To Geerten Meijsing
1. Syracuse, Sicily poste restante
2. Singel 262 Amsterdam
April 6 2006
Dear Geerten Meijsing,
The elephants on Mount Kenya that have been shot at by the Mau-Mau, still vividly remember anyone who tried to kill them, as they will never forget that someone gave them a banana or a bunch of grass.
I have not forgotten your letter of September 1993- I will enclose a copy in case you did - telling me that after more than a year you discovered that Powellstreet Blues is ‘powerful but not easy’. For that reason alone, it was bound to be attacked in Holland. It slightly annoyed me at first, but did no lasting harm. I just changed course.
Occasionally I am a few days in the Delta. Recently I bought and read two of your novels, Malochio (congratulations it did so well) and Moord & Doodslag. It is only after reading these novels that it dawned on me: Something Happened (Joseph Heller).
I have ordered and will shortly read Knife to the Throat as well. It is a good thing you go on, business as usual. What does not kill us makes us stronger, (Nietzsche)
Holland has driven me mad for as long as I can remember. It might do same to you for similar reasons. I expressed something to that effect in Journal of a Nomad (Dagboek van een nomade) ( literary Magazine Maatstaf, spring 1989) explaining why an author, the more he is a real one, is bound to feel the spontaneous urge to live abroad.
Good choice, Syracuse, I am saying that aftera ten-day tour on the island two years ago in March /April. A trip that I had planned in the seventies, but was forced to postpone then.
Is this perhaps the right time for you to write something in Italian as well (eventual pseudonym, Masina- you remember La Strada) in addition, to what you write in Dutch. If Sam Becket & Joseph Conrad could write in French & English resp., you should be able to write in Italian, by now.
In Moord & Doodslag, you seem to say the opposite. It might turn out to be a liberation (Good by to all that, Robert Graves), not to mention the diversification. Just have a look at page 12 or so in Bernhard’s Ausloschung, where the narrator is praising the musical Italian, favorably comparing it to German. This is as close as you can get for a parallel.
My advice could be as important as yours that I have a look at Thomas Bernhard. I read most of his impressive novels from which I hope to have learned something. I am very fond of Ausloschung,Alte Meister,Holzfallen, Watten, Ja & Der Untergeher,to mention some.
If you have not discovered yet while in France, try the superior Gallimard translations by Gilberte Lambrichs of the first three. I bought them while I was there, unable to stop reading him.
Did you ever read Gracian’s ( 16th cent, Spain) 300 aphorisms about prudence,nicely translated into Dutch by Theo Kars( by Schopenhauer in German)and in many other languages .May I advice you to have a good look at it, if you have not done so already, its another philosopher W.F.Hermans failed to appreciate.
Writing in Italian may force you to write a simple Italian, but that is fine, if you remember what George Orwell says in Style & the English language, one chapter in How to shoot an elephant , also to be found on the web under the first title. There is enough information in your novels that tells me:
If you were locked up in a room, with a bottle of water and a Sicilian bread ,with the promise you will be set free the moment you have written a short story or a novelette in Italian -just think of Colette and her husband- you would do so within 24 hours. What one needs for writing in another language is the Total Emersion you have had for well over two decades in Italy.
This is my advice ,as a way of saying thank you for having demonstrated Honesty & Guts, commodities in short supply in the Delta, if present at all.
The last thing I wrote & published ,in Dutch , was four chapters (15 pages) of Bouillabaisse in Literary Magazines Maatstaf & Literary Magazine SIC in the summer, July and August of 1992. Bouillabaisse part III How to tame an elephant is a psychological study about W.F.Hermans that I wrote, finished & submitted in the first half year of 1989.
It is a frontal attack on Bill Hermans,who wrote a lot of nonsense about Nietzsche, a philosopher I know well enough to see if comments made about him make sense or are way off the mark ,as they were.
Among other things, the one-eyed narrator in Bouillabaisse III,who shares this minor disfigurement with Sertorius,Hannibal & Julius Civilis, reveals that he trained & sent the soldier who had come to Bill’s apartment in Paris to cut off his elephant ear with an axe.
NRC Handelsblad (Margot Engelen) quoted the thing extensively. So did Durlacher in Vrij Nederland .
In other words, Feared Bill was attacked in one month from four different angles: Literary Magazines Maatstaf & SIC, NRC-Handels Blad & Vrij Nederland.
Shock & Awe avant la lettre.
As far as I -- and my ex publisher Dick Gubbels- know, he kept his Big Mouth shut after publication of those four chapters by His Student who had enjoyed reading him as a student of economics . Not a single Dutch economist and very few American Authors could compete with his writing. During his golden years.
I will send this letter to Syracuse, poste restante Syracuse & Amsterdam Singel 262, to be forwarded to wherever you are. I must ask you to read/treat it as a confidential one, not to be shared this time with sloppy journalists writing for a weekly magazine that could not fall much deeper.
Always busy but never in a hurry.
Encl.: Novel Powellstreet Blues and letter
This letter,with PB was sent to Arbeiderspers,after I talked to De Zwart in the second week of April,april 12.