Who is writer Anjet Daanje? And do we really want to know?

Who is this writer? Who is she to be able to write such a book? There’s something curiously elusive about it The song of stork and dromedary, the phenomenal novel by Anjet Daanje, which was widely acclaimed this summer, and whose eleven-fold narration inspired awe as much for the dizzying construction full of ingenious references and the stylistic brilliance, as for the compelling humanity and the profound expressiveness of the stories. In her novel, Daanje created a mythical writer, grafted on Emily Brontë, and her rich life after death: she lived on in the literary masterpiece she left behind, and in countless stories and memories.

On the radio, a speaker – Anjet called Daanje an “incredibly great asset” to Dutch literature – which was a silly thing to say, considering 57-year-old Daanje has been publishing books for almost thirty years. She certainly doesn’t fall from the sky, The song of stork and dromedary is her tenth novel, and her previous work has also been acclaimed, not in the same terms as now and not to the extent that she won major literary awards for it, but still. On the other hand, her then publisher saw after the acclaimed books Companion in marble (2006) and Delle Weel (2011) no longer living in her work – after which she found shelter at the Groningen publishing house Passage, where she The remembered soldier (2019) was able to publish (which, god praise, did receive the necessary recognition, received awards, was reprinted time and time again).

Those two books from 2006 and 2011 have since been reissued by Pluim publishers – rightly so, because they are excellent novels, which, moreover, only gain more value now that you can see in which novel this authorship culminated. The song by no means stands alone, it is the crowning glory of an oeuvre.

But what has happened all these years? You can put forward countless hypotheses about it. You can say that Anjet Daanje was never really part of the literary circuit, peripheral when she stayed in Groningen, that she did not assert herself as a mediagenic artist by accompanying her novel into the world with great opinions or succinct stories about the autobiographical backgrounds. – if she has already had the opportunity to do so. You can also suspect sexism; it is common knowledge that in recent decades female writers have had a much harder time of appreciation, that literary awards overwhelmingly go to men. A woman who wrote thick, ambitious, grandiose books like Companion in marble and Delle Weel Moreover, it was difficult to fit into the picture. It’s tempting to read Brontë echoes into this, perhaps all too tempting.

On the other hand, those rave reviews far and wide? These do not seem to point to structural neglect, but rather to an exceptional position on the fringes of the literary business, separate from fashions and the world, flourishing in the margins, as a secret tip, a position in which Daanje may well have thrived.

Or maybe it was something else and Daanje wrote too ‘nice’ to be taken seriously? Apart from the thickness and ambition associated with masculinity, are the novels perhaps too ‘feminine’? There are definitely soap-like qualities to her novels, which deal with intimate relationships between people. The fact that women play the leading roles in it raises the suspicion that Daanje could have been conceived as the author of ‘women’s books’, traditionally a literary disqualification. You can also mention her writing style: it is not boned, subtle or minimalist, as was the fairly predominant literary fashion in the early years of her writing. The adages were less is more and show don’t tell, while Daanje previously wrote excessively and simply called feelings insubstantially. The latter is still a mystery that defies literary dogma (how does Daanje get away with it?), but it is clear that taste is also subject to fashion. Frugality has long ceased to be a condition in the current literary climate – see the recognition of generous stylists such as Jeroen Brouwers, Wessel te Gussinklo, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld and Mariken Heitman.

Maximalist style concept

These are all factors that could influence Daanje’s late success and maybe there is a student of Dutch Studies somewhere who can devote a nice master’s thesis to it. Interesting to include in this is the remarkable fact that all these factors are already dormant in the artist novel Companion in marble, which can thus be regarded as the key to her oeuvre. Right down to that maximalist style conception: Marin Slingerland, the sculptress who plays a leading role, sees nothing in ‘tight, simple images’, in the small that should represent the essence of the larger. ‘According to her, you can only create such minimalist images if you believe in the simplicity of life, and so have never thought about it very deeply. Life on Earth is mysterious and unimaginably complicated. The more you think about it, the more complicated it gets. Simple shapes only highlight a small aspect that is artificially lifted from the whole, deceptively deforming it. Marin wants to show the big picture, the connections, not magnified, unimportant details. She wants to put impressions, emotions, thoughts, time, everything in a plastic bag until it has swallowed the whole world, overloaded and moaning under its own weight.’ You could read that as the literature view of Anjet Daanje – The song is in any case based on this model.

But even more than about that poetics Companion in marble about the person of the artist, or rather: the person behind the artist. In the wake of sculptress Marin Slingerland, the creative genius who comes up with the ideas for her sculptures, there is Nan Geerings, the stonemason, who does the dirty work. Based on Marin’s idea, she works up a sweat with the carving itself, the technical craft. Marin plays the artist, Nan makes the sculptures.

That division of labor seems to work well for years, as Nan wallows in invisibility, and invulnerability: “Backed by age-old, handed down knowledge that can solve any problem, and with only limited responsibility, because it is not her image, and not a disdainful critic.” , no angry art buyer, no jealous fellow sculptor can hold her accountable for the end result.’ Until it takes revenge that something has grown crooked. The appreciation goes to Marin, while Nan’s artistic contribution has grown, sometimes even decisive. So who is the real artist?

That’s how it goes Companion in marble in a very relevant way about artistry and fame: no work of art is made just to be made, the artist also wants to be seen, experienced and appreciated. You can see a metaphor for Daanje’s writing in it: Nan is a kind of Daanje, someone who adopts a humble attitude, as a craftswoman, who does not create so much as cuts away as best as possible what stands in the way of creating the work of art that has in fact always been in that block of stone ceased to be exposed. Someone who considers The Art to be higher than self-expression, and who is not himself in the spotlight – until it turns out that those who do achieve success and fame are not real artists, but talkers, charlatans.

That hurts, if only because an artist is ultimately only a human being, who wants to be seen and appreciated. This is how Daanje complicates the story considerably (as is life on earth): apart from a novel about artistry and fame, Companion in marble a novel about a symbiosis, a friendship, a love triangle (because in the lives of Nan and Marin the same man is the most important: the famous, but moderate and also very dependent artist Gösta), showing that the choice between demanding space and adapting, between being visible and invisible, is not so easy to make.

That underlines Delle Weel, the 2011 novel that takes the story of fame and its corrupting power one step further. The book begins with a storyline about the chef Delle Weel, which a little later turns out to be ‘fictional’ (also within the novel), because a character from a drama series on television – and at the same time she is loosely based on various ‘real’ characters, namely on the screenwriter (who processes her relationship history in the series) and on the matre of a restaurant where the screenwriter occasionally visits. Everyone is confronted with the fact that fiction can be stronger than reality: on the internet, fans of the series are triggering ‘a profoundly naive Delle worship’, in internet forums where they make connections, draw parallels and try to figure out how it ‘really ‘ sit. ‘It is a game of guessing, explaining and pretending, of big words and I believe everything that does not exist, which also never existed or will exist, but that does not matter, on the contrary, untruth gives an unprecedented blissful freedom.’

Well, freedom. Freedom that exists by the grace of another’s lack of freedom – of those behind the story, who are held responsible for it (the actress, the screenwriter) and who have to suffer the real consequences of their not-so-fictional position.

Pinching lack of freedom

The Daanje reader recognizes an important theme from that The song of stork and dromedary, which also deals with the consequences of myth-making. Eliza May Drayden, the recently deceased author of a handful of poems and a single prose work, continues to influence the lives of people for decades, for centuries, who are gripped by her, her work or even the idea of ​​her. An image can run away from the truth until nothing more than a shadow remains of the real person, of Eliza May Drayden. In The song she gradually ceases to be a human being, just a ghost figure. With that the novel, about a line to Delle Weel about people who come just too close to another, have just too much power over another. As a result, the image (fiction) takes over the person (reality), turning a playful freedom into oppressive lack of freedom.

That also made us think about what we should now want from -Anjet Daanje, about the tendency to be curious about the person behind the work of art, something that is difficult to avoid in a media age where a novel is never separated from the author – a tendency to which I myself, by the way contributed with my praise for Daanje’s novels. But somehow it feels absurd to have a book with the scope of The song of stork and dromedary to something you’d like to involve the writer in, whose personal or autobiographical origins you’d like to know, to a book you’d like to interview the author of, and then possibly be able to touch some of the magic of the novel.

Maybe we shouldn’t do that now? In any case, Daanje’s oeuvre offers the ammunition of arguments for the invisibility of the artist. Mythologizing can be devastating. And it’s about the works, not about the artist. The meaning of art, and certainly that of Daanje, lies in the ‘made’, in the fiction, not in the reality behind it. Our obsession with the artist could not only interfere with the freedom of movement of that maker, but also do violence to the work of art. It could be so small, so simple.

Interview program Moped at sea announced this week that Anjet Daanje is one of the guests in the new season, somewhere between Jonathan Franzen and Oek de Jong. It is Daanje’s first television appearance. A token of recognition, fame and – finally – visibility, which is due to her, but also makes her uncomfortable.

Also read this interview: Writer Anjet Daanje: ‘I think I find the normal world insufficient’

The article is in Dutch

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