The miracles, Elisabeth, the miracles
Michiels creates a literary world all his own
Ivo Michiels has often been referred to as an experimental writer, a term to which he himself takes exception. His work is far more accessible than his reputation suggests. Admittedly, he forsakes the well-trodden paths of the traditional novel, and readers will search in vain for a recognizable narrator, a structured account, or neatly packaged intervals of time labelled ‘past’ and ‘present’. The ten volumes which make up the series entitled Journal Brut are nothing less than the story of his life and of the relationship between Michiels and the world around him.
He himself has described it as a ‘search for my other selves’, a kind of autobiography, but one that transcends the genre as we know it. Rather than portraying reality, Michiels borrows elements from the outside world, with which he constructs a new literary reality, an original and autonomous structure with its own meanings, connotations and significance. Each volume in the series is devoted to a particular aspect of the author’s world (Flanders, women, etc.). In the final volume, intended as ‘the end’, Ivo Michiels again takes up what has become a recurring theme in his work: Man’s unfailing capacity for moral and physical regeneration. Here that regeneration is symbolized by the apparently hopeless situation of the protagonist. Photographer and film director Helmut Hopperman has been struck down by the locked-in syndrome. The disease has left him completely paralyzed, although all five senses continue to function. First he masters the technique of ‘eyelashing’ - expressing himself by the movement of his eyelids - and later he acquires the equipment which allows him to ‘write’ by fixing each letter with his eyes. The language which Hopperman creates not only constitutes a unique form of sensory expression, but is also surprisingly lively and varied. Within this context, Michiels again draws upon autobiographically inspired fragments and episodes which he recasts in narrative. The various strands of this rich, melodious, and often unexpectedly light-hearted prose in parlando style are woven together by the character of Sinbad, from the tales of Sheherazade. Michiels has succeeded in creating a literary world all his own (‘for me no words that tell of living in the world/but rather words that are a world to live in’). Michiels’ world is filled with meanings and the potential for new growth; it is constantly regenerating itself, neither acknowledging nor accepting its finiteness. Fittingly, Michiels ends this final volume with a totally convincing ‘(to be continued)’