AHJ Dautzenberg wrote a novel full of provocative sex and violence, but why?

AHJ Dautzenberg wrote a novel full of provocative sex and violence, but why?

The question that remains after reading The five: why does one horror take your breath away, while another leaves you cold? Why do you remain unmoved by the girl who is worked on in this novel with a wood plane and a hammer, and the woman into whose colostomy bag boiling water is poured, while a news photo of a minor war victim does move you?

In any case, we all know, it has something to do with dosage: excess is harmful, too many images of war are also dull – and the horrors in the novel go on and on. The five is about four teenage girls who, under the guise of absolute personal freedom, cross all conceivable boundaries: sexually, in violence. Murder, mutilation, torture, rape (where the freedom of one also means the suffering of the other).

Why, what for? Especially because AHJ Dautzenberg (1967) develops an idea with it: The five is said to be a contemporary libertine novel, in the supposedly venerable tradition of the Marquis de Sade, who also liked to describe whatever he wanted, because that was personal freedom.

Why would you want to repeat that now? Because Dautzenberg wants to explore ‘freedom of expression’, he writes in his foreword, ‘and in particular the position that art occupies in that discourse’. To this end he devised quite a construction: the story of the debauched teenage girls, which is a series of horrors and at first glance is therefore intended as a provocation. But he constructed another story around it, about an AI writer. Based on libertine texts and the complete oeuvre of AHJ Dautzenberg, the novel is said to have been generated by artificial intelligence – thus revealing a truth about human motivations. And the AI ​​writer is also ‘playing a dirty game with me’, according to the writer. The point is that ‘overtones’ will sound, so that you realize ‘what exactly is happening’.


Who The five wants to take seriously, quickly gets bogged down in this kind of explanation – something that often occurs in Dautzenberg’s highly conceptual work. His previous two novels Axle load (2020) and Eyebright (2022) were literary constructions that had to be deconstructed and only came into their own with a meta-view. For The five the same applies: it is again a novel that exists primarily to be written, but not to be read.

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To be ‘transgressive’ or ‘pushing boundaries’, a novel must at least hold the reader’s attention, so here ‘interesting’ seems to be the highest possible compliment. But is that the intention? With his title, Dautzenberg refers to the children’s book series by Enid Blyton, who also wrote about four teenagers, with the fifth in the title assuming the reader: they were going on an adventure. You would like that The five can also assume that the reader is expected to fulfill that sympathetic role – although we are now going on an adventure of crossing boundaries, where the question is whether you can sympathize and empathize, and therefore become more or less complicit. Do you sympathize with the fun in sucking out an anus and castrating a boy alive, then waterboarding him with tomato juice?

Not so. You get into the violence The five especially the feeling that you are watching an adolescent torturing small animals: mischief because it is possible. And repeatedly. That’s boring as hell, and also a bit sad. The question of whether or not to sympathize is also about authenticity and humanity: bombed-out houses and dead toddlers are real suffering, while AHJ Dautzenberg in The five the atrocities completely stripped of humanity. The girls’ victims are made into objects: from the moment the four start working, no emotion is registered from their antagonists. And what drives these girls? There are hints of child abuse and curtailment – ​​but so casually that you don’t take them seriously.

Guardian of masculinity

The crux is that it has not been about that all along, about the provocations, about the suffering, or about sympathizing with the libertines. Dautzenberg’s game is mainly based on the construction with the AI ​​writer, on the ‘Puppet Master’. He is ‘the spiritual father of the girls’, ‘the virile guardian of masculinity, the man who can do magic with language and testosterone’, and the novel is about what drives him. Him, yes, because what the four girls also realize, namely that they, as avatars of the writer, represent his ‘male gaze’ and realize his fantasies, is crucial. What exactly happens here – and you might consider this a spoiler – is that a powerless, sexually impotent man in literature gives vent to his frustrations, because in reality he is no longer able to do so. Thanks to the ‘mean game’ of the AI ​​writer, it takes the form of AHJ Dautzenberg himself. So the why and wherefore, the driving force and authentic human core of the story, emerges: impotence. The man is pathetic.

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First of all, that’s lame: it feels like the writer is revealing that it was all just a dream. But secondly, that banal problem and its hysterical solution also make a farce of Dautzenberg’s lofty ambitions regarding freedom of expression and the position of art in that discourse. A ‘Wunderkammer’ chapter with quotes on that theme from our reality and a blackened chapter out of fear of religious fanaticism – it’s all seriousness used for a game that has no better reason than the game itself. In other words: freedom becomes fashionable The five defined as that a powerless man is ‘allowed’ to do whatever he can think of, especially in the manner of the Marquis de Sade: without concern for others. Let alone a reader.