculpture what Holderlin did for modern romantic poetry: Brancusi strove to make his sculpture describe and contain in itself the essence of sculpture and of reality, so that he is perhaps best characterized as the "sculptors' sculptor," the modern Pygmalion, the modern Prometheus of sculpture. Perhaps Blake's poem Milton is another case in point: here, by agency of poetry, Blake describes the process of poetic creation, the result being a "metapoem." This attempt of the romantics is one of the reasons for which romanticism tended to became a genuine science of emerging phenomena, a doctrine of cultural revolution, a science and metascience of thresholds, an aesthetics of the creator (Voia 2004: 607), a theory and metatheory of infinity and "interfiniteness" ("finite infinity" / "infinite finiteness"), an instrument for exploring the very nature of the act of artistic creation, an instrument for gauging and probing the infinite depths of the illusion-and-reality equation entering this act.

Schelling had attempted to define poetry in these terms: for him the lyrical type was a representation of the infinite in the finite; the epic type was a representation of the finite in the infinite; and the dramatic type was a synthesis between the lyrical and the epic (Schelling 1907: 19; for details see Stroe 2016).

Another element which contributed to Coanda's developing a romantic personality was his experiencing the "voluptuousness of the dizzying heights": the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which he later called "the giant of the world," the Monastery at Curtea de Arges, the Church Trei Ierarhi in Jassy, the lofty St. Sophia Cathedral in Constantinople (Istanbul), the heights of the Acropolis in Athens: all of these were for Coanda man's attempts to fly (Firoiu 1971: 70, 80, 82).

This emerging personality is visible in the words used by A. D. Xenopol, the Romanian historian from Jassy, in order to characterize the young Coanda:

[The schoolboy Coanda C. Henri remained] the quicksilver, hard to control, whose curiosity created, always, one more question, no matter how well the problem had been solved, thus opening to the history lesson always new horizons [...], a quicksilver hard to contain since his thoughts were incessantly unleashed. (Xenopol; cf. Firoiu 1971: 61-62, 73) [my translation]

His inquisitive spirit was stunned by the realization of the fact that the world had been interested in the sky, in the birds and in the idea of flight by imitating birds (see Kernbach 1989: 239) since ancient times, in myths, in the Greek legend of Icarus and Daedalus recounted in Ovid's Metamorphoses, in building churches and monasteries and towers.

So Coanda became the friend and the protector of the wind, being aware of the fact that he had to follow in the footsteps of Archimedes of Syracuse (circa 287-212 BC)--the great Greek mathematician, physicist and inventor, whose calculations made possible the flight with machines easier than air -, if he wanted to fulfil the scientific predictions made by Roger Bacon (circa 1214-1294) in his study De secretis operibus artis et naturae, written in the 13th century, regarding the mysteries of flight and man's eventual possibility to fly (cf. Bacon 1618); and if he wanted to continue what Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) had started: establishing the rules of flight, discovering the principles and norms according to which man can face the air (Firoiu 1971: 70) (see Taddei, Zanon, Laurenza 2006 for excellent descriptions of the flying machines projected by Leonardo da Vinci; see also his Codex Atlanticus, at least in the 2004 Anthelios edition). This field had been constituted also by Isaac Newton's (1642-1727) contribution (air resistance and gravity) and by Clement Ader's (1841-1926) attempts to fly with a machine that looked like a bat with wings wide open: Eole I, 1890.

This bat-winged, steam-powered monoplane, a heavier-than-air flying machine, flew a distance of 50 m on a friend's estate near Paris, being the first powered takeoff in known history. Later in 1897, Ader created his Avion III, but failed completely (cf. Jenkins-Jones 1997: 3; and The new Encyclopaedia Britannica 1992).

Coanda was thus irresistibly attracted by two myths: the myth of human flight (one powerful instantiation of which is the Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus) and the myth of the wind--these shaped the development of his entire life. The force of the first myth (of human flight) was enhanced by the fact that Coanda made several visits:

1) To Constantinople (Istanbul), a city in which he experienced the living fascinating power of the Orient with its legends and fancy reminding one of Scheherazade and Semiramis, and where he visited the huge St. Sophia Cathedral, which immensely impressed him, as to him it was no doubt a most memorable universal treasure of the Byzantine church architecture, built by the emperor Justinian the Great (483-565) (Firoiu 1971: 78) around the year 500 AD.

2) To Athens, to the heights of the Acropolis, where Coanda is said to have shouted:

Eureka, I have discovered the greatness of the past. (Coanda; cf. Firoiu 1971: 80) [my translation]

Thus, Athens represented for Coanda a vital experience reminding us of romanticism: in Holderlin's, Shelley's and Keats's systems of thought the golden past was associated with Greek antiquity.

3) To the Gibraltar and the Atlantic, where Coanda felt as if he had belonged to the crew of Christopher Columbus (1446-1506), Vasco da Gama (circa 1460-1524) or Captain James Cook (1728-1779) (Firoiu 1971: 80), this episode being in many ways the experience of the romantic archetype of the traveller or explorer/quester. Such illusive impressions proved formative, strengthening his enthusiasm for his major passions, the wind, the heights, man's flight.

The adventure of flight: from Icarus to Lilienthal and modern sculpture

Still, for Coanda the idea of flight by imitating birds remained by no means only at the level of the Greek myth of Icarus and Daedalus: this was only the necessary first powerful impulse to deepen the study of flight, so much so that Coanda became thoroughly absorbed in the study of the works of Otto Lilienthal (1848-1896). Lilienthal's 1889 book Der Vogelflug als Grundlage der Fliegekunst (Bird flight as a basis for aviation) provided Coanda with an excellent tool for understanding the laws of flight. In Spandau, where Coanda explored the precious legacy left by Lilienthal, who had died in 1896 while testing one of his gliders, Lilienthal's disciples recognized in Coanda the passion and the inner "sacred fire" (Firoiu 1971: 91) indispensable for any real creator, these being features which add to the portrait of a genuine thinker of romantic descent, an enthusiast. The illusive romantic dream thus came to shoot roots in scientific reality (his studies).

Coanda's passionate side came to light, however, also by his involvement with sculpture, but it was already obvious in the time spent in Jassy at the Military School, whose entrance, as he later confessed, had been for him "the gates of life" (Firoiu 1971: 267). In Berlin he took lessons from the German master of relief Rudolf Markusse: in his studio Coanda entered the world of form and the philosophy of contour; two of his compositions are related to the romantic tradition: one he called Prometheus, the other Towards the light (Firoiu 1971: 94, 100). While Coanda's concern with the philosophy of contour is an important connection with at least two English romantics--Blake, with his ontology of the "wiry line" and strong contour; and Byron, with his "lucid and flexible contours" -, Coanda's Prometheus connects him with the entire romantic tradition which assimilated the Greek myth: see P. B. Shelley's Prometheus unbound, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or The modern Prometheus, Byron's Prometheus, etc.

Constantin Brancusi too had a special liking for Prometheus, whom he seems to have often mentioned (cf. Paleolog 1976: 70). Brancusi is supposed to have said about Prometheus: "that thief, who I so would have liked to have as a brother" (cf. Paleolog 1976: 8). Brancusi sculpted a first Prometheus in 1911 (cf. Varia 1995: 275), and it may have been considered by the sculptor as his "first fire sculpture" (cf. Paleolog 1976: 35). Later, his magic birds, his birds of gold and his birds in space were going to gradually take over this Promethean romantic dimension by becoming more and more ethereal "flames" of the imagination, of spirit. That the Promethean symbol persisted in Brancusi's mind is proved also by his later intention (finally not materialized) to build a giant ovoid dedicated to Prometheus--this idea occurred to him on discussing at Indore, India, about a Temple of Liberation that should have had "the form of an exquisite egg," being dedicated to heroes, so looking towards the past, just as Endless Column was going to look towards the future (cf. Paleolog 1976: 44). The two monuments--the ovoidal Prometheus and the sandglass-like Endless Column--were therefore conceived of, consciously or unconsciously, as representing, each one in turn, one of the two faces of Janus Bifrons, the past and the future. At Tirgu Jiu, however, the Prometheus in the end was omitted, although Brancusi did intend to add it to the trilogy formed by Gate of the Kiss, Table of Silence and Endless Column (cf. Paleolog 1976: 71).

On the other hand, Gothic art underlines too the role of the line. For Blake, however, the line is the sign of imagination:

Nature has no Outline, but Imagination has. [...] Nature has no Supernatural & dissolves: Imagination is Eternity. (The Ghost of Abel; Blake 1976: 779)

The line/contour is connected with eternal forms, and its absence--with the ephemeral forms. The emphasis on the line is characteristic also of religious art, starting already from the rupestral designs in the Stone Age and up to the Gothic; from Chinese Buddhist art and up to El Greco. Cecil Collins, an artist who was Blake's contemporary, said that the "line is essence," unlike appearence (as illusion) or chance, which are the topic of French impressionism. (cf. Raine 1965: 11)

In this sense, the line was very important also for Brancusi, who his entire life experimented with various methods whereby to "extract" essence out of the labyrinths of time and space. In this context, even Byron builds "lucid and flexible contours" for the self, and on this capacity depends Byron's creation and destruction of the self: Byron's success in his "cooperating with chaos" is due to the fact that "boundaries or barriers are set to the edges of the self." (Garber; apud Pipkin 1985: 23, 29) In this respect, Kipperman (cf. Pipkin 1985: 29) rightly shows that "creativity" is "nothing without boundaries to act upon," and Coanda apparently started precisely from an attempt to understand the laws of contour and form, as if in an attempt to find a firm anchor against illusion, against illusive momentary impressions.

Coanda's following statement qualifies him as an undissembled romantic explorer through illusion on his quest for human knowledge without frontiers:

[...] [E]verything I have undertaken, everything I have achieved was nothing but a call of the new, for knowledge, with a view to finding out everything that might have allowed me to understand man, his life conditions, his possibilities of creation in a universe which one desired to be ever wider, ever larger, ever more different from what it had been until that time, ever better endowed, more balanced today, that is back then, compared to the past, to a yesterday of those times, to before yesterday, in which I should be able to bring my contribution, not like an ambitious or egocentric man, but as one devoted to the idea of lifting man, by those means which technics offers in our age, these are an interest and objectives that animate me also today, that persist. / Of course, the instinct of the new dwells in each of us, just like the feeling of conservatism, on which develops tradition itself, the longing to move through space, the voluptuousness of the unknown, and hence, naturally, that fruit of adventure itself can blossom... (Coanda; cf. Firoiu 1971: 95-96) [my translation]

In stylistic terms, Coanda defines here the romanticism-classicism paradox (corresponding to the renewal-conservation or discovery-maintaining equation), which makes possible cultural and scientific manifestations proper, as Schlegel, Novalis, Blake and Byron explicitly announced.

This drive to know the unknown determined Coanda to travel abroad. He received an invitation to travel to Haifa (Israel) while he was in Berlin, studying in Markusse's studio. He accepted the invitation, got to Haifa, and there met "pere Olivier," who convinced him to take a trip with a caravan even to Peking (Beijing), via Jerusalem. On this occasion, covering an immense route more on foot than riding on camels and donkeys, Coanda felt like being a worthy descendant of the first tourists recorded in the Bible, an apostle of the "new times" (Firoiu 1971: 97). The travel from Haifa, to Ispahan (Isfahan, in central Iran, the capital of Persia from the 16th into the 18th century; cf. Webster's 1994: 754), to Tehran, through Tibet, through the Gobi, to Peking, was full of adventures, so full actually that Coanda confesses it seemed to him "a road to hell," the only missing element, which might have caused them to feel like crossing indeed the "waves of the Styx," being Charon's boat (Firoiu 1971: 98). This episode was confessedly "a school of the will," from which all the twelve members of the group graduated with quite genuine "diplomas," Coanda being the youngest and the tallest (and so the one "nearest the Sun," as pere Olivier used to comfort Coanda). The voyage to the Orient, as well as the many other trips he took between 1906 and 1907, meant for Coanda an initiatory experience, one that set the directions of the later evolution of the young scientist, in which patience, endurance, hope, renunciation, strong will, enthusiasm, etc., were imperiously required; an experience that Coanda felt necessary as a temporary escape from the rigorous field of positive sciences, in the study of which he had been already involved for some time. These travels helped Coanda "make his soul" (Firoiu 1971: 99), or, in Jung's terms, helped him tread the path of individuation. His artistic profile is completed by the fact that he was also a talented cello player (while in Berlin, due to the fact that an instrumentalist was sick, Coanda performed in the famous imperial Berlin Orchestra) (Firoiu 1971: 101). This is the profile of a romantic theorist and experiencer.

Here is Coanda's fundamental programme in science and culture, which has strong affinities with the main tenets of authentic romantic theory (the "scientific Titanism" having roots in the dream of alchemists and in programmes such as embraced by Roger Bacon and Francis Bacon):

Over everything that has been tried and achieved, he [Coanda] thinks a lot, about something that should be new, even in that world of the new, even when the new just being born had not yet had the time to shape its proportions, "about something that should raise the level of attempts up with a few decades ahead, should recover the time that mankind lost for quite so many centuries, should push this technics far away, in a revolutionary way, forwards, in space and time. He wants a means of flying that should not wait for its evolution, but should devote to man the definitive and great potential of the unlimited, of the infinite, without loss of successive investments, without evolutionary waiting," [...]. He was totally convinced that the power of the engine by propeller is used disadvantageously and hence it is proper for one to find a new way. / He conceives of the jet propulsion airplane; an engine that should push the airplane with a speed back then still unknown, frightening for those times, an airplane that, by piercing the air, should not waste precisely the main element which it had available: the wind--as a great ally. (Coanda; cf. Firoiu 1971: 106) [my translation]

This romantic zest for the new and (greater or lesser) originality became almost a life philosophy for Coanda, as it reputedly was for the romantics:

I keep that artefact [the forefather of the fountain pen, the reservoir-penholder, invented by Petrache Poenaru in Paris] even now, with the consideration which each of us has to show for anything new given to people, for any invention, great or small, brilliant or just practical, revolutionary or current, with the awe which the new deserves, which the nonpareil beginning imposes. (Coanda; cf. Firoiu 1971: 159) [my translation]

Such a perspective may explain, for instance, why a historian like Thomas Kuhn (1996) saw in any new discovery or invention a paradigm in itself, by whose mediation people simply entered a different world, a world different from the previous one, given the fact that with the new discovery/invention, with the "new paradigm," people were literally responding to another worldview, and thus to another world--a worldview shifted in more or less crucial parts by the advent of the new discovery / invention / paradigm meant a world shifted, however slightly, in its entirety, starting from those parts and adjusted accordingly throughout. This corresponds to the behaviour of a gestalt: an integrated whole. When any infinitesimal part changes, then the whole integrates that change throughout its inner totality.

In avionics (and science in general), Henri Coanda was convinced he was meant to make "prototypes, new and always other exemplars, other thoughts, other accomplishments, other ideas molten into facts" (cf. Firoiu 1971: 173). This image of Coanda as a daring romantic scientist is completed by Captain Ferber's statement:

That young man [Coanda] was inexhaustible in what he knew and in what he elaborated. [...] [H]e was firm in his decision to accomplish something which had never been done before, and which not even the devil, in all his devilishness, had come to think of, as this Henri Coanda did. (Ferber; cf. Firoiu 1971: 108-109) [my translation]

This is undoubtedly a portrait having affinities with the images of the great romantic rebel heroes, the mavericks of human civilization that have demiurge-like powers to make their illusions and dreams come, as if by magic, true.

Brancusi and Rodin's studio: carving thought in stone

Coanda's formative years were in this respect no doubt deeply impressed by the experiences he had in Rodin's studio. Here, Coanda confesses, he entered another universe, and became even more passionate about sculpture than he had been before, in Markusse's world in Berlin (Firoiu 1971: 147). Now he began to understand that sculpture was addressing the eye only apparently: Rodin, whom Coanda compared to Michelangelo (Firoiu 1971: 153), practiced a modern kind of romanticism (which some saw as impressionism), he "thought in [terms of] clay," he "professed philosophy in relief" (Firoiu 1971: 148), he lived "only for his art and exclusively through it." Brancusi himself was quite aware that Rodin was a romantic (cf. Paleolog 1976: 25).

Under Rodin's guidance, Coanda composed a Christ's head for a little tomb in Passy, which rendered the deadly sufferance of the little girl Monique, who had died before the very eyes of her powerless parents. Coanda experienced this sufferance as an irresistible, indomitable force that lifts the spirit, materialized in his sculpture of Christ's head about which he said that it remained for eternity, although created in Rodin's studio, in the atmosphere of a giant of sculpture, of relief and of thought (Firoiu 1971: 150).

While in Paris, Coanda met also Brancuci, whom he considered a "great romantic behind his grave mask," a "great man and an artist of genius" (cf. Firoiu 1971: 151), who became his very good friend, being, like Coanda, Rodin's disciple (Brancuci worked in Rodin's studio between January and March of 1907; cf. Varia 1995: 32). A similar opinion about Brancusi was embraced by Petre Pandrea, who emphasized the sculptor's affinities with the great romantic national poet Mihai Eminescu:

Brancusi was a great poet, immersed in the waters and themes of symbolism, and of Eminescu. (Pandrea 2009: 162) [my translation]

In the following statement indeed we discover a Brancuci who was moved by the old dream of the romantics: mankind's liberation from tyranny, which heroes like Prometheus embodied symbolically (Prometheus had paid a steep price for his daring deed):

I do not however want to represent heavy-bodied porters, but winged beings, liberators. (Brancusi; cf. Giedion-Welcker 1959: 196; 1981: 94; cf. also Georgescu-Gorjan 2011: 214) [my translation] (The Romanian version of this quote, as mentioned in Giedion-Welcker 1981: 94, would translate as follows: "I do not however intend to represent heavy-bodied porters, but unfettered, winged beings.")

Coanda confesses that with Brancuci the right path towards understanding was not reasoning, but simply abandonment to free emotion, to the affects:

But one didn't even need to understand Brancusi; it was simpler and easier to feel him; Brancusi would give himself to you, he would become one truly yours, entirely, without reservations, so that you in turn should remain near him, something of your living being would be kept there--definitively and against your will, causing you to be unable ever to leave *--in his studio at Montparnasse, near that child, who was kind and frolicsome in his being, who was Brancusi himself. (Coanda; cf. Firoiu 1971: 151) [my translation]

* In this sense, Coanda soon observed the fascinating power that Brancuci exerted on him, but realizing that he could not keep up with Brancusi's art, realizing that for him art was only a longing and not his entire life, as it was for Brancuci, Coanda decided to simply run away from Brancusi's studio in order for him to preserve his own identity, in order for him to become the Henri Coanda of aerodynamics in scientific research, in his positive art (Firoiu 1971: 236).

This portrait certainly is the portrait of a romantic made by a romantic. In Coanda's view, Brancusi's sculpture was this:

[P]hilosophy expressed in reliefs, deepened in clay and plaster, chiseled in stone, in contours that accurately rendered the cerebral product, a philosophy starting in clay and being accomplished in stone, to then be given to mankind, left to posterity. (Coanda; cf. Firoiu 1971: 152) [my translation]

Later his own "metal birds" Coanda could rediscover in Brancusi's "magic bird of paradise" (Rom. "pasarea maiastra" = lit. "the masterful bird" / "the magic bird"). Coanda soon understood that Brancusi's prime matter was thought, out of which his great creation started, in an authentic and personal way. Brancuci "carved" this thought in stone, he chiseled it into eternity in a personal and, paradoxically, at the same time universal way, in dimensions surpassing even those of Rodin (Firoiu 1971: 152-153):

I created an imaginative sculpture, more or less faithfully rendering the surrounding world, while he, Brancusi, created thought matter, he gave relief to thought. (Coanda; cf. Firoiu 1971: 236) [my translation]

This is indeed a fundamental feature of any romantic process: mental-cerebral creation (see especially the highest imaginatives: Chatterton, Blake, P. B. Shelley, Keats). Coanda confesses that the language of sculpture attracted him by agency of his belief in beauty. This language he believed as beautiful as that of technics and as vast as that of mathematics. Sculpture was for him a passion and the fulfilling of a vocation (Firoiu 1971: 152). About this beauty he was to say the following:

The beautiful is not a detail of construction; it is a necessary thing. For without the beautiful we cannot advance in life and should we ignore precisely it when we are dealing with constructions to which we will be bound for our entire lives, definitively? (Coanda; Firoiu 1971: 183) [my translation]

In other words, the scientist without the artist loses a fundamental dimension: the aesthetic; while the artist without the scientist loses another dimension, just as essential: experimental and theoretical certainty, truth, knowledge and research, insightful, visionary experimental progress, intellectual evolution. Coanda was brilliantly and concisely described in the following terms:

[A] scientist, a thinker and a creator. He [was] an engineer in technics and a creator, an artist, in that universe of the beautiful. [In his view] [t]he scientist looks, like the artist, ahead, only ahead, before everybody, towards the infinite... (Firoiu 1971: 197) [my translation]

This indeed is the programme of a romantic through and through. So Coanda confesses:

I was thinking always only ahead [...], I was looking, therefore, only forwards, I scrutinized the future, naturally, on the path inherent to an inventor, in order to anticipate the course of time, to snatch from posterity itself the unknown, but I used the experience of the past [...]. (Coanda; cf. Firoiu 1971: 198) [my translation]

In Tretie Paleolog's reconstruction, Brancusi is supposed to have had a similar thought, even if applied in a different sphere, namely that of durable sculpture in stone and in metal:

[T]he most beautiful things are those that look towards the future. (cf. Paleolog 1976: 11)

Scientific romanticism as temporal Titanism: drilling the new, chasing the future

This programme reminds one of the dilemmas of Blake's Urizen, who, like Coanda, was fighting the very course of time, exploring, experimenting, measuring, creating, setting limits to things. But in this dilemma, Coanda chooses ultimately not Urizen as the one ever setting limits, but Los, the visionary Imagination, the one creating infinitely and for ever by setting free, i.e. by limiting the limiter, putting an end to cosmic illusions and thus revealing the infinity that lay hid in the night of spirit, the infinity existing beyond the visible cosmos in the infinite worlds of eternity:

Ideas cannot be commanded * [1]. They are a renewal to the perspectives towards which they guide us * [2]. We are, maybe, dealing with the very notion towards the future which helps us elucidate things. Yes, it is the very acceleration of history... / I have understood that my calling is to invent, to discover the new * [3], to enter the future. Everything must be always something else, freshened, renewed. [...] I am looking for and I accept only a new world, rejuvenated, freshened precisely by the wish to discover the unknown, to unriddle its enigma. / For me the future is not a succession of the present, that which follows, in a cycle, the actual, that which is different from this present. / I do not consider truly authentic anything but the imagination * [4], which is not at all an out-of-order play of images, on the contrary, it is an availability of the spirit which refuses any limitation, any restraint in the existing, in what we have [...]. I drill the new and do not accept it but from an integral beginning * [5], not an evolutive one; and then I search for an ideal solution for it, in order for this solution to be valid in the world of posterity, in order to definitively regulate a content. / For instance, I do not accept Nietzsche, because he thinks that the world is absurd and that mankind is condemned to remake, ad infinitum and without results, the same gestures * [6] [...]. (Coanda; cf. Firoiu 1971: 199) [my translation]

The similarities between Coanda's and the romantics' system of thought is remarkable in the rich and crucial fragment above. The following notes are necessary in order to more closely understand Coanda's description of his own philosophy here as a quest through illusion:

* [1] That "ideas cannot be commanded" points to the fact that creation is regarded by Coanda as being essentially spontaneous, both in the realm of science and in that of art. This is close to the definition of the Eureka act/effect as defined by Arthur Koestler and Colin Wilson: scientific, artistic, etc., revelation occurs generally in an instant, like a thunder, even if sometimes after long gestation periods. John Clare and Mozart are excellent examples of artists who created by agency of cascades of Eureka effects: Mozart could "see" an entire musical composition at a glimpse, "all at once" (for details see Holmes 1845; Hadamard 1945/1954; Penrose 1991), regardless of how long it was (2 or 30 minutes, it did not matter); Clare wrote his poems as they came, without wiping any of the words, so much so that his texts can be said to have been written by virtue of the technique of automatic writing (ecriture automatique). In this respect, Adolf Muschg (1993: 9) justly pointed out the fact that the romantics anticipated the surrealists, who by their method of ecriture automatique created a "short circuit" between art and the unconscious. For the sake of rigour, here is Mozart at his best confessing about his manner of composition to a certain baron, who was an amateur composer and who had offered Mozart, with a view to evaluating, some of his musical productions, together with some wine from his private cellar (this may explain the abrupt contrasts in the letter):

[...] I now come to the most difficult part of your letter, which I would willingly pass over in silence, for here my pen denies me its service. Still I will try, even at the risk of being well laughed at. You say, you should like to know my way of composing, and what method I follow in writing works of some extent. I can really say no more on this subject than the following; for I myself know no more about it, and cannot account for it. When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer--say, travelling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. Whence and how they come, I know not; nor can I force them. Those ideas that please me I retain in memory, and am accustomed, as I have been told, to hum them to myself. If I continue in this way, it soon occurs to me how I may turn this or that morsel to account, so as to make a good dish of it, that is to say, agreeably to the rules of counterpoint, to the peculiarities of the various instruments, &c. / All this fires my soul, and, provided I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges itself, becomes methodised and defined, and the whole, though it be long, stands almost complete and finished in my mind, so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful statue, at a glance. Nor do I hear in my imagination the parts successively, but I hear them, as it were, all at once (gleich alles zusammen). What a delight this is I cannot tell! All this inventing, this producing, takes place in a pleasing lively dream. Still the actual hearing of the tout ensemble is after all the best. What has been thus produced I do not easily forget, and this is perhaps the best gift I have my Divine Maker to thank for. (Mozart, undated letter to the Baron V--; cf. Holmes 1845: 317-318; based on internal evidence, Holmes--1845: 320, n. - proposes this letter was written in 1789, from Berlin, and not in 1783, from Prague; for references to this letter, see also Ghiselin 1985: 34-35; Hadamard 1945/1954: 16; Penrose 1991: 423)

In this same letter, Mozart then continues (if reluctantly) to detail the process of writing down the composition he hears in his mind, emphasizing that no external distortive factors can hinder him in his creative march, once the melody came all clear and whole to his imagination, and that he has no explanation for why his compositions come out original ("Mozartian") as they indeed do:

When I proceed to write down my ideas, I take out of the bag of my memory, if I may use that phrase, what has previously been collected into it in the way I have mentioned. For this reason the committing to paper is done quickly enough, for every thing is, as I said before, already finished; and it rarely differs on paper from what it was in my imagination. At this occupation, I can therefore suffer myself to be disturbed; for whatever may be going on around me, I write, and even talk, but only of fowls and geese, or of Gretel or Barbel, or some such matters. But why my productions take from my hand that particular form and style that makes them Mozartish, and different from the works of other composers, is probably owing to the same cause which renders my nose so or so large, so aquiline, or, in short, makes it Mozart's, and different from those of other people. For I really do not study or aim at any originality; I should, in fact, not be able to describe in what mine consists, though I think it quite natural that persons who have really an individual appearance of their own, are also differently organised from others, both externally and internally. At least I know that I have constituted myself neither one way nor the other. / May this suffice, and never, my best friend, never again trouble me with such subjects. I also beg you will not believe that I break off for any other reason, but because I have nothing further to say on that point. To others I should not have answered [at all] [...]. (Mozart, undated letter to the Baron V--, possibly written in 1789; cf. Holmes 1845: 318, 320, n.)

* [2] That ideas are "a renewal to the perspectives towards which they guide us" points to the fact that ideas, in modern terms, are "strange attractors," archetypal forces, transcendent nuclei of structural energy which direct thought in its natural dynamics, cutting a path or channel through time, as it were, thus annihilating on its course any illusions and distortions that might hinder thought on its course towards the final destination (for details, see Stroe 2004).

* [3] Coanda's "very notion towards the future which helps us elucidate things [...] the very acceleration of history [...] [the] calling [...] to invent, to discover the new, to enter the future" reminds us of Blake's mission to create, and not to imitate:

I must Create a System or be enslav'd by another Man's. I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create. (Jerusalem 10, 20-21; Blake 1976: 629)

* [4] Coanda's imagination as the only "truly authentic," as "not at all an out-of-order play of images," but as "an availability of the spirit which refuses any limitation," has indeed affinities with the concept of romantic imagination as an ontonoetic principle, which liberates spirit from the chains of matter (the physical world) and the chains of mind (reason as the limiter). This crucial element in Coanda's philosophy is akin to Blake's idea that the Imagination is everything, and is lastly to be identified with Jesus Christ himself. Here is one of Blake's fundamental statements defining the romantic spirit and imagination:

I know that This World Is a World of imagination & Vision. I see Every thing I paint In This World, but Every body does not see alike [...]. [T]o the Eyes of the Man of Imagination, Nature is Imagination itself. As a Man is, So he Sees. As the Eye is formed, such are its Powers. [...] To Me This World is all One continued Vision of Fancy or Imagination [...]. [T]he Imagination [...] is Spiritual Sensation. (Letter to Dr. Trustler, dated 23 August 1799; Blake 1976: 793-794)

* [5] Coanda's concept of "an integral beginning" seems to be akin to Paracelsus' doctrine of "panprimordialism" (see Stroe 2004: 292ff), which avowedly influenced romantics like Blake and Novalis, and is possibly of Aristotelian extraction. According to Paracelsus, everything was created from the very beginning (see Aristotle's scala naturae, the great chain of being), in a kind of all-present beginning, which propagates through "time" by what seems to be "evolution," when in fact we are dealing with a getting out into manifestation of phenomena which existed "in germinal form" since ever, i.e. since the creation of the world (see Aristotle's materia inpotentia: matter had inside itself the Platonic ideas, which were thus not transcendent, as in Plato, but immanent--being potential, they could at any time become manifest in physical form, if they were driven out of their potential state into a manifest state via the power of the effective cause). In this doctrine, Paracelsus lays stress on the idea that the propagation of phenomena through time and space is an irreversible process. Thereby Paracelsus may have anticipated the physical notion of "entropy" or "time's arrow."

* [6] The "same gestures" that Coanda refers to here are those of man caught in the predetermined, fateful cosmic cycle that Nietzsche called the "eternal return." According to this view, man is condemned to relive over and over again the same history, both the personal and the collective, in an infinite succession of absolutely and rigorously identical (personal and collective) cycles. Nietzsche defined the "superman" as being precisely that man who came to be able to accept this monstrous fatality without any opposition whatsoever. By rejecting the postromantic Nietzsche, Coanda in fact affirmed, like most romantics, man's right to freedom, which was thus flagrantly encroached upon by Nietzsche's theory of the "eternal return."

It is interesting to notice that at a certain moment in his life (around 1927) Coanda changed the direction of his research from aerodynamics to geophysics, from the lofty heights of the wind and the sky to the mysteries of the depths of the Earth (Firoiu 1971: 189). This episode reminds us of Novalis, who was fascinated with the mysterious treasures of the womb of the Earth, they being transformed by him into a poetic setting, in which alchemical initiations took place: descending to the depths of the Earth meant descending to the depths of the soul and, at the same time, to the depths of the past / of history. Blake, too, was fascinated with the Earth's labyrinthine underground, his Zoas being described as having endless subterranean dens where all sorts of secret processes take place, while the Earth itself Blake described in Milton (15, 32) as "an infinite plane," possibly referring to a version of the ancient (Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian) flat-earth paradigm, namely a version that postulated that the Earth is actually an unbounded realm, whose horizon unfolded in all directions ad infinitum:

The nature of infinity is this: That every thing has its Own Vortex, and when once a traveller thro' Eternity Has pass'd that Vortex, he percieves it roll backward behind His path, into a globe itself infolding like a sun, Or like a moon, or like a universe of starry majesty, While he keeps onwards in his wondrous journey on the earth, Or like a human form, a friend with whom he liv'd benevolent. As the eye of man views both the east & west encompassing Its vortex, and the north & south with all their starry host, Also the rising sun & setting moon he views surrounding His corn-fields and his valleys of five hundred acres square, Thus is the earth one infinite plane, and not as apparent To the weak traveller confin'd beneath the moony shade. (Milton 15, 21-35; Blake 1976: 497)

Coanda thus came to contribute also in the field of house building. In this sense, worthy of note is the massive structure he helped create: a block having four thousand apartments on the hills of St. Cloud--a sort of modern Acropolis: a different, horizontal replica of the Eiffel Tower (cf. Firoiu 1971: 193).

The many levels and dimensions of his personality bring Coanda close to the greatest figures in world history, who in a way or another tended to disclose the universal aspects implicit in the human being. This explains for instance why Coanda wanted to see in the Bucharest of the future a metropolis similar to Paris, Berlin, Rome, Vienna or Rotterdam (Firoiu 1971: 242). Coanda's complex romantic personality can be observed also in the following declaration, reminding us of Blake's mental cosmo-philosophy which had announced mental travel as a mode of visionary experiencing both the future and the past in the revelation of the one "Moment of Time," mentioned by Blake in The four Zoas and quite akin to Coanda's "integral beginning." Here is what, in a rather strangely Blakean/Urizenic voice reminding us also of Mark Twain's Number 44, Coanda stated about his quest through illusion that aimed at uncovering potential futures, i.e. truths forged by sheer will through the act of daring to look into unfathomable (future or past or present) reality:

You see, back then I pierced through the future, with the mind's eyes, looking through time's opacity at the things that were to come; now [in old age], I am going on the reverse route and am striving, only from the heap of memories, to reconstitute the past, a world, a world gone-by, which is nevertheless ours, belonging to stories... [...] Yes, in the world of technics, of science, you scrutinize the future with the mind's eyes, of course. But in the past, in the world of memories and of shadows, where you look only with the eyes of the heart, there the life lived near those departed, that life you do neither conceive of, nor do you build it rigurously, with the rule in your hand, with your eyes on the drawing board, but on the contrary, you reconstitute it only from memory. (Coanda; cf. Firoiu 1971: 244) [my translation]

As it had been for Holderlin, the past for Coanda dwells in the heart, in the emotional life, the place where the archetypes receive differentiating contours and powers. For Coanda, the visionary future, on the contrary, is of the mind, just as for Blake Urizen-Reason was the Zoa that strove to pierce through deep, infinite lakes of spaces, through the opaque paths of the future. It is striking that Henri Coanda came to an ontic solution for the problem of time by theorizing the existence of an "integral beginning." Similarly, Blake made Urizen realize in Vala (The four Zoas) that the future is in the very present, this revelational event being a defining ecstatic experience for Urizen, who then is regenerated in freedom to rise or fall at will. Coanda's philosophical view is similar to that of romantics like Blake or Clare even more so, since Coanda thought of natural beauty as a captivating force whose charm is preserved precisely by its "savageness" (Firoiu 1971: 246).

Chasing the universal through the veils of temporal illusions

Coanda's genuinely romantic programme is completed with his incentive addressed to the young: they should be constructively daring, fearless, and eager to face danger, risk, the unknown (Firoiu 1971: 274); they should get to know man, since science and technics without this knowledge are impossible (Firoiu 1971: 279); they should begin, finalize and persevere; they should research, create, fight and be successful, regardless of obstacles, because to begin means also to finish, i.e. to fight to be victorious--this being something he had learned from Jules Verne, as Coanda confessed (cf. Firoiu 1971: 280). All these for one reason: treading the path of universality. But this path of universality--a path leading to Blake's earth as "infinite plane"--is possible only by avoiding limitation, the process of limitation appearing only as a result of the psychosis of extreme, strict specialization (Firoiu 1971: 283). In this logic, it is the overspecialization which in fact creates the illusion of thoroughness, but which really only brings poverty by the limitation inherent in it.

In this regard, Coanda explains that music, the plastic arts, literature, the theatre, cinematography, sports, etc., multiply knowledge, amplify its contents. Information without culture "is like driving nails into a wall made up of concrete." (Firoiu 1971: 284) Information "must be filtred through culture," i.e. through "the patrimony of humanity"--through what man's intelligence, talent and genius conquered and accumulated during millennia. Culture without information means "to allow theory to function abstractly, barrenly, to cut it off from reality" (Firoiu 1971: 284), and thus let it plunge head-on into illusion. The new cannot be explored if you do not have good command of the past, if you do not know what to ask from the new. Information is vital for the creator, because information means discovering the new. The creative fancy cannot grow and cannot develop if it lacks culture, information, documentation. Culture and information is the creator's prime matter by virtue of which he can create in the first place (Firoiu 1971: 284).

This is indeed Coanda's romantic holistic programme, in which "culture" (and not "civilization") means "to know" and is the foundation that generates the evolution of our life (Firoiu 1971: 302). In this acceptation, "culture," as knowledge, includes science ("information"), alongside with art, music, literature, poetry, etc.

For Brancuci, culture (and not "civilization") is thus "thought's form of materialization." This concept in Coanda is no doubt an echo of Brancusi's noetic theory of artistic creation as applied to the whole of human culture (Firoiu 1971: 284, 286, 302).

According to Coanda, it is only out of this correlation between culture and information (science) that modern man can be born spiritually (Firoiu 1971: 285), and thus be saved from plunging into illusions of all sorts, given by the corresponding overspecializations.

Coanda's programme has a romantic aim, reminding us of Novalis's and Blake's teleologic worldviews: the purpose of man as a cosmic being (as a being totally integrated into the cosmos) is the conquest of nature and of time itself (Firoiu 1971: 285, 286)--in this acceptation, man is the quester through illusions, aiming to find reality. Like Louis de Broglie, Coanda believed that the authentic man of culture should tend towards an "all-encompassing information, fuelled from a multitude of springs," should surpass artificial unilateral specializations, and should be engaged in the pursuit of true, authentic science, which serves the great ideals of mankind that were never reached by too narrow personalities (de Broglie 1980: 290; Firoiu 1971: 286).

Thus, Coanda's fundamental conclusion, reminding us of Blake's Urizen in his eternal voyages of discovery, is that "man must fight to go forwards, always forwards" (Firoiu 1971: 302).

The natural consequence of Coanda's view schematically presented above is that scientific and general cultural theory will, sooner or later, unite their parallel paths, at present artificially separated by the emphasis on the necessity of overspecialization, which in itself only engulfs man in the illusion that he knows everything about a something that tends to be an almost nothing.

Henri Coanda is a priceless example of how men should combine the two fundamental aspects of any cultural / scientific act: information (scientific knowledge) needs culture, and culture (integral / integrated / accumulated knowledge) needs information, either one without the other leading to cultural barrenness and illusions.

Coanda's message is thus clear and as valid today as when it was formulated: the way towards universality can be reached only by avoiding a unilateral cultural formation, which will give one the illusion one knows all about nil. In the present study, we described the romantic universalistic aspects in Coanda's worldview, which coalesce into a cultural-scientific programme worthy of being taken again into consideration, since this programme anticipates a new kind of critical discourse, namely one that simultaneously takes into consideration "information" and "culture," i.e. the integral verb "to know" of the romantics, which in Holderlin's version implied an "infinite point of view," while in Blake's version implied an Earth unfolding as an "infinite plane." This new type of critical holistic discourse, promoted among others by scientists with encyclopedic views like Louis de Broglie and Jacob Bronowski -, whereby phenomena of reality are explored "stereoscopically," from several perspectives simultaneously (for instance, from a scientific-epistemic, esthetic-artistic and religious-moral perspective), took firm shape in Ken Wilber's worldview, which hypothesizes the existence of an infinite number of dimensions.

For the present analysis one fundamental aspect is particularly remarkable: Coanda's development and interests were decisively influenced by the myth of the wind and of man's flight: in the Greek myth of Icarus and Daedalus Coanda found a pristine example of man's aspiration to the heights; in Greek science (namely in Archimedes) he found the first demonstration showing that this dream of man's flight was mathematically possible; in Greek architecture (mainly the Acropolis in Athens) he found the first impressive materialization of man's drive to conquer the heights, thus discovering the greatness of the past; and in his travel through Asia (to Peking) crossing the Balkans, via Jerusalem, and on foot through the desert with a caravan, he must have found the first example of how important mankind's dream to fly is: the vastness of the desert to be crossed without wings was the ultimate test of endurance, it was for him the "school of the will," the embodiment of the ultimate obstacle, the "road to hell."

Thus, if the Balkans meant for Byron the culmination of his romantic pursuit, for Coanda the culture of the Balkans, at least through the elements mentioned above, meant the "integral beginning" in his pursuit of mankind's myth and dream of conquering the heights and the wind, which finally led him to another pursuit, just as romantic: that of universality.

Plato's system had suggested that we will be able to reach the light of universal wisdom (sophia) only by uniting (in differentiated form) the three eternal Ideas:

1) Truth: episteme-science; aletheia = a-lethe = "non-oblivion."

2) Beauty: techne-art; kalos / kalon = "beautiful"--probably deriving from the Sumerian GAL = "great"; hence to kalon, "the beautiful," may have initially meant also "the great."

3) Goodness: phronesis-prudence / morals; agathos = "kind." Hence the Greek fused notion of kalokagathia which signified a summum bunum: kalos kai agathos = "beautiful and good."

In a similar manner, Coanda gives us to understand that modern spiritual man will not be able to be born in any other way than by the union of the two human realities: Information (episteme as pure science) and Culture (episteme as applied science / technology, techne-art and phronesis-prudence / moral-religion; see Coanda's identification of "culture" with "thought's form of materialization"). Coanda's "Information" thus corresponds to Plato's Truth (noesis / thinking), and Culture is associated to the complex ensamble of Truth-Beauty-Goodness, as reflected in the material forms of physical manifestation (it is the materialized noesis / thought). In other words, Culture encompasses in itself Truth, but it will not be able to acquire it fully, if it shall not integrate it also from the "inside" (in applied, materialized form), as well as from the "outside" (in the form of abstract, "immaterial," noetic theory). Also in this fundamental point we observe a correspondence with Plato's system: according to the latter, only when techne-art (the virtue to make well), phronesis-prudence (the virtue to behave well) and episteme-excellence in discursive reasoning (the virtue to explain well) shall fuse into a pole, will sophia-wisdom be able to absorb the highest Good and the highest Beauty into the highest Truth (of sophia).

This was indeed also Coanda's purpose: to conquer Truth, which, as main vertical axis in the dyad of Information/Culture (= Truth / materialized Truth-Beauty-Good), had to always be higher. This concept of truth as a reality that is ever higher corresponds to Coanda's wish to always discover new, ever new processes of unfathomable, infinitely deep reality, to "drill" for evermore the future; but it constitutes also a consequence of the ideal of aeronautics, namely to conquer ever loftier heights, and it is at the same time a notion implicit in the romantic programme. For Coanda, the fundamental couple of Information-and-Culture signified the dyad of [pure Science]--[applied Science--Art--Religion], equivalent with the dyad of [Thought]-[accumulated Form of materialization of Thought], or [pure Science-Aous-Thought]-[materialized Science-materialized Thought].

This scheme is also in accordance with Constantin Brancusi's profound idea of the Endless Column as infinite materialization of infinite pure essence, therefore as an infinite creative process, an infinite becoming. The Endless Column defines, in one of its many possible interpretations, the spiritual infinite spiral DNA-like intertwining of Plato's Ideas (paradeigmata)--Truth, Beauty, Goodness, which constitute the world of essence -, an intertwining that may easily be described by F. Schlegel's formula of "infinite abundence in infinite unity." According to Matila C. Ghyka, such a structure of infinity-finiteness paradox (what we call "interfinitude," i.e. what Emily Dickinson - 1961: 691--called "finite infinity") reflects precisely the nature of the golden ratio as spiral number of life (Hermann Keyserling used the expression "the infinite in a limited form," which Ghyka--1981: 97--finds as the best definition of the golden ratio).

It is thus not coincidental that Brancusi's Endless Column contains this proportion of sectio aurea (we shall address this matter in a future study) and most likely symbolizes the axis mundi, as Mircea Eliade had pointed out (cf. Al-George 1981: 30). Schlegel's formula ("infinite abundence in infinite unity") expressed the most important fundament of the romantic ideal, which Coanda seems to have assimilated without reservations, both in his artistic "laboratory," as well as in his scientific. By the integral combination of the two laboratories (the artistic and the scientific), Coanda can be said to have become, together with other creative geniuses like Aldous Huxley, one of the rare figures of the 20th century who, being natively endowed with deep humanism, brought back the ideal of encyclopedic cultural formation so characteristic for the Renaissance of Leonardo da Vinci.

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Acknowledgement The present research on Henri Coanda is an amply extended and modified version of the following published study: Stroe M (2008) Henri Coanda and the romantic programme. The Annals of Ovidius University 19: 123-133. [Constanta, Romania]

Caption: Fig. 1 Circling stork family. Frontispice in Otto Lilienthal's Der Vogelflug als Grundlage der Fliegekunst, 1889.

Mihai A. Stroe, PhD, DrHabil; Professor of English Literature, University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, English Department; Bucharest, Romania;
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Author:Stroe, Mihai A.
Publication:Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Jun 22, 2017
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