Column Beurskens: The reception of Gerard Reve.
A few weeks ago I had dinner with Nop Maas, the official biographer of Gerard Reve. Reve is a famous Dutch writer, who died some time ago. After all he is the emancipator of homosexuality … Nop said. Also we talked about the reception of Reve in later days, about how people will think of him finally. Some speculation is affordable nowadays, because he isn’t around anymore to rise up against one as the ghost of Machelen -that is where he lived- and contradict everything one says. The formation of legend about the saint may begin.
Last year I sat in a Sunday-mass at a church in San Francisco. In the sermon the priest said, that the faithful had to prepare themselves, that tomorrow the shit is going to hit the fan . A trial would take off about priests who abused children, and about church authorities, who didn’t do anything about it. Later I heard that it all ended much worse than expected. It became far much more than having to sell some unused churches, as the priest predicted hopefully that Sunday.
Pope Benedict a few weeks ago visited Valencia and Prime-Minister Zapatero didn’t come to mass, because the Pope had spoken negatively about gay marriage. Of course Benedict was right. There is no gay marriage. Naturally there is a partner-contract, adoption, blessing in the church etc. because when people save themselves together in the desert of western society, and manage to be happy, that’s fantastic.
At the other hand Benedict shows clearly in his recent encyclical Deus caritas est, that he has an eye for the dilemma. A human being without eros not only doesn’t exist, but to everything he is belongs eros. Without eros no amor, and also no creativity for example. Although it is the vision of church it often wasn’t put into practice. Ascesis was the answer to every onslaught of eros. And then also amor went down the drain, and caritas.
On the other hand in western society eros often sinks back to the level of the leather-bar. And then also amor goes down the drain. There certainly is a reduction of eros in the western world to a unique level of mechanics, hardly ever seen in history. Extreme ascesis and an eros which controls everything boil down to the same thing. In this way the catholic church often sits in the same barge as western culture. It wants to do exactly the opposite as the culture of death which it loathes. And in the end it turns out not to be that much different from it. After all les extrèmes se touchent. The wall between extreme ascesis and sexual extremes is paper-thin. The road from a certain kind of spirituality in many a catholic seminary to obscure parking places doesn’t appear to be that long sometimes. As the Buddhist says, the Ganges can be canalized, but the tiniest mountain stream cannot be halted.
Gerard Reve knew that about these holy things one cannot speak in terms of law. With the law in hand not everything catholic has been said, because it is too simple to say that catholic tradition is right -although it is-, and Reve knew that. As Saint Paul already said this struggle cannot be ended in this life. If there is only the Law one sees the extremes by which the church is being terrorized so much, however true the law nevertheless might be.
Reve will not be remembered as the emancipator of homosexuality; he will be remembered as the emancipator of the real catholic view on homosexuality, as somebody who has lived it through by his own blood, sweat and tears and shaped it in his mysterious language. No law can express everything catholic, but in his language Gerard Reve could. He has known how not to talk about things that cannot be expressed in language, as the post-structural language-philosopher would have it. He himself searched in his language for salvation through allusion, a way of talking about things which cannot be put straightforward.
Reve has found something in love which transcends the catalogue of morals, something which the Pope also makes clear in his text. This conflict caused the neurosis in Reve himself, as his psychiatrist once put it, a neurosis which could well be transformed into money, he seems to have added. And indeed Reve has been one of the very few who has been able to live off his writing in the Netherlands. It lasted some time before the great people’s writer -as he called himself- comprehended that it wasn’t a neurosis. When he finally got it, he became catholic, the only logical conclusion. And in the end it made him the most unforgettable of the great three in contemporary Dutch literature, the only timeless one. That is also why it is an absurdity to state that Reve would be the driving force behind the gay parade or gay marriage. At the other hand he could give the catholic church some useful advise on how to terminate her liaison dangereuse with Western eros. Then in the future it might not be necessary anymore to keep a separate chapel for abused children in the cathedral of Los Angeles.
Once Reve came in Scherpenheuvel, a great place of devotion and pilgrimage to Mary in Belgium. He was struggling again with his negative self-image, and as usual he endlessly portrayed to himself his own wickedness. Then and there the Mother of God spoke to him herself … Gerard, I forbid you speak about yourself in this way . It seems that after that he entered a nearby chocolate-store and bought a box of chocolates for Her … but not all of them at once … he seems to have added when he took it to Her. One cannot have it much more catholic.
Reve indeed is a liberator. So Nop Maas is right after all. Gerard Reve will be remembered as the emancipator of homosexuality, but not in a way this statement would suggest at first view.