Belgium Prose

Abundant, rich in multiple aspects and brilliant accomplishments, prose dominates all literary production, including non-fiction and theater. In the sixties he appears in movement, between ditional in form but not in mentality with M. Rosseels and J. Geeraerts, experimental with H. Claus, G. Gils, CC Krijgelmans, M. van Maele, L. Stassaert. I. Michiels and M. Insingel, also adept of concrete poetry, appeal to linguistic formalism. Michiels indulges in prolonged rites of internal purification, during which he criticizes, destroys and recreates the linguistic material in In den beginne was het woord (1963-79, “In the beginning was the verb”, 5 volumes), a cycle of great stature, animated as much by the ‘driving word’ as by personal traumas and by the impact of a period agitated by wars, violence, chess and disappointments. A new cycle in 10 vol., Apparently more internalized, began with the overall title of Journal brut (1983-).

The writing-reflection of ‘texts’, supported by the group collected in the magazine Komma (1965-70, “Virgola”), proves, no less than Michiels, that the Flemish novel participates in the profound changes initiated by Joyce, Kafka, Beckett and nouveau roman French. These authors share the rejection of the plot, of the character, of chronological time, of continuous thought and writing, of respect for genres. Passionate about the autobiographical ‘I’, they focus on the creative moment that must prevent them from becoming rigid: what is important is to safeguard full freedom, the magic word of an entire era. Language ultimately creates the writer’s reality. R. Gysen, who died early, remained the most uncompromising. W. Roggeman, philosopher and jazz musician, fascinated by Nietzsche, Benn and Valéry, for whom art fights “the nihilistic filth of existence in a moment of formal transcendence”, is the author of Opus finitum, completed in 1976, comprising 30 vol. among novels, poems, diaries, essays, criticisms (21 have been published). P. de Wispelaere, eminent critic, is the novelist of total ambivalence and, like M. Leiris, of an autobiographical literature of risk: his stories, very well structured, have managed to reconcile writing and life, poles that have long remained opposite. To live is to write, to write is to live for C. van de Berge, in whom the inner modulations and poetization of prose lead to shamanism, and for D. Robberechts, a volunteer block, who twice builds a city, Avignon and Prague, in his own image and conducts a thorough study of the text in the magazine Tijdschrift (“Writing over time”, 1977-). In W. van den Broeck, odd and sometimes folkloric, the problem of the real, dear to all writers of writing-reflection, becomes a commonplace; his personal contribution lies in the search for the self, undertaken together with the search for genealogical roots.

The search for one’s roots is a frequent theme in the seventies and eighties. Approaching a near or distant past, either in a spirit of revolt (L. Pleysier, Gr. Seghers), or in a perspective of reconciliation (Alstein, E. Aerts, representatives of the ‘quiet generation’), offers the writer the opportunity to define its identity and its role in the present. The numerous attempts reach a climax with De vermaledijde vaders (1985, “The cursed fathers”) by M. van Paemel, a writer who went beyond the feminist slogans of the time and who seems to lead to the realization of the literary ideas supported by Komma ; in this great novel, harsh towards the lords and masters, responsible for historical calamities, and at the same time for mothers, too willing to play the role of victims, we also glimpse the possibility of future more human relationships between liberated women and fathers, spouses, children.

The traditional novel, which tells, describes, escapes and accepts the natural limits of language, maintains its positions with H. Lampo, W. Ruyslinck, J. Geeraerts, converted to the detective novel. W. Spillebeen joined them with a very classy book, Cortés of de val (1987, “Cortés or the fall”). H. Claus, the most protean of Flemish writers, approached this genre with Het verdriet van België (1983, “The Sorrow of the Belgians”), which caused a sensation with the support of a huge advertising campaign, until never before used and made new in the struggle of literature against the mass media. It is both an initiation novel, genealogical and social, and a sample of his writing, full of artifices.

Towards 1985, in the midst of the book crisis and the collapses in the publishing world, we witness the thunderous entry of H. Brusselmans and T. Lanoye, who never cease to amuse and provoke. Among the other new writers, particularly numerous, St. Hertmans, H. Portocarero, D. van Babylon and K. Hemmerechts deserve attention.

Belgium Prose