An interview with Martijn Benders on the state of Dutch-language literature
Welcome. Let me get straight to the point: what do you think is the state of Dutch-language literature today?
It is like reading Chekhov’s story ‘The Butterflies’ but all the butterflies have been replaced by scab mites. If you see the occasional woodlouse or earwig you almost start cheering. Dutch literature consists of a patchwork of teeming entities constantly praising each other to the skies, one even more famous than the other. But all together, and there are 500 or so, all together they wrote less than 10% of what I wrote.
And then you think, well. There is something touching about them all crawling over each other so anxiously. But it also brings to mind a nasty skin disease. And cheering on the rare and lonely earwig even gets boring in the long run. Then you think, yes, fine, an earwig. A woodlouse. Fascinating creatures, but isn’t there a world outside this viewing box?
That’s pretty negative.
It’s only negative if you care about the delusion ‘the Netherlands’ and, for instance, have to come out well with a selection of neat males and ladies at another delusion.
Holland is a kind of industrial estate they built on the North Sea meant to become
become the centre of Psyborg culture. They do that very nicely. Such a Rutte can’t be burned away, Really, I wrote 14 years ago that that was just the improved model of the psyborg Balkenende, who just faltered too much and was too human.
Ok ok, but this interview was about literature.
Ah, the Gulag. Well, think of a dirty, black troll with no talent whatsoever. With as many as five hundred heads. Who used to constantly complain that I do have talent but have to behave myself and nowadays is only slobbering himself demented into its hairy mouths. It doesn’t bother me. But if you expect anything from your local culture, I’m afraid you’re screwed. The culture resembles that of North Korea. Every time there is a message that XAN SHING has won the big state prize for the seventh time. Kinderreich once started in Ferdydurke, though Gombrovicz did not half know how bad it would get. No, complaining about a lack of level is the last thing on your mind in the gulag.
You see yourself as someone who is in the Gulag?
No, there lies the patchwork on which these endearing creatures flit around. Sure, they cancelled me out, for 15 years or so, but I had them figured out from the beginning. The game is rigged. Just read my latest anthology, and realise it’s not about me at all. It is much, much more serious. If only it were about me and my inane emotional life.
You’re referring to ‘Poems to Read in the Dark’?
My new collection yes. Downloaded almost 500 times already, the Dutch and English versions together then. I am proud of that collection. It came about under the greatest possible pressure, the death of two family members. Of course, nobody in the Netherlands is interested in it, they are too busy getting along very well. I used to sabotage poetry prizes sometimes, and do you think that during the time I did that, even one person asked me why?
Not one. The Netherlands is the land of no questions asked and walk on. And the country of know-it-alls, of the type of person who knows everything and can fill in everything for you. And then you get word that German publishers are visiting the Netherlands, and it turns out everything has already been filled in, the publishers who are allowed to come, the booklets that are being discussed. It’s as if the procurement law doesn’t apply to talented people at all.
You are referring to the law that says government and semi-government are obliged to openly outsource contracts instead of distributing them themselves
Indeed, I don’t experience the distortion of competition with taxpayers’ money as a shining example of just culture.
But maybe these are just the best publishers and the best books?
Of course. It is comical, though, that that Letterenfonds even when it was the ‘Germany Year’ and I published the only book with a German title that ever appeared in Dutch literature, Sauseschritt – not a peep came, at the Letterenfonds, Thomas Möhlmann as head of the translation division was too busy translating himself to all sorts of grim dictatorships, Möhlmann in Egyptian, Möhlmann in Saudi Arabia – the people there are incredibly in need of this mayor’s son’s rose-tinted scent. And then I think: someone is sleeping on a chair. Someone who should have kept order here. But then I think again of Ferdydurke, and of Professor Pimco, and of the asses the professor likes to look at so much. And then you think, Gombrovicz was right, farce is the highest order here.
You compare these people to scab mites. Then you can’t blame them for cancelling you, can you?
Who says I blame them? If I have an itch on my back, do I blame the entities that are throwing a party there? Well no, I just itch my back, I scratch a little. Then you can say, yes Benders, stop scratching when you have an itch. But then you actually instruct me to ruin their true work of art, the itch. And so then you are actually much more cruel than I am, you see.
No, I don’t.
Next week Poetry Week begins. Are you good at clapping your hands?
Martinus Benders, Mierlo, 21-01-2023