At times, one encounters an individual who, when you assert that the consensus structure in the Dutch literary world is 80% Christian (and by this, I mean: the infrastructure of mainstream reviews and the seats of power in the allocation of funding within the Letterenfonds, in other words, the key positions that matter in the realm of literary influence – anyone receiving reviews from Christian brethren in the newspaper gets double the funding from the Christian brother in the committee, etc. Why such a fuss over being ‘woke’? Well, to divert attention from this)
Sometimes, when you bring up this topic, someone retorts with ‘the statistics’, especially the CBS figures concerning the number of Christians purportedly in our population.
Can we not discuss the content?
That is the one-liner with which Rutte sailed to success. Let us do just that, let us genuinely engage with the content. And that content, I believe, renders a measure without a ‘why’ absolutely worthless. I believe real statistics involve more than merely displaying the end results. What do I mean in practical terms?
I mean that I am indifferent to the VVD having 30 seats, just as I am indifferent to the fact that for the past 20 years, 49% of the Turkish population always voted for Erdogan and 80% for Putin.
I believe, when brainwashing techniques are employed, democracy has long since ceased to exist. I am familiar with the situation in Turkey and know how the government holds all media in its grasp, bombarding people with propaganda all day long. Under such circumstances, a ‘49%’ result for Erdogan means absolutely nothing.
Democracy stands or falls with effective measures to combat brainwashing. Since such measures are nonexistent here or there, I do not consider the Netherlands a democracy. The VVD blatantly employs propaganda and brainwashing techniques, and there certainly exist people who regard this as ‘business as usual’, but I am not one of them. So, when people ask me why I do not vote, my answer is always: democracy first, then voting. Not the other way around, that is utterly futile.
So, when someone subsequently presents me with the statement ‘thirty percent of the Netherlands is VVD’, I do not consider that a scientific fact unless it is made clear how this came about. The same applies to religion.
In Turkey, the religious have managed to arrange that children from their second year of life may receive Quran lessons.
Whoever is allowed to indoctrinate the youth endlessly, then gloats about a popularity figure, is, in my eyes, a charlatan.
Laws are needed here: there is nothing wrong with an adult choosing a childish tale that is riddled with plagiarism – you may ‘believe’ in it for all I care.
But to endlessly indoctrinate children until they are traumatized, never to rid themselves of their mental scripting throughout their lifetime – so deeply is it burned into them – in my society, that would warrant hefty prison sentences.
In my scholarly book, Amanita Muscaria – The Book of the Empress, I speak about the Sami, a tribe living around Lapland, of whom it is said they have a tradition involving fly agaric. However, I engaged in a conversation with a Sami shaman and, according to her, the Sami were so aggressively colonized by Christianity that she herself cannot separate Amanita from the concept of ‘Jesus’; the mushroom evokes a ‘Jesus consciousness’ in her – which is perfectly fine, apart from the fact that this is the result of severe brainwashing. Incidentally, she learned everything she knows about the fly agaric from the internet – the romantic notion that these tribes carry forth a ritual tradition is an illusion.
So no, 35% Christians, that tells me nothing, just like 35% VVD voters tells me nothing. It only begins to mean something to me in a country where people make a conscious, adult choice for a political or religious current, without indoctrination. And that can be quite simple, by creating some laws, and by separating Media and State, which is already 50 years overdue. Enlightenment is something one must constantly work on, not something that manifested as a fait accompli hundreds of years ago.
The haves versus the havenots
A writer having to prove himself forever is the very nature of writing itself, but not when that manages to have no reflection on power.
When scoring great reviews has no reflection on ones literary power, the structure has become fascist.
In my new book The Eternal Hazing: Transgressive behaviour in the Dutch Literary World I will explore these themes further, and show this is all due to a system of abuse that is old and is still rampant.
When the question of whether someone is a great poet is no longer permitted to be asked – that’s when we find ourselves truly immersed in a totalitarian climate. And if a thousand fringe figures fancy themselves to be great poets, and you express a contrary view, it doesn’t imply that you aspire to be the sole luminary. Quite the opposite, in fact. Amidst such a cacophony, it can become unbearably lonely, akin to the crushing solitude one might experience amidst a bustling party, when genuine connections with the crowd are elusive. No, no, I would indeed wish that all thousand were great poets, that I could quench my intellectual thirst through the most eccentric personalities here.
However, the majority here possess the charisma of a wet newspaper. This is a disheartening truth, especially for those seeking to play the role of the great artist. If this truth is perceived, it pre-emptively sabotages the sole joy that the entire act of authorship promises. Then you’re left with the mess, while also being accused of desiring to erase everyone else. Oh, oh, what an outrageous world.
Corona crisis road signs
I travelled through sixteen countries in the era of coronavirus and that has offered a fascinating vantage point on how societies respond to crises. The Netherlands, in particular, has showcased a response that may initially seem disparate but, upon further contemplation, offers a compelling parallel to our discussion on poetry.
The Netherlands stands as the singular country where the roads are adorned with signs such as ‘Corona, we can solve that together’. These signs, at first glance, may seem to be imbued with a pedantic, childlike simplicity, echoing a dull collective mantra. Just as these public health signs appear to undervalue the intelligence and complexity of the public by reducing a global health crisis to a simplistic, solvable puzzle, the poetic landscape in question too is marred by a similarly disconcerting simplicity. There is a painful parallel between these signs and the multitude of self-declared poets. The oversimplified, banal messages mirror the mediocrity that pervades the realm of poetry, where complexity, depth, and authenticity are being increasingly sidelined.
The tendency to dilute the complexity of issues or art forms into easily digestible sound bites reflects an inability or unwillingness to grapple with complexity. In the context of poetry, this oversimplification stems from a comparable source, namely the refusal to acknowledge and celebrate the intricate nuances of authentic poetic genius.
A weird form of satanism: AirBNB
The oversimplification of complexity indeed extends far beyond the Netherlands and the realm of poetry. It is an unsettling trend, global in its reach, affecting various spheres of our lives, including the more intimate corners of our existence.
Take, for instance, the ubiquitous phenomenon of Airbnb. Many of us have encountered the disconcerting uniformity of these rented spaces, their walls adorned with trite, simplistic messages that belie the unique character of the place and its people. What should be a vibrant expression of the local culture is diluted into a generic, formulaic experience, much like how the intricacies of poetic genius are glossed over in favor of pedestrian simplicity.
These places, thousands of them scattered around the globe, serve as physical embodiments of the same trend of oversimplification that we find in the literary world. The messages on the walls of these Airbnbs, much like the self-declared grandeur of the multitude of poets, reduce something that should be complex and authentic into hollow, scripted echoes of what they purport to represent.
This uniformity, rather than fostering a sense of global unity or shared humanity, serves a “weird satanic function,” as it were. It encourages us to settle for superficial experiences, it conditions us to accept the scripted, the mass-produced, the facile. It discourages us from seeking the unique, the nuanced, the profound. And just as this impacts our travel experiences, it similarly diminishes the quality and authenticity of our poetic discourse.
The cold war as an utopia
The 1970s, a decade laced with the frosty dread of the Cold War, saw an unexpected yet ubiquitous renaissance: the widespread enthusiasm for the game of chess. Was it the covert dance of tension and strategy between the world’s superpowers that sparked this newfound interest? It is indeed a compelling thought to consider the geopolitical rivalry, punctuated by a menacing nuclear threat, as an unwitting catalyst for a collective re-emergence of this intricate game of stratagems.
Amidst the covert rivalry and the muted fear of the Cold War, there existed an intoxicating optimism that characterized the 1970s, an unfaltering belief in the promise of an eternal march of progress. This pervasive utopian sentiment seems peculiar now, given the decade’s geopolitical context. Yet it was this same utopian sentiment that sustained the public spirit, offering a counterbalance to the pervasive existential dread.
This was an era where the sweet taste of progress, like the tantalizing dissolve of candyfloss, was a palpable sensation, a shared experience. It was a time when the idea of a better future was not just a fanciful dream but a tangible reality, ever within grasp. As curious as it may seem to our modern sensibilities, the 1970s, with all its inherent contradictions, held an inexplicable optimism that was both comforting and empowering.
The role of Science Fiction
One mustn’t overlook the significant role that science fiction played during this time, serving as a mirror to society’s hopes and fears. Writers of the genre were propelled to the forefront of public consciousness, as their stories dared to imagine the potential zeniths or nadirs of human civilization, contributing to the formation of utopian or dystopian visions.
For me, Ursula K. Le Guin and Jack Vance stood out, their works becoming timeless reminders of the boundless human imagination. Le Guin, with her unparalleled ability to weave intricate narratives exploring sociopolitical structures and gender norms, provided fresh perspectives on utopian society. In her acclaimed novel “The Dispossessed”, she penned, “You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”
Le Guin’s views were a testament to the fact that the prospect of utopia lies not in our surroundings but within ourselves, our choices, and our actions – an underlying message during a time of socio-political upheaval and the pervasive quest for progress.
This invocation to higher ideals, this challenge to human grandeur, serves as an antidote to the insidious peril of rampant mediocrity. Herein, there is a shared ethos between the works of the science fiction authors like Vance or Le Guin and a literary giant like Andrei Platonov.
Platonov, a figure whose profound writings were juxtaposed against the turbulent backdrop of early Soviet Russia, eloquently stated in his novel “Chevengur”, “Man is born to live, not to prepare for life.” These words reverberate across time, underscoring the fundamental ethos of his work – that our existence should not be reduced to a mere rehearsal for some anticipated future, but instead, we must seize and savor the present, to live authentically and vibrantly.
“Life must be arranged to reject nothing.” (from: The Foundation Pit) – this seemingly simple declaration accentuates the essence of his philosophy – that we must embrace the totality of existence, without reservations or exceptions, cherishing the immediacy of life’s ebb and flow.
In another of his less known but profoundly impactful writings, “Happy Moscow”, Platonov contemplates, “What is hardest of all is that which seems most simple: to see with your eyes what is right in front of your eyes.” Much like the intricate labyrinth of our era, the Russian writer offers a lens to view the profundity hidden beneath the superficial veneer of chaos and confusion.
The next time you stare at that random bit of satanic wisdom on the wall of your AIRBNB, think of these words, go out and score some real literature, and leave it on the bed as an act of poetic terrorism as Hakim Bey would have dubbed it.