22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Stefan Hertmans

Portrait Stefan Hertmans
© Ali Ghandtschi

Stefan Hertmans was born in Ghent in 1951. As a professor and director of studies at the University College in Ghent, he focused on art criticism, continental philosophy, hermeneutics and agogics (till 2010). In 2013, he was Visiting Professor at the University in Gent. He has given talks and lectures at prestigious institutions such as the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, the Sorbonne and the University of Mexico.

As one of the most renowned and most influential authors in Dutch, Hertmans has published several prose works, over a dozen books of poetry, several collections of essays on literary criticism, philosophical and cultural-historical themes as well as a number of plays. In 1994 his first stage play, »Kopnaad« premiered at the Kaaitheater in Brussels under the direction of Jan Ritsema. Ironic and symbolic, his novel, »Naar Merelbeke« (1994; tr. To Merelbeke), is a phantasmagorical alienated childhood story that develops its own logic in the overlap between perception and imagination. »Steden« (1998; En. »Cities«, 2001) contrasts markedly subjective impressions of various European cities. In philosophical and intimate episodes Hertmans appears in silent dialogue with urban architecture and history. Sensitively he captures the atmosphere, following legendary writers on their paths and praising the city as a space of deeply human communication. In the award-winning poem cycle »Goya as hond« (1999; tr. Goya as a Dog) Hertmans imagines fictional situations in the creation of such iconographic paintings as, »The Third of May 1808« and »Saturn Devouring His Son«. In his most recent book, the enthusiastically received, »Oorlog en terpentijn« (2013; tr. War an Turpentine) visuality continues to play an important role. Hertmans reconstructed the biography of his grandfather from posthumous notebooks and diaries. Approaching the posthumous records he expertly depicts non-chronological scenes from a childhood spent in poverty, traumatic experiences at the front during the First World War and a passionate devotion to painting. Brilliantly weaving together individual biographies, contemporary historical upheavals, text and image the past and present overlap. Thus, for example, a trip with his son to London’s National Gallery revealed Velásquez’ »Venus at her Mirror«, a painting which the author had just rediscovered that his grandfather had once reproduced. This belated insight into unfamiliar desires is testament to the current generations’ urge to explore artistic expression as a means of mutual understanding.

Hertmans is the recipient of the Arkprijs van het Vrije Woord (1989), the Belgian State Prize for Poetry (1995), the Ferdinand Bordewijk Prize (2002) and the prize of the Royal Academy of Dutch Language and Literature Studies (2008), among others. Most recently, he received the Flemish Culture Prize for Literature (2013). Hertmans lives near Brussels.