Oeuvre prize for writer Lidy van Marissing: elusive texts as a sign of resistance

Oeuvre prize for writer Lidy van Marissing: elusive texts as a sign of resistance

“Almost everything from then, from my books and from the literary world, is very far away,” said the almost forgotten Lidy van Marissing in a recent interview – it was the first with her in decades. The interviewer had had difficulty tracking her down. But what the 81-year-old writer and poet noted about her memories also applies to her books: they “are there, hidden somewhere.” Now a bigger spotlight is shining on Van Marissing’s oeuvre than ever before: she has been awarded the Sybren Polet Prize, a three-yearly oeuvre award worth 35,000 euros for experimental literature.

This was announced on Tuesday evening in the radio program Kunststof. Van Marissing (1942), after Peter Verhelst and Michael Tedja, is the third laureate of the prize, which is named after experimental poet Sybren Polet and financed from his legacy. The jury, consisting of Dutch scholars and authors, speaks of an oeuvre that “shows involvement, playfulness, wonder and curiosity in a very inventive, constantly new way.”

In literary history, Lidy van Marissing is best known as one of the pioneers – and the only woman among them – of ‘other prose’, a marginal literary movement from the 1970s. These authors swore off literature that revolved around ‘storytelling’ from a socially critical, Marxist background. The ‘ordinary’ language is a reflection of the prevailing ideology, they believed. Their prose had to be ‘different’ in response, by undermining logical order and continually problematizing the creation of texts and stories. Because order was appearance, reality was disorder.


‘Notes on a ‘difficult’ book’, was the afterword to Van Marissing’s debut novel Dissolution (1972) – she left journalism out of dissatisfaction and boredom. Her literary work provided freedom: a montage of fragments and scenes from (capitalist) society, inspired by the ‘alienation technique’ of modernist film and by the committed art of Bertolt Brecht. Became an ‘anti-novel’ Dissolution as mentioned, a strange and unreadable book too. Van Marissing nevertheless spoke of “realistic literature”, which “makes social patterns and contrasts visible.” [maakt] as movements that are reversible: the masters were once slaves, the slaves can become masters.”

The class struggle was her theme, although it gradually developed into alienation and displacement. Van Marissing shows inner worlds that are plagued by an overly compelling outer world of capitalism and commerce. This often took the form of poetry, for poems could be “points of crystallization within the rushing and all-eroding machine of reproduction.” The apparent romance of the titles, such as The splash of a flake (1991) and The leap of a snail (1994), was a sham. Poems were “signs / of some resistance, a resistance (here / nothing sings as it should) against rushed / words.”

The combination of cultural pessimism and elusiveness often stood in the way of appreciation from critics, let alone a large readership. However, her work is still read by a new generation of socially inspired men of letters, such as poet Frank Keizer – and including the jury members of the Sybren Polet Prize, who saved her from oblivion. In her last collection of poems, Find the empty areas (2008), Van Marissing wrote, in modest brackets: “(that only/ about which/ no grass will grow/ they later call/ history).”