There are few Flemish writers who have written about their time as accurately and sharply as Brussels’more brains‘-essayist August Vermeylen (1872-1945), born 150 years ago on 12 May. His call for community building and art is higher than ever today: from Sammy Mahdi, who wants to turn CD&V into a ‘community party’ again, to Mark Elchardus’ prayer for communitarianism in his book. reset†
Not just language movement
Reasons enough to draw attention to August Vermeylen’s work again. That is why it is organized Teirlinck House in Beersel on Sunday 15 May at 4 pm a tribute to perhaps the best Flemish essayist ever. At the age of seventeen, the young Brussels resident Vermeylen already wrote in the magazine Young Flanders to rebel against the ‘small-sighted dry stubble and thick-skinned calf brains’. “Laugh out loud at them, the scribbles, the pen lickers, whose tenacious sentences are as colorless and long-haired as macaroni.”
Vermeylen searched and found like-minded young sky-stormers. Together with Stijn Streuvels, Cyriel Buysse, Karel van de Woestijne and Emmanuel de Bom, he was to write the groundbreaking literature magazine. From now and later in the 1890s, where he would commit his most famous essays. In the meantime, through the Brussels-Flemish literary society De Distel, he had also become acquainted with papa Isidoor Teirlinck and his son Herman. In his well-known essay Criticism of the Flemish movement from 1896 this younger generation with Vermeylen as her mouthpiece bedded her the pursuit of Flemish public life and literature in an explicit social context in: ‘The Flemish movement must not just be a language movement, but a social effort in the broadest sense of the word.’
With root in our own soil
In his legendary essay The Flemish and European movement Four years later, Vermeylen went a step further by claiming that Flemish autonomy only made sense from a European perspective. By opening up to other European cultures, Flemish culture could really take root. Hence his iconic concluding sentences: ‘To be something we must be Flemings. We want to be Flemish to become Europeans. ‘
But Vermeylen’s cosmopolitan stance at first sight did not prevent him from insisting time and time again on the importance of a Flemish language, literature and art.: ‘Our mission, rooted in our own land, is the cultural life of our neighbors in us to work into our own lives.’
Vermeylen spoke of ‘community art’ in this context: ‘The art to come, – community art? The meaning of this term has often been mutilated, but I can not find a more appropriate word (…). ‘ In 1903 after the founding of yet another new literary magazine, he Flanders return to the contours of Flemish literary social art. Only when Flemish writers – in collaboration with their European colleagues – have found their own voice can Flemish literature act as a springboard for broader Dutch-language literature in the north and south.
The latter he calls a Greater Dutch literature: “Perhaps one day we can greet the dream of a greater Dutch civilization and Greater Dutch literature in full solid daylight. But not before, when we have just become our own, when these people will have earned themselves according to their own nature and their own strength of growth. (…) The future of our literature is inseparable from the future of our people (…). ‘
Miles between pot and pint
When Joachim Coens was still dreaming of one mark of the current CD&V he referred to a party ‘by and for the people’. Mahdi, who is expected to take over the torch, is now clearly talking about a ‘community party’ and will focus fully on ‘community building’. In short, after 150 years, Vermeylen is also making school in Flemish politics.
I wonder if literature professor Hans Vandevoorde, who is working on a biography of Vermeylen, will also talk about this in his lecture on Sunday in Teirlinckhuis. He initially promises to measure the chain in Vermeylen and Teirlinck. It is known, after all, that both writers preferred to cultivate their Brussels roots in Pajottenland through the Mijolclub, a monthly gathering between pot and pint (gueuze!), Where the popular baking game was practiced.
Vandevoorde has been keeping an eye on Vermeylen’s work for years. Five years ago, he compiled Vermeylen’s two best-known essays, along with a few high-profile reflections on the other acclaimed cultural flamingo, Jozef Deleu, in the booklet How to be Flemish? And last year, Vermeylen’s war diaries were published under his impulse. I like best with a pen in handas these journal entries were called between 1939 and 1944, had never been published before.
Meanwhile, we have to wait for the definitive story of the literary millennial Vermeylen. If you want to know more about Vermeylen’s early years, you can already visit the cinema that Chris Ceustermans recently dedicated to the lesser known Antwerp author Emmanuel de Bom, companion on the route from Vermeylen to about 1914. Ceustermans describes in scents and colors how Vermeylen at the time acted as a Brussels spider in the literary web and drew everyone by name and fame to himself†
Yeast of biscuit bread
When Vermeylen died in 1945, he had a new leaf in the mold with an equally well-known name. This New Flemish magazine (NA) would be led by Herman Teirlinck after Vermeylen’s death. He posthumously published Vermeylen’s last essay in its debut issue. IN The task Vermeylen voluntarily calls for the fire of the Flemish movement, which he himself had set in motion fifty years earlier: ‘As Edward Anseele once exclaimed in his own way in the Association of Literature Scholars: the Flemish people are excellent dough, be you the yeast at make a delicious shortbread! ‘
After World War II, Flemish literature, in any case, gained a new dynamic with NVT. Hugo Claus wanted his first novel there Metsiers in the publication, while editorial secretary Hubert Lampo did everything to keep the magazine afloat financially. Ivo Michiels, Johan Daisne and Maurice Gilliams were other well-known names from the NVT stable. Just to say that Vermeylen’s enthusiasm gave Flemish literature wings even after his death. Until today.