Back to Their Desks
- BuyAmsterdam Stories by Nescio, translated by Damion Searls
NYRB, 161 pp, £7.99, May 2012, ISBN 978 1 59017 492 0
After publishing a handful of stories around the time of the First World War, Fritz Grönloh, an Amsterdam businessman, wrote almost nothing until his death in 1961. His small body of work is about artistic abortion and the frivolity of writerly dreams. And his pseudonym with its built-in negative contained this resignation. Nescio is Latin for ‘I don’t know’; and in his stories not-knowing, not-doing approaches a metaphysical ideal. ‘I’m not a poet and I’m not a nature-lover and I’m not an anarchist,’ says Japi, whose nickname gives the title to ‘The Freeloader’, the first of the Nescio stories published in Amsterdam Stories. ‘I am nothing and I do nothing. Actually I do much too much. I’m busy overcoming the body. The best thing is to just sit still; going places and thinking are only for stupid people.’
Vol. 35 No. 14 · 18 July 2013
Benjamin Moser writes: ‘The cumulative effect of a century’s reforms has been to cut the Dutch off from their literature’ (LRB, 23 May). This goes too far. In Moser’s example of the arbitrarily selective style of reformed spelling used by Nescio, only werti and datti would give pause to a Dutch reader, but (speaking personally) not for long. As Moser notes, there have been and still are many schools of language reform in The Netherlands. A particularly ugly example is the phonetic Dutch spelling of kompjoeter for ‘computer’. The only ordinarily noticeable instances of reformed spelling in Dutch, dating from the 1930s, are the elimination of the ‘n’ formerly tacked onto the end of nouns, adjectives and articles used in the dative case, and the elimination of one of the phonetically unnecessary double vowels in words such as eindelooze, now eindeloze. These changes are too insignificant to slow a reader down even slightly.