Fourhundred pages, one affable smile. Let’s congregate!

Cacti are shepherds of time. Ever since I saw the enormous cactus in Can Yücel’s garden, I knew he was a very special person. Of course, I already knew that thanks to his poems, but quality of poetry is a concrete matter only for great poets – for normal people it is all abstract, intangible and relative.

Listening to the latest Nieuwe Contrabas, I thought: yes, exactly. You have six books on the ‘shortlist’ of the Libris and they manage to evoke a handful of affable smiles from three people. That is exactly how I know Dutch literature.

There is no such thing as the roaring laughter as I experience with Tjechov or Gombrovicz. A faint smile, and then a cosy meeting about the book to ‘determine the quality’.

As a poet, you can then shout that this quality has long since been concretely determined by the body, that books which, after reading 400 pages, manage to evoke an affable smile twice, cannot possibly be literary books.

Opposite you now is an army of hollow-eyed psyborgs who haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about. Literature is to them what fibre is to a government dietician: a word that covers a load.

That’s how it should be. And exciting literature, those are the books that are about the right woke subjects. Counting, reading comprehension, theming, normalcy-cramp. All that is the norm, has become 99.9% of literature. Those who expect roaring laughter from a literary book, and not once or twice per book but once or twice per page – they have landed in the wrong era.

But for me, that is precisely not literature. That’s why I was all the happier to hear people to whom I gave Flierman’s Passage laughing with great regularity. And I’m also very glad that I’ve understood what a farce Dutch literature has become, or has always been.

They themselves, however, have a different opinion about that. You have to dose the laughter correctly. And the right dose is? Two affable smiles per book. That is how it should be.

Whether a giant cactus will grow somewhere after my death, I do not know. What I do know is that it will not be announced anywhere, that nobody will mourn my disappearance. Good thing, you don’t want to be next to Steve Jobs and (Tjee – I’ve literally forgotten the name of this fake writer!) – well, you don’t want to become a Hero of the Hollow Calorie after all – you’d rather literally eat the cactus.

In the meantime, the whinging goes on. Ionica Smeets, Breukers or van Willigenburg: they keep pretending that this is what ‘the higher-ups’ are supposed to do, they may scold a bit but nobody dares to say that this is simply not literature. They keep pretending that this must be the higher stuff. And that is because to these people literature is essentially just a game, a game meant to have cosy meetings about.

For those for whom the difference between ‘good’ and ‘genius’ does not consist of an abyss but of a few clear-cut numbers on a piece of paper, literature will always be an entertaining game. And then you are dead, and nothing special will remain, but what a laugh you’ve had with all those trivial books in that game!

Reality check

In reality, however, there are only two modi operandi in art: humour and tragedy. Where a book fails to make you laugh twice every page, it may be one that manages to make you cry every other page.

But books that do not provoke any physical reaction? Higher literature? Bitch, please. That would be a total break with the whole corpus that the canon is based on. Books that are good because they deal with a certain theme. Books that are fun because you can give them to a student as a present.