Oek de Jong

A Man Leaping Into the Future

It is difficult to define precisely what the term ‘essay’ means. Montaigne would have been amazed to see how newspaper articles, meditations and even columns, once collected, are suddenly labelled ‘essays’. Yet everyone has some idea of what the ideal essay should be: a well thought-out piece, personal but well-informed, in which a thought is unfolded, tested and weighed. Oek de Jong, who occasionally wrote essays in the years when he wasn’t working on a new novel, proves that he knows what the essay genre is all about.

Initially, Een man die in de toekomst springt seems like a collection of travel stories. In the overpowering second story ‘The Creation of Adam’, the writer kneels down near a mound of dust by a bus-stop in Palermo and prays: ‘Bless me, lay your hands on my head and bless me-I need your love. Call me from the bushes where I have retreated.’ Slowly the book becomes an account of an attitude to life and the story of a search for forms of religion in a world gone mad. In his essay about the great twentieth-century Flemish poet Paul van Ostaijen (1896-1928), De Jong writes that the exuberant typography of his poetry is ‘the reflection of a collapsing world and, at the same time, the only possible response to the catastrophe: a dancing vitality that mocks all laws (…) Van Ostaijen is a man leaping into the future.’

De Jong reveals deep knowledge in essays on Vermeer, Caravaggio and Caspar David Friedrich, about mysticism, and about the nonsensical idea that ‘the novel has no future’. More often than he cares to admit, he turns out to be influenced by the Calvinism he renounced long ago. Later, he sought the altruism of the mystics, with their liberating leap from acting and knowing to non-acting and non-knowing. At present, De Jong finds himself somewhere between the two, and in this he too seems to be the voice of a generation and a time: grown up in the church, later choosing other paths and, towards the end of the century, consciously commuting between two spheres of influence - ‘Caspar David Friedrich’s longing for symbols and meaning and Francis Bacon’s rough and illusionless physicality.’

However dynamic and unexpected De Jong’s leap into the new century may turn out to be, his goal - as always - is to be a self-aware, sincere and hard-working writer.

De Standaard

A unique sample of autobiographical writing in which personal confession and objective commentary are continually intermeshed.

HP De Tijd

What’s exciting about this book is that De Jong writes about mysticism without a hint of woolliness. Clarity dominates these pages.

Algemeen Dagblad

In the aeroplane there was still the semblance of an ordered existence. I was flying from Rome to Palermo on a Thursday evening in March - that much was certain. I sat in the window seat I had been assigned, I had watched the stewardess when she indicated where the life jackets were kept and demonstrated how to place the oxygen mask over one’s face, I had used my safety belt when we took off, I did not smoke, since it was forbidden in this section of the plane, I made no unnecessary noises - in short, I submitted completely to the order of air travel. The impression of an ordered existence was strengthened by the appearance and activities of my fellow-travellers. I was surrounded by businessmen in elegantly cut suits, all immaculate. Most of them were working: an expensive attaché case full of papers on their knees, a calculator on the arm of their seat, a fountain pen in their hand. A stewardess walked down the aisle, bending to left and right, and made herself useful by pouring tiny cups of mineral water - a sobriety that seemed appropriate to this cool world of calculating brains, calculators and controlled lust.
I drank mineral water and leafed through my travel guide, I looked at the sea which lay glittering in blue and gold tints after the setting of the sun, and slowly but surely became full of anxious presentiments, because if I try to be a model passenger, if I keep eagerly to every rule, if I have the urge to pluck imaginary bits of fluff from my jacket, madness is lying in wait for me.

Oek de Jong

Oek de Jong (1952) broke through in 1979 with his debut novel Opwaaiende zomerjurken (Billowing Summer Dresses). Over fifteen months, the novel was reprinted nineteen times and sold 95,000 copies. He confirmed his status as one of the Netherlands’ top authors with the philosophical and equally…

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Een man die in de toekomst springt (1997). Fiction, 222 pages.
Copies sold: 5,000

Themes: essays art



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