Me, the whereabouts

Born back in the fifties. Brussels, of all places.

Was a little boy at the time, still am in a sense. It takes a long time to get old, shed some of the stupidity one's been raised to embrace. We live in difficult times, rather void of sound cultural props. Samuel Johnson for instance, or Gotthold Lessing, nobody gives a hoot.

Well, I went through school, then the university and finally evening courses in journalism. There's a lot of romanticism in that, Faulkner made that very clear in Pylon, a tremendous book. That's what I've been doing ever since. Write, the only thing I can do actually, if you want to know.

The great Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf has repeatedly said that he'd chosen to write out of lack of an occupation. Also, that's all he could do, his only trade. Samuel Beckett said much the same thing: why write? "Bon qu'à ça". Mind you, no fairies here: to write is hard work, it's something you learn, you have to work on it real hard. Well, it rather fits me. Writing is the only thing I'm good at. I've written tons of newspaper pieces, a few books too. All in French.

So why the English here? It's neither my Swedish father's tongue nor my Belgian mother's. At home, we spoke Swedish and French. Soon enough, though, the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones came along, their lyrics, part of the family so to say. Same thing later with Kerouac, Ginsberg, Chomsky, and later still EP Thompson, AJP Taylor, Jameson and Eagleton. My expanded family. It was only natural to speak and think in English. Hollywood also played a part, the US cultural hegemony, the ultimate troll, bewitching the minds of the Old World. The red scare was never more than a veil hiding the scary grip of things American. Not to have learnt Russian and Chinese is one of my great regrets, or latin for that matter, I'm giving it a try these days.

English, needless to say, has become our inarticulate Globish. I've taken part in a great many cross-country meetings. Whether in Brussels, Berlin, Ljubljana or even Paris, it's the same baby-speak English, utterly and gratingly ugly to the ear, full of bureaucratic imbecile jargon. Sad to say. At cafés and restaurants in cosmopolitish Brussels, it's a typical sight: a Spaniard, say, conversing with, say, a Frenchman, and the first one doesn't know a word of French and the latter has no knowledge of Spanish, so they both speak, most unnaturally, painstakingly, awfully in a language that would horrify, say, Alistair Cooke or William Shawn. So it goes, as Vonnegut used to say.

But then English is grand medium, and very resourceful at that. I would be quite at loss without my weekly TLS or monthly Literary Review, and, daily, the Financial Times, one of the best papers in the world. There, I've had my say. At times, I'm writing in English.