Vanuit de ledigheid een paar magere tranen
From out of emptiness a few feeble tears

On the poetic oeuvre of Jan Emmens (1924 – 1971)
(Published in Yang magazine in January 2009)

In Emmens' poems, lazyness is a recurrent theme. In accordance with this, his oeuvre is very small. He published three books of poetry between 1957 and 1969, with a total of 52 poems, of which many had only 4 or 5 lines, and on top of that, some of them were in fact translations. In this essay, I elaborate on Emmens’ laziness from five different angles:

Laziness as a poetical conviction. He didn't believe in the effort of the Vijftigers to construct a new language, a new and more sincere way of expression, and was lazy in this sense. Neither was he interested in the efforts of New Realism to be transparent.

Laziness as a contact disorder. Each activity, also artistic activity, demands communication and participation to a society that dissembles and distorts everything. Out of this grows a fundamental feeling to be never understood, an aversion from social contact because of its insincerity, and the desire to be alone or among strangers and be lazy, which is not doing nothing, but just not doing any effort to meet up with expectations.

Laziness as political resistance. Emmens inscribed himself into a long tradition of laziness as a philosophical, political, and/or artistic weapon against enlightment and/or capitalism.

Oedipus laziness. The laziness of Emmens can be seen as a difficult struggle with authority, which goes back to the authority of his father. He had the feeling that he had to justify each of his choices against higher powers. The only way to tackle them was to fall back into passivity. But then he felt guilty about this passivity, which increased the pressure to achieve even further. This again increased his desire to be lazy, etcetera, a vicious circle, for which Emmens was often searching an escape route.

Laziness out of metaphysical necessity. What can a writer do who believes in the impossibility of real communication? What can a thinker do who believes in the relativeness of thinking?

Bruno De Wachter

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