Belgium Flemish Literature

The Van Nu en Straks group (“Of today and tomorrow”) – which, in the years around 1900, had emancipated Flemish literature and raised it to European levels by virtue of a double synthesis, that of the various literary trends of the end of the century and that of all the faculties of man in art did not know how to bar the way, inside and outside, nor to aesthetics (K. van de Woestijne, H. Teirlinck, FV Toussaint van Boelaere, De Boomgaard) nor to a regionalism at times vigorous (C. Buysse, S. Streuvels), at times picturesque and exuberant (F. Timmermans, Pallieter, 1916). In the years around the First World War, Expressionism destroyed classical forms and proclaimed the superiority of ethics over aesthetics, of the collective over the individual. In a rich and imaginative language, the new poem announces the rise of a better world, based on solidarity, in the construction of which it is the writer’s job to collaborate.

According to collegesanduniversitiesinusa, the theater, soon spread through the work of an avant-garde company of high artistic level, “Het Vlaamse Volkstoneel” (“Flemish popular theater”), accentuates the themes of social criticism. This movement is known under the name of humanitarian expressionism. Initiated by P. van Ostaijen (Het sienjaal, “The signal”, 1918), it had as its main point of connection the magazine Ruimte (“Space”, 1920-1921) and as leader the poets W. Moens and M. Gijsen and the playwrights H. Teirlinck, A. van de Velde and P. de Mont; the prose writers are absent from the painting. Meanwhile, however, the founder of the Van Ostaijen movement, hit by a serious moral crisis, arrives at a nihilistic Dadaism and,by Apollinaire, makes a sensational change with the collection of poems Bezette stad (“Occupied city”, 1921). Having thus denied the previous prophetic appeals, he simultaneously begins to write his “grotesque”, corrosive and mocking tales in tune with his moral failure. Having recovered from the crisis, he later dedicated himself to pure poetry: the poem, free from any impulse to confession and any extrinsic purpose, renounces the contents to be nothing more than the development of a theme through the instrumentation of the absolute word (Eerste boek van Schmoll, “First book of Schmoll”, 1928). This hermetic system Van Ostaijen calls it, in contrast to the effusions of the past, organic expressionism. On this path he finds a companion in G. Burssens, who will later return to the communicative verse, but to play with the word, with logic, with disillusionment.

When Van Ostaijen died in 1928, Expressionism was now in a phase of ebb. It is the moment of his adversaries, that is, on the one hand, the poets of ‘ t Fonteintje (“The little spring”, 1921-1924), R. Minne, M. Roelants, R. Herreman, who had already demolished the castles in air of humanitarian utopias, on the other hand by a convinced traditionalist like U. van de Voorde. Among the young people of the rising generation, the poets of Vormen stand out(“Forme”, 1936-1940), PG Buckinx and R. Verbeeck who introduce the thrills of personal existence into the ecstatic dimension of pure poetry; we should also remember the proud and solitary H. Hensen, the realist and melancholy K. Jonckheere and the vitalist Belgium Decorte. The most important fact is, however, the rebirth of the novel, propitiated by the ethical openness that expressionism had operated. Linguistic refinements are abandoned, the evocation of nature, the goodness of narration and characters. What matters is man, nothing but man, moral and social problem, or rather enigma, the only object of investigation by novelists albeit different from each other, such as M. Roelants, dedicated to psychological analysis (Komen en gaan, “The visitor”, 1927); the committed vitalist G. Walschap, the most notable of these prose writers, with his merciless critique of the sclerotic Catholic environment that surrounds him, which he contrasts with an instinctive pagan figure, embodiment of the will to live beyond good and evil (Houtekiet, 1939); the skeptic R. Brulez; the neo-romantic F. de Pillecyn; M. Gilliams, in search of his own identity (Elias, of het gevecht met de nachtegalen, “Elias or the fight with the nightingales”, 1936); W. Elsschot who, with his concise style, lays bare mediocrity (Het dwaallicht, “The will- o’-the-wisp “, 1946); finally M. Gijsen, with his bitter stoicism (Het boek van Joachim van Babylon, “The Book of Joachim of Babylon”, 1947). Furthermore, alongside the Catholic novel, renewed by A. Demedts, P. Lebeau, G. Duribreux and M. Rosseels, and the social naturalism, or romanticism, of LP Boon and P. van Aken, the magical realism of J. Daisne (De man die zijn haar kort liet knippen, “The man with the shaved head”, 1948) and by H. Lampo. After the Second World War, we witness the advent of the Vijtigers (“Those of the Fifties”). Their main magazine, Tijd en mens(“Time and Man”, 1949-1955), proclaims that he wants to re-establish a link between literature and his time: a time which, for them, is that of Sartre, Picasso, H. Moore. The absurdity, the chaos, the anguish, the nausea and the revolt of existentialism are accompanied by experimental research, inspired above all by surrealism and its exponents. The aesthetic ideals of Tijd en mens find, in the field of poetry, a full realization with the work of A. Bontridder, in which ethical commitment and metaphorical language are combined. LP Boon, an older writer, who joined the movement at the invitation of its promoters, raises a kind of monument to chaos with a pair of novels, written in a populist and swashbuckling style, De Kapellekensbaan (“Zomer te Ter – Muren (“Summer in TerMuren”, 1956). The youngest of the group, H. Claus, is the least committed, but the most varied and baroque: instinctive, sensual and cruel poet (De Oostakkerse gedichten, “Poesie di Oostakker”, 1955), he evolves, under the influence of his vast readings (Eliot, Pound, etc.), towards an erudite mannerism (Heer Everzwijn, “Signor Cinghiale”, 1970), while also venturing into the spoken style. As regards his work as a novelist (De verwondering, “Lo stupore “, 1962) and as a playwright (Een bruid in de morgen, “The girlfriend of the morning”, 1955), there is a technique oscillating between experimentalism and tradition.(“Those of the Fifty-five”) are not very sensitive to the “great miseries of our time”, dear to the previous generation: P. Snoek proclaims his joie de vivre, while HG Pernath entrenches himself in his own tormented world. At the same time, other poets assert themselves outside any grouping: J. de Haes, with his evocation of an anguished mythical universe (Azuren holte, “Cavit√† azsurre”, 1964); E. van Ruysbeek and P. Le Roy, who seek, with a positive spirit, the unity of the ever-evolving universal existence; Chr. D’haen, with his amused rhetoric of classical antiquity.

The avant-garde movement continued even after 1960. Concepts such as novel, plot, character completely lose their meaning in the abstract prose of C. Krijgelmans or in the linguistic formalism of I. Michiels (Het boek Alfa, “Il libro Alfa”, 1963) or in the disintegrated structures of H. Raes or in the writing-reflection of the “texts” of R. Gysen, W. Roggeman, P. de Wispelaere, D. Robberechts. It is an elaborate, self-aware, sometimes highly sought-after prose, which has its recipients all within a small and closed literary circuit. The communicative and dynamic J. Geeraerts, who struggles among the traumas caused in him by Western civilization (Gangreen, “Cancrena”, 1968, then 1972 and 1975). In the field of poetry, linguistic experimentation reaches its peak in the magazines Labris (1962-1975) and De Tafelronde (“The Round Table” which takes on an experimental setting after 1956). Concrete poetry, represented by P. de Vree, passes gradually through the phases of audiovisual poetry, ideographic poetry and visual poetry, montage of photographs, letters and plastic elements (Po√ęzien, 1971; Maskers, “Masks”, 1973). Among the most recent currents, dandy aestheticism, new realism and neo-experimentalism. This does not prevent some isolated personalities from continuing on their own path: they are authors often linked to tradition, but who have crossed or skirted surrealism, whose persistence has changed the face of poetry.

Belgium Flemish Literature