Bernlef (formerly also known as J. Bernlef) was born Henrik Jan Marsman in 1937 in Sint Pancras, a village north of Alkmaar, in The Netherlands. After obtaining his high school diploma in 1955, he worked in a bookshop until he was drafted for military service. His first poems were published in a magazine under his real name until the late 1950’s, when a reviewer mentioned a late author by the same name. Bernlef resided in Sweden several times between 1958 and 1960, where he started his writing career. Upon his return to The Netherlands in 1960 he published his first volume of poems “Kokkels” (t: Shells) and a collection of short stories “Stenen spoelen” (t: Stone Rinsing). Five years later his first novel “Stukjes en beetjes” (t: Bits and Pieces) followed. Since then he has written numerous poems and short stories as well as several essays, film scripts, plays, reviews, and a book on jazz. He has translated the Swedish authors Lars Gustafsson, Per Olof Sundman, and Tomas Tranströmer, as well as the American authors Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore into Dutch. Bernlef has been awarded with numerous prizes, including the Constantijn-Huygens-Prijs for his complete works in 1984, and the renowned PC Hoft-Prijs for poetry in 1994. His theoretical, as well as experimental, investigations into language and text have exerted a decisive influence on Dutch literature. Declaring any existing text to be literature, the avantgarde magazine “Barbarber” became the platform for him and his co-founders Karl Schippers and Gerard Brands from 1958 to 1971. The group experimented with literary forms, drawing their inspirations from Dada to everday speech. In his position as editor of the literary magazine “Raster” between 1977 and 1987, Bernlef again focused his attention on the borderline between poetry and prose. Both his poems and his prose keep challenging the question of how far subjective and objective experience, memory and its loss, observation and reception can be cast into language. Thus his bestknown novel “Hersenschimmen” (1984; engl. “Out of Mind”, 1988) conveys an Alzheimer patient’s gradual decline in his powers of memory. Bernlef’s factual, even detached style offers a precise insight into the process of losing coherence until the protagonist’s disconnected perceptions can no longer be translated into words and end in total alienation. Bernlef recently published the novel “Op slot” (2007). He lives and works in Amsterdam.
The author died on October 29, 2012.
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