‘The seven ways of madness’ is the first novel of former technical student Durk Wille (1962). On a hotel room in Barcelona the central figure of the novel recollects his time as a student in Delft. ‘The writer has succeeded in passing on where others stop’, it is said on the book jacket. Since it is the Week of Books a conversation.
Someone with writer ambitions often toils for years on his first novel. But if friends read his finished manuscript a lot of things appear to be wrong. If the masterpiece finally is finished he makes an address list of land's most noted publishers and sends a massive bundle of papers to the one with the best publisher's list. Months pass and his patience is tested heavily. Then finally the answer falls on the matt: ‘With pleasure we took note of your manuscript. However ’
If the novel finally makes it to the shop, the novelist hopefully waits for reviews. It is not a joyful entry in the Land of Books when the critics all take notice of the new novel by Connie Palmen, but leave his work for what it is. When he has the luck that a critic of the newspaper the Eindhovens Dagblad takes the effort to read his book it is burned down to the ground.
When something like this happened to Durk Wille he did not take it lying down. In a wronged tone he wrote a letter to the literature editors of the daily and weekly newspapers with a thorough explanation of his book, because: “I am afraid a lot of critics take a header by the first pitfall without rising afterwards.”
At his home in a sparingly furnished new building apartment on the edge of the Schilderswijk in The Hague Wille excuses for the condescending tone of his letter. “I was startled that some see the book as vulgar and superficial,” he says. “When it comes to literature the book could have been better, but the power of my book is its contents. If you want to understand it well, you have to read it more than once.”
In ‘The seven ways of madness’ the central figure Dop, a chemist, looks back in Barcelona at his time as a student in the first half of the eighties. He is confused and messed up, because his short career as an engineer has come to a dead-ended sliding. Life did not bring him what he had expected.
When Dop still studied he had the ambition to make it to the top. We get to know him as an arrogant pusher who finds in his fellow student and house mate Jack the extreme antipole. Where Dop wants to make a lot of money as an engineer, Jack prematurely stops with his study and completely devotes himself to painting.
Wille: “I have split myself into Dop and Jack. Dop stands for choosing money and security, but not for what his heart really wants. Jack stands for someone who purely chooses for what he wants the most, hence not for security. Both end up bad, because they both miss a basis.”
But what does the writer consider to be a basis? “They miss self-confidence and the feeling that they made the right choices. Dop finds out that pure technology is not the right thing for him. Jack chooses for painting, but can't stand the continued absence of success and that is something you really have to be able to cope with as an artist.”
“I have the same problem myself. You need sufficient basis to keep on going. During the fourth year of my study I had a crisis. I asked myself whether or not I wanted to finish my study and found that I rather wanted to do something creative, but I didn't have enough basis. I first had to finish my study, work a few years as an engineer and only then I had enough basis to choose for what I really wanted.”
The writer, who graduated as a bio process engineer and who did environmental research at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, looks back with joy at his time as a student in Delft. He never had a passion for chemistry, but especially the three years in a student house at the Krakeelhof he liked very much. “Over there were a lot of people who were occupied with completely different things than their studies. All day they didn't do a thing. You felt a festive joy.”
We don't find a lot of that in his book. The floor where Dop and Jack live, together with their house mate Kristi, is rather gloomy. There are long discussions about God. Few words are spend on Delft. Dop's rambles through Barcelona get a lot more attention. He also gives extensive reports of an excursion to Brussels and of his time as a trainee at an oil-refinery.
The author thinks that the guiding principle of his novel is that everything in life is about feeling. “Dop stands for rationality and Jack for feeling. You can not say what feelings are. You just have to feel that. But you can say how feelings originate. And then you soon end up with the idea that you only can feel something thanks to the fact that you die. When you eat well, for instance, you life longer. That is why we were given the feeling that eating is good. We developed rationality to survive better, but rationality floats on feelings.”
In the last chapter of his novel the search for a basis of being ends with a scientific article, written by Jack. The article has the ambition to “to bring back cosmology to its original why-state. In doing so it joins astronomy and physics with philosophy, psychology and biology in a search for final answers”.
That is something that did not occupy scientists since Thomas of Aquino. “I just read ‘Sophie's World’ by Jostein Gaarder (a novel for children about the history of philosophy, ed.). Reading it I found that in following era's philosophers consider either thoughts or feelings to be the most important. I think I tackled that. I say that thoughts are nothing but feelings and that is completely new. Thoughts are very fast rows of feelings, so fast that you forget that thoughts purely consists of feelings.”
“Wille admits that he “hardly” did research for his book. “Though, I always followed all scientific branches. About six or seven years I read the science part of the NRC (Dutch daily newspaper, Eit). If you do that for seven or eight years you run into all kind of things. Of course it is a very good question whether or not such a theory is a level too high. I am not a cosmologist, physicist, astronomer, philosopher nor psychologist. I just have a MSc chemical engineering and a general basic knowledge of all sciences.”
“On the other hand you may wonder who then is going to come up with a theory that combines many different sciences to find basic answers. All scientists sit on their own small isles of knowledge and no one makes overall connections between all kinds of sciences. It is not that I wanted to get to it, but as Dop in Barcelona I would not take hold with my thoughts and feelings. I got ideas about all kind of things and several times thought ‘this is a breakthrough’. That is how, one by one, things came up. Later it took a lot of effort to write that theory of fifteen pages, but first that theory was two hundred pages!”
Still, Wille considers himself rather a novelist than a theorist. “That rational part is likely to stay, but for me it is all about transferring feelings by paper. I want to go on with that. A year ago I was very frustrated, because it is damn rotten if no one wants to publish your book. But now that is fulfilled it feels like I have found what I wanted.”
‘The seven ways of madness’ by Durk Wille has been published by Kwadraat; ISBN 90-6481-243-8; 29.90 guilders.