Thuistezien 288 — 06.06.2021
A reckoning with great expectations. Kees Hart is in conversation with Rutger Pontzen about his debut novel ‘Nu ik’ (Now I). A book that consists of ‘one big stream of sentences, without periods, commas, paragraphs’. Full of feeling, desire and thoughts, Volkskrant art critic Rutger Pontzen brings his family and his father, who died too early, to life.
At the Grote Kerk in The Hague, ’t Hart asks Pontzen to read a fragment. Pontzen opens the book and reads ‘and suddenly it occurred to me how to write all this down, all the words, all the thoughts that were hidden behind those words and all the feelings that were hidden behind those thoughts, as far as they have stayed with me, how everything I'd jotted down in the past thirty-five years, all my life, now fifty-five years, on single sheets, scraps of toilet paper, restaurant napkins, in little books, the margins of the newspaper I'd torn off, kept and stored in folders that were piled up in gigantic piles in my office, stored in archive boxes, full of words and fragmentary sentences of reflections, memories and hunches of what I had experienced’ He tells ’t Hart about the writing process, in his case the stream of writing. And also deleting, since writing is, after all, deleting. ‘After two years I had a handwritten stack of 600 sheets of paper. Then I came to a decision, it's almost emotional when I talk about it, 'will I or won't I' [write a book]. It hadn't been decided yet. Here was a pile of anecdotes, reflections, thoughts, very abstract at times and very anecdotal.’ Kees ’t Hart adds to this, ‘and small talk too.’ Pontzen confirms this ‘there was an incredible amount of small talk in between, and that small talk has largely remained in it.’ The writing ultimately took five years and went through several stages. Pontzen quotes visual artist Jan Dibbets who once said to his students, ‘If you get stuck with your painting, you have to throw everything away and put it away and look. Because at a certain point – it sounds more romantic than it is – at a certain point the painting will tell you what to do. How it should be completed or what the next step is.’ A painting is actually like a living mechanism. This also applies to writing a text. The cadence of the words when rereading the text over and over again indicates which stream or which meandering is not viable.
The fundament of the book is autobiographical. The idea of turning it into a novel gave Pontzen freedom because in that form ‘you can magnify, thicken, grotesque, thin, stretch, compact, throw away some things’ The protagonist in 'Nu ik' has the idea that he is predestined for something big. ‘This evokes illusions,’ suggests 't Hart. ‘As a boy, I also thought that I was going to do something big.’ When ’t Hart continues to ask probing questions, Pontzen admits that this has happened to him. ‘It is the combination of being receptive to these kinds of great illusions or great deeds that may be based on illusions that if someone says that to you, 'out of you will grow something great'.’ With a sad result, because ‘the talent you want will ruin the talent you really have.’ Presenter ’t Hart turns to his audience and shows that he has written down a letter C from Core in the margin of the book. According to ’t Hart, this is the core of the novel. Pontzen adds. ‘Whatever you have thought of yourself, whatever others throw in your lap about predictions that may or may not come true, in the end it is of no use to you at all.’ All you have is a stack of paper telling you what to write. It therefore shows guts to be able to throw everything away.
Kees ’t Hart is writer, poet and critic. Rutger Pontzen is editor and art critic of the Volkskrant.
(Conversation is in Dutch)
Text: Marinelle Andringa