Category Archives: Belgium

Introducing Gaston Burssens (1896 – 1965)


Fabula rasa (1945) by Gaston Burssens (this edition 1964)

I am not much of a fiction reader, nor have I ever been much of a poetry reader. My favorite literature is books about books. Literary criticism or literary theory.

I make exceptions.

The best work I read last year was Michaux’s Plume[1] which happens to be a work of prose poetry, a genre which can be traced most readily to Baudelaire and Poe. A genre which is plotless but nevertheless more concrete than pure poetry.

Saturday I bought the work above. It is worth its price for the introductory notes alone.

Gaston Burssens (Dendermonde, February 18 1896January 29 1965) was a Flemish poet, usually classified as an expressionist. He died age 68 in Antwerpen en was buried at the Schoonselhof cemetery. He was a member of the “Activists” and studied at the University of Ghent. He also published previously unpublished work by avant-garde poet Paul Van Ostaijen after the latter’s death.

Fabula Rasa by Flemish writer Gaston Burssens is a collection of prose poems and random notes. It is inscribed by two mottos: “Rien n’est plus grave au monde que la bêtise” (Louis XIV) en “Rien n’est plus bête au monde que la gravité” (Stendhal).

The collection was first published by De Sikkel in 1945, and went by largely unnoticed, only appreciated by such writers as Louis Paul Boon. It was augmented and republished by de Bezige Bij in 1964.

Literary critic Paul de Wispelaere reviewed it in the chapter “De groteske wereld en de wereld van de groteske,” in his collection Het Perzische Tapijt (1966). In this essay de Wispelaere juxtaposes Fabula Rasa with the paraprose of Gust Gils, another Flemish writer who wrote in the tradition of the literary grotesque. Fabula Rasa’s Belgian-French counterpart is Plume by Henri Michaux.

While researching this post I also stumbled upon prose by Flanders’ cult poet par excellence Paul Van Ostaijen: De bende van de stronk (The stump gang, 1932, grotesques). I will want a copy of that.

René Magritte @110

René Magritte (1898 – 1967) was a Belgian painter, with Paul Delvaux the best-known representative of Belgian Surrealism.

He became well known for a number of witty images and the use of self-referentiality in such works as The Treachery Of Images (This is not a pipe (Ceci n’est pas une pipe), the best illustration to the concept of the map is not the territory.

His work frequently displays a juxtaposition of ordinary objects in an unusual context, giving new meanings to familiar things (see recontextualization). The representational use of objects as other than what they seem is typified in his painting, The Treachery Of Images (La trahison des images), which shows a pipe that looks as though it is a model for a tobacco store advertisement. Magritte painted below the pipe, This is not a pipe (Ceci n’est pas une pipe), which seems a contradiction, but is actually true: the painting is not a pipe, it is an image of a pipe. (In his book, This Is Not a Pipe, French critic Michel Foucault discusses the painting and its paradox.) Mention of This Is Not a Novel by David Markson is also in place here.

All this is conveniently known and one should also point to Magritte predilection for the bowler hat.

Most of the work of Magritte strikes as profoundly unerotic, cerebral and situated to the wrong side (left brain) of the twentieth century art faultline, but appearances deceive.

Attempting the Impossible (1928) [1]
Les Amants / The Lovers. (1928) [2]
Le Viol (1934) – René Magritte [3][4]
Collective Invention (1934) [5]
Les Bijoux Indiscrets (1963) [6]

Many of these works hint at tainted and thwarted love and eroticism, skewed by a desire for paraphilic love and expression. There are hints of pygmalionism, attraction to independent body parts, rape and sensory deprivation. Unlike his contemporary André Masson, Magritte never takes on these subjects head-on, fodder for psychosexual interpretations which would conclude: repressed sexuality.

Alain Robbe-Grillet‘s  La Belle captive.

New to me in the 2000s was Alain Robbe-Grillet’s cinematic take on the sophistry of Magritte. Grillet managed to eroticize the unspoken eroticism of Magritte in his film La Belle captive.

In 1983 Grillet releases his feature film La Belle captive in a production by Anatole Dauman‘s Argos Films.

The film is named after a painting by René Magritte, and is also the name of a 1975 photonovel of La Belle Captive: A Novel written by Robbe-Grillet and illustrated with Magritte’s paintings. To complicate things still further “La Belle Captive” is an extended series of over a dozen paintings, worked on during four decades, with its primary subject the easel, suggesting art and reality held captive. In the case of the film, Grillet chose to interpret the title of the film literally by playing on the trope of the damsel in distress.

To be disovered remains the 1955 documentary film Magritte by Belgian filmmaker and cultural anthropologist Luc de Heusch.

Guy Peellaert (1934 – 2008)

Guy Peellaert is dead.

JodelledePeellaert by you.

Les aventures de Jodelle by Peellaert

Guy Peellaert (April 6 1934 in Brussels, Belgium, 17 November 2008, Paris) is a Belgian artist, graphic designer, painter and photographer, best-known for his vinyl album cover designs of the 1960s and 1970s, such as Diamond Dogs by David Bowie.

He debuted as a theater set designer but first made his mark as comic book creator. His style was evidently inspired by the psychedelic and Pop art aesthetics celebrated in the 1960s (see Hapshash and the Coloured Coat in the UK).

Elvis Presley by Guy Peellaert by Fluffy Kitten Mittens

From : Rock Dreams, Albin Michel, Paris,1974

[FR] [DE] [UK]

His graphic novel Les aventures de Jodelle appeared in Hara-Kiri. Éric Losfeld published it in book version in 1966. The heroine protagonist Jodelle was styled after French singer Sylvie Vartan). Peellaert followed up with a second version, co-written with Pascal Thomas for a new heroine, Pravda, la survireuse (this time the French singer Françoise Hardy served as a model). 35 years later, the couturier Jean-Charles de Castelbajac would use the imagery of Pravda and Jodelle for his collection Physical graffiti in 2001.

Most recently, Peellaert did a series of photo-collages on Belgian popular music for Belgian magazine Focus Knack.


Jeu de massacre by Alain Jessua

He also designed the French Pop art film Jeu de massacre film by Alain Jessua, with music by The Alan Bown Set.

Marc Moulin (1942 – 2008)

Placebo (Marc Moulin)

Cover of the first Placebo album

Francophone Belgian producer Marc Moulin (1942 – 2008) died last Friday. He was 66.

His mid-eighties work with Telex is still influential to the electroclash scene; the track, “Moscow Diskow[1], was a staple for DJs Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy on the dance floors of late 1980s Chicago clubs that were instrumental in the development of Chicago house music, and house music as such. What is to be appreciated is that Telex had a great sense of humor – for example – one of their compositions was called “Temporary Chicken.”


“Humpty Dumpty”



Just the other day, in my hometown record store, my brother overheard Quiet Village member Joel Martin ask: “Did you find me any Placebo yet?”. Placebo’s records (three were released between 1971 and 1974) are highly collectable and priced about €125 each when I last inquired.

J. M. H. Berckmans (1953– 2008)

J. M. H. Berckmans

Belgian writer J. M. H. Berckmans (19532008) died yesterday. Alternative Flanders mourns.

He was Flanders’ celebrated cult author and the darling bipolar genius of the alternative press (De Morgen and Humo); where he played his role of tortured artist sometimes reluctantly, sometimes willingly.

To me, J. M. H. Berckmans is the literary equivalent of photographer Stephan Vanfleteren[1]. Vanfleteren photographs real life outcasts and misfits of the kind featured in the novels of Berckmans.

Berckmans debuted with Walter Soethoudt in 1977.

Soethoudt was the first Flemish printer to translate and publish Sade, years before Bert Bakker did the same in The Netherlands. He was printer-for-hire with an interesting bibliography: partly risqué[2] and sensational[3][4], partly literary fiction by authors such as Georges Adé, Heere Heeresma, René Gysen, Gust Gils, Freddy de Vree, Claude Krijgelmans, Patrick Conrad, Louis Willems and Jef Geeraerts. These authors also often translated for Soethoudt and published more often than not under pseudonyms for his imprints.

Uitgevers komen in de hemel

Soethoudt was no Eric Losfeld, but Belgian’s nearest equivalent. Ah, the glorious days of literary mystifications! Read all about them in Soethoudt’s 2008 autobiography titled Uitgevers komen in de hemel [5], edited by Harold Polis, Berckmans’s last publisher.

Adieu Berckmans. I’m sort of sorry I missed your show with Kris Verdonck in March of 2006 at ScheldApen (see news article above), but I’m sure much fun was had by all.

Whither now, anarchitecture?


Some Office Baroque footage, Some footage similar to Office Baroque

Gordon Matta-Clark died thirty years ago today. He stayed in Antwerp for a while in 1977, just before his death, working with Florent Bex, creating Office Baroque, which he called anarchitecture. Pieces of his “building cuts” were sold around the world[1].

I like him, much as I like the near-contemporary and also short-lived Robert Smithson. Whither now, anarchitecture, and other visionary environments?

Introducing Kati Heck

In Belgian magazine Focus Knack June 2008, Els Fiers reviews German-born contemporary Belgian artist Kati HeckGoogle gallery at the occasion of Heck’s first museum expostion. Fiers likens her to Eija-Liisa Ahtila“Dog Bites”, Sam Taylor-Wood “A Little Death,” [YouTube] and Léopold Rabus Two girls and a mushroom.

Wood’s work I’ve learned to appreciate via dmtls a month or two ago, Ahtila and Rabus are so-so on first impression, and Heck, I’ve been a bit of a fan for some time. If placement she deserves, I will locate her in the tradition of the German Comic Grotesque, a category which Pamela Kort recently examined in her eponymous book and of which the earliest practitioners are Lovis Corinth, Paul Klee, Max Klinger, Otto Dix, Alfred Kubin, Kurt Schwitters, Emil Nolde, and the greatest of them all (and with Klinger and Corinth, the only ones in the beloved public domain), Arnold –“Isle of the Dead” —Böcklin.

Please notice the word comic in Comic Grotesque. If Heck is a great painter or not is not for me but for the market to decide, but I can say this: she has a sense of humor, and it’s a rosy kind of insouciance, of a cynical variety perhaps, but nevertheless one which invites genuine (as opposed to ironic) laughter.

Speaking of comic, I would like to offer you this piece of eye candy:

Film lovers, good evening!

Or, world cinema classic #43


Man Bites Dog

After long and careful deliberation, I’ve decided against pronouncing this film a world cinema classic #43. Instead, I’ve chosen a 1992 film which was made in Belgium, and it’s probably one of the best-known Belgian films abroad of the late 20th century. The film dates of 1992 and much like the American film Natural Born Killers, is a satire on the media’s exploitation of graphic violence, only much better. Sadly, the director of this black mockumentary committed suicide two years ago, as often happens to very talented people with an appreciation of the darker side of life. Without further ado, I present you Man Bites Dog, one of the best features of the 1990s, a must-see feature film. As a seal of quality, it carries an NC-17 rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (such is the beneficial role of censorship organizations).