Down With Democracy

The first few pages were interesting. That’s what the first few pages were. The rest of part one was a veritable bore, in spite of the chopped up narrative, never living up to what seemed to be its promise. Most memorable was the misspelling of rijsttafel as rijstaffel. Was it on purpose? Does it mean anything? Does a rice table undermine the grand narrative in ways the rest of the book tries but fails? Part two and three decided to change into something akin to a normal narrative, but that didn’t improve the book any. Still, at least my enjoyment of the book oscillated by this point, perhaps even with a vaguely upward trend.

In the end, Democracy is a quick, boring read with a mildly interesting ironic narrative gimmick. The constant false starts and repetitions are presumably meant to undermine the grand narratives of modernity, those of the American democracy in particular. Instead we get a dull soap opera with lifeless characters dressed up in a thin veneer of literary play.

Joan Didion (1984), Democracy.

★★½

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Take Me Home

I first came across Toni Morrison a few years ago when I read Beloved, a book that positively blew me away. Although I haven’t read anything else by her since, picking up Home when I noticed it on sale was a no-brainer. I didn’t realize my copy of the book came out of the printer’s cut crooked, but I think it adds to the experience.

This book definitely succeeded in shocking me, someone who considers themselves a fairly well-informed European Americanophile. While I’ve read non-fiction literature like the maddeningly complacent Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washinton as well as Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, it still failed to register with me just how persistent such attitudes were across the entire country. Segregation was not just a southern thing. This isn’t something I grasped from, say, Pynchon’s V., which I’d argue draws attention away from the racial and social problems in order to focus on some kind of crisis of modernity. I bring this up because the PTSD-suffering protagonist sees “black flames shooting out of the V” of the logo of a Chevron station. Morrison clearly isn’t Pynchon, but when your nose is singing from being pushed into flamey V-related imagery you can’t help but make a connection.

The interaction between the global narrator and the Frank narrator is interesting, but I shouldn’t spoil it. If you’ve read Beloved you kind of know the shtick, but it’s different enough not to feel like repetition. In brief, Home is a story of broken people jerkily healing themselves, overcoming not only their shattered selves but also the malfunctioning society that made them. Recommended.

Toni Morrison (2012), Home.

★★★★

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Nog niet kleine

soms wil je de kast opklimmen
met je grote paardenstaart
soms wil de de muur oplopen
maar dat gaat niet met zo'n vaart

nog niet kleine

soms trek je jezelf op aan de oven
want het aanrecht is aantrechtelijk
pardon, aanlokkelijk, aantrekke
lijk een ware utopie

nog niet kleine

wat is dat?

je kan er al op springen?

voorzichtig
val er niet af
ik zal wat voor je zingen
zolang ik het nog mag

waar is je visje
waar is je muis

onder het dressoir?

ach, je kunt er niet meer bij
groei dan toch
niet zo snel

spelen is voor iedereen

het leven is geen spel
of eigenlijk
juist wel

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Bespreking: Pallieter

Soms snuffel je eens in je eigen boekenkast rond om te zien wat voor leuke dingen daar zoal te vinden zijn. Op die manier kwam ik een vijfde editie van Pallieter tegen. Het boek is niet alleen geregeld te vinden op de lijst van 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, maar de marketing was indertijd subliem. In 1920 door de kerk verboden, en aangeprezen met amusante verwijzingen naar het comme il faut: “Vlaamsche boeken zijn in de kringen waar men op gehalte en letterkundig fatsoen gesteld is a priori verdacht, want men vreest als men ze openslaat een ranzig pallieterluchtje op te snuiven, hetgeen men niet zonder goede gronden schuwt gelijk den droes” (Jan Greshof, Forum, jaargang 1, 1932). Zo’n ranzig pallieterluchtje klinkt behoorlijk interessant, nietwaar?

Al die lof ten spijt is het verhaal geen havik die niet-aflatend op wolkenhoogte blijft rondzweven. Bedenk immers, dat ook een havik zo nu en dan verrekte hard omlaag moet duiken om zijn prooi te vangen. Niet Pallieter. Lijk het blije varken van Socrates blundert hij gelukzalig door het leven. Zijn karakter wordt uitstekend getypeerd tijdens het snoeien van een perenboom. Daardoor ziet hij “een rondeken jong spekvleesch van den [perelaar]. En Pallieter, die dat zag, lachte luid den gelukkigen lach van een kind.” Ook is het een wonder — pardon, een mirakel — dat dit overgroeide biggetje het geld heeft om al zijn extravagante uitspattingen te bekostigen. Zijn appeltje voor de dorst heeft hij ten slotte thuis al opgegeten.

In pakweg het eerste derde deel van het boek verlekkerde ik me aan het taalgebruik, maar de aardigheid nam na enige gewenning vrij snel af. Pallieter wordt omschreven als een streekroman, maar het heeft niets van doen met een Merijntje Gijzens of Bartje. Pallieter is een Adam in zijn Hof van Eden, of liever gezegd zijn Netheland — neen, toch liever het luilekkerland Arcadia. Het enige dat hij ooit geschreven heeft is carpe diem, zij het in het Nederlands: “Melk den dag!” Een vertelling vibreert gewoonlijk ietwat omhoog en omlaag, zei het emotioneel, zei het qua actie, maar Pallieter blijft als een storm zonder oog de lezer ranselen. Bijgevolg ervoer ik met name gedurende de laatste vijftig bladzijden een lineaire afname van het leesgenot, want de niet aflatende leutigheid en feeststemming zijn uiteindelijk bovenal vermoeiend.

Felix Timmermans (1916), Pallieter.

★★½

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Bespreking: Regenland, wo ai ni

Deze collectie van aansluitende miniverhaaltjes, of misschien is het toch eerder een novelle, laat op humoristische wijze zien hoe een gastvrij land een vreemdeling kan doen ontspruiten. De kunstig geïllustreerde, geestige situaties komen voort uit de voortdurend ondermijnde culturele verwachtingen van de Chinese ikverteller, oftewel die situaties laten zien hoe vreemd sommige zaken die we als vanzelfsprekend beschouwen eigenlijk zijn. Wat mij betreft is het hoogtepunt van het boek het bezoek aan de supermarkt en de daarmee samenhangende uiteenzettingen over melk in China en Nederland. Gelukkig lijkt mijn buik niet op een hangmat met inhoud!

Lulu Wang (2012), Regenland, wo ai ni.

★★★½

P.S. Er is hier ook nog een goed uitgevoerde korte film te bezichtigen, gebaseerd op een episode uit het boek. Het is eigenlijk bedoeld om na te genieten, maar als hors d’oeuvre misstaat het zeker niet.

P.P.S. Regenland, wo ai ni (regenland, ik hou van jou) is de Belgische titel; in Nederland heet het Nederland, wo ai ni.

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My Mini Dutch Literary Canon, or Just a Few Book Recommendations

When you have acquired a degree in Dutch and English literature and linguistics, you almost automatically become a kind of cultural ambassador. It’s a bit of an odd position to be in at times, because you could say I adore the foreign. I married it, and I live in it. I can’t even remember the last Dutch book I read. I think the last book I read in Dutch was Dien het volk, but that’s a translation from Chinese. Actually not too long before that I (finally!) read Karakter, so I do remember. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that I’m currently reading Pallieter, so it’s not all bad. In any case, I mostly read in English, and lately also a fair bit in French. To balance it out, I’ve also taken care to include some German because it was feeling left out. On a whim I picked up an anthology of Heinrich Heine for €1 and I’m absolutely loving Ideen. Das Buch Le Grand. But we don’t care about foreign literature in this blog post, even though Dutch literature obviously doesn’t exist in a cultural vacuum. No doubt, throughout the centuries it has been most strongly influenced by the cultural spaces of the very languages I myself still read. My basic interest in foreign literature probably makes me quite fundamentally Dutch.

My goal here is not to give an extensive overview of Dutch literature through the centuries, nor is my exclusion of works meant to imply that I don’t like them, for I probably do. Above all, my goal here is to make a selection that I consider enjoyable. If you want more, I recommend you to look at the literary canon from a Flemish perspective, the DBNL basic library, and the DBNL questionnaire among experts.

  1. Van den vos Reynaerde (13th century). Available in English translation as Of Reynaert the Fox, full PDF here. This work is rightfully considered a masterpiece. Inspired by a French original using the basic format of the Arthurian romance, it shows the whole world to be corrupt and egotistical. Its cleverness, its dark humor, its cruelty and its mix of genres make this the seminal text in the international Reynard tradition.
  2. Conscience, Hendrik (1838), De leeuw van Vlaenderen (The Lion of Flanders). Derided in the Netherlands by contemporaries who were writing Literature with a capital L, which has no place for silly nationalist works. Even Flemish people tend to barely consider him readable, but it’s not even half as bad as it’s cracked up to be. And besides, how many novels can claim to have had the same kind of cultural impact? Flanders probably wouldn’t exist in its present form if it weren’t for this book.
  3. Multatuli (1860), Max Havelaar. One of the best novels of the 19th century in any language, provided you can get past the first chapter or two. Even though Multatuli is clearly mocking the kind of then prevalent preachy, moralistic, long-winded narrator, it’s the kind of parody that is almost indistinguishable from what is being mocked, at least for a contemporary reader. I have previously quoted what I considered to be a particularly poignant passage.
  4. Elschot, Willem (1946), Het Dwaallicht (Will o’ the Wisp). Sex, religion, Biblical references… this novella has it all. In Elschot’s work, even failure is glorious.
  5. Maria Dermoût (1955), De tienduizend dingen (The Ten Thousand Things). This book lives and breathes the eastern, taoist world view. I suppose you could compare it to Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, although it’s nothing like it. This is a fully engrossing, almost mythical world.
  6. Hermans, Willem Frederik (1958, 1966), Nooit meer slapen (Beyond Sleep, 1966) and De donkere kamer van Damocles (The Darkroom of Damocles, 1958). Hermans wrote several other very worthwhile books, but those two are definitely the big ones. All of his work is very dark and not everybody likes it, but I call it Dutch postmodernism at its best.
  7. Michiels, Ivo (1963), Het boek Alfa. I have some doubts about including this book on this list, but it’s the closest equivalent I can think of to something by Joyce or The Sound and the Fury. Just like Finnegans Wake it isn’t necessarily about something but rather embodies it, but it isn’t even half as incomprehensible. This is an important book in Dutch literature for sure, but I prefer The Sound and the Fury.

Hopefully I’ve managed to spark some interest in these works. Enjoy your summer reading!

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Warlords II Deluxe

This post is recycled, and was originally published on WatchZine on Thursday 2004-05-27 at 19:34:38 CEST. I tweaked some grammar and spelling here and there, but I resisted the urge to rewrite this entry almost entirely. I did not, however, refrain from commenting on myself.


Warlords II was released in 1993 as the successor to the successful turn-based strategy game Warlords. In the following years there were other additions to the series, such as Warlords III, it’s stand-alone expansion pack Darklord’s Rising, and Warlords IV. But Warlords II Deluxe has always been my favorite entry in the series.

Whereas Warlords II came with a limited number of army sets and maps, trapping the storytelling within the same imaginary place, Warlords II Deluxe came with hundreds of army sets, several different terrain sets and hundreds of city sets. This allows you to dive into a fantasy version of WWI today, while playing a mighty pirate the next. Or you could just play some fantasy setting, like the game was originally intended to.

For some 1995 polish to a 1993 game, the graphics look quite well. Just like with the original C&C, you don’t really see the pixels. [You did see them less on CRT monitors. But what I meant was that they were very well-done pixels, so that you didn’t notice them in an intrusive manner.] This is made possible because the units exist of one image, never changing. This also is the reason it is possible to create the hundreds of different settings I spoke about before.

I am not sure if Warlords II already contained it, but WIIDELUXE also came with a feature later introduced as “revolutionary”, Play By E-Mail. [Later introduced as revolutionary by whom? I guess we’ll never know. My best guess is that I was referring to Civilization III.] This shows us one of the positive things about turn-based games. Do what you want and send it to your friend. Such a game can go on for a long time. [A very, very long time. Let alone if you’re trying to play with more than two people. That being said, it’s still a lot easier to coordinate than trying to get online at the same tmie.]

Also the diplomacy is nice. Have a peace treaty with one player and have war with the other. For the time it was great, though it doesn’t come close to more modern games like Alpha Centauri and Civilization III. Regardless whether you’re playing Warlords II, Alpha Centauri, Civ or one of the Total War games, the AI’s diplomacy stance is always stacked against you from the moment of booking even the tiniest military success.

This is probably the only game I have regularly played since 1995. Because it doesn’t run on computers created after about 1997/1998 (unless they run an NT based OS) this is the main reason I still have my Pentium 100. [Well, there’s actually a patch for faster CPUs if you can still find it, although DOSBox is probably your best best now.] Quite amazingly, I don’t feel like the gameplay of Warlords II Deluxe has ever been beaten, except perhaps by Warlords III. But sadly Warlords III didn’t feature the many different settings of Warlords II Deluxe. [Truly, the game is incredibly elegant and well conceived. You can enjoy its gameplay through the open-source reimagining LordsAWar!, play the very similar online game warbarons, or you can even play the original Warlords II (not Deluxe) in your browser (!) over at Archive.org.]

But I’ve probably praised the game too much already. Let’s continue with the bad things. The AI isn’t the best available. When you are a reasonably experienced player, the computer opponents aren’t really difficult to defeat, even on the highest difficulty setting. There is a setting which tries to undo this (called “I am the greatest”). When you use this setting you are constantly at war with all computer opponents. This is indeed very difficult, but it doesn’t give the same feeling as using the diplomacy. For optimal gameplay you should play it with 8 humans. [I don’t think I ever played it with more than 4, maybe 5 people. But the more the better, I guess?]

The units, the buildings, the terrain etcetera are completely editable. But you can’t skin the entire game with the standard settings. For example, on the start of a turn there is a dragon, with the turn number. It would’ve been nice if you simply could’ve selected a tank for that in, say, the WWI scenario. [A tank? You mean a zeppelin!]

I bought this game for about 5 Euro in 1996. [Meaning about ƒ10,- (10 Guilder).] You can now purchase it on SSG’s website for a small price. [Alas, I don’t think you can buy it anywhere anymore.] If you have a computer at home made before 1998, and after 1993, I assure you, you won’t be disappointed by this game. Even my friends who don’t like strategy like this game. [I probably meant RTS.] Or alternatively, if you have Windows 2000 or XP, get yourself VDMSound and play this game on your brand new computer![Nah, get yourself DOSBox. Works like a charm.]

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Failing Automation is (Almost) Always Fun

Just so long as you don’t depend on it. In this case we’ve got Gmail’s automated translation feature, which I’ve probably only used once or twice in the past decade in order to see how it worked. Today it had the nice idea to suggest interference in English.


The original message. Must be French!

After translation. Yup, removing that one word really helped me understand this mysterious language.

There is in fact French text hiding in the conversation history. Funny thing though — there’s no suggestion to translate on any of the preceding or following messages that are actually in French. So it goes.

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Scanning with an HP MFP (multi-function peripheral) on Debian

You need to install hplip. It looks like something’s still off about the colors compared to Ubuntu and Windows, and I can’t figure out what the difference is. Alas. :/ Also, don’t buy HP.

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Less is More

A minimal Debian install comes without the ability to view man pages. Fair enough, it’s minimal after all. But they can be quite useful. A sudo apt install man later results in man pages being shown. That’s all, folks? Unnfortunately not, because the man pages are shown using the more command, which doesn’t allow for scrolling up and down with the arrow keys or j and k, Pg Up and Pg Dn, and all the other usual niceties. To fix you need to sudo apt install less, a “pager program similar to more.” And better, at least on any machine with sufficient RAM. Meaning anything anyone is likely to use in 2016, or probably also in 1990 for that matter.

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