Over Lucebert I

Op verzoek van een onzer redacteuren schreef Andrew Ricca de eerste schakel van een kettingbrief over de recente onthullingen rondom Lucebert’s jeugdbrieven.

Dearest Tommy,

In clearing my throat before I share my thoughts on a writer about whom I know next to nothing, I should underline how pleasant it is to do so again; I haven’t said anything so confidently while yet so ill-informed since we were both students and everything was political! I still tend to think that is the case most of the time but thankfully I won’t need to write about everything, about which I happen to know a whole lot incidentally, but about Lucebert’s Nazi sympathies, or the question, as you put it, of (how) does this ideological position influence the reading of his work?

At the risk of stating the obvious I’m spontaneously inclined to think that this is a decision that every reader will have to negotiate for his or herself. I have leafed through some translated poems and sought to find the Nazi there, and perhaps many others will too, especially those who are attached to his work. I imagine cultured folk pulling books out of their shelves, rereading some poems, looking for hints, a suspect verse, “lyriek is de moeder der politiek”, I wonder what he meant by that.

But I’ve read no more than a handful of his poems and can only attempt to reason through this by imperfect analogies. The publication of Larkin’s letters in the early nineties was a bad day for the poet’s reputation and the debate still rages on. He was undeniably racist, classist, perhaps misogynist, and a social conservative. And yet his work reveals what for need of a better term I can only call humanity and lived experiences of it. Often cynical to a fault, and sometimes sentimental, knowing what I know about the writer’s politics does little to diminish the beauty contained in his lines. Fundamentally I think it is a choice of mine to draw a distinction between the man and the work, and probably because I’d rather enjoy the work as I always have than engage in an exercise of reassessing it. I’m afraid that even if ideologically suspect, I’m tempted to fall for its beauty.

When you first informed me of this, however, I immediately thought of Paul de Man. Some year ago I happened to meet the academic who still a student first came across the damning articles, but even though we spoke of less interesting matters at the time, I nonetheless revisited the controversy. De Man was 22 in 1941, Lucebert was five years younger. Perhaps you can already see where I’m going.

I know even less about the context in which this very young man walked up to an SS office, but political conversions, like religious ones, are often emotionally or materially induced. What strikes me is the extent to which this episode lends itself to a poetic reading. A young man, mulling over an internal conflict and aware of the precariousness of his position, should I go? Should I not? Should I join them? Will it secure me a living, win me favours? He doesn’t join them though; joining would have meant parting with something more meaningful. Forgive the indulgence, but given the onslaught of compromises we have to negotiate daily, I can think of few better situations illustrating how “all things of value are defenceless.”