Listen to Elte read her own Mammoth:
“…if we could banish all [such] preconceptions when we read, that would be an admirable beginning. Do not dictate to your author; try to become him.”
Virginia Woolf – ‘How Should One Read a Book?’
Exactly a hundred years ago, in 1922, some of the most important books in the history of Western literature were published. They were different, more daring and personal than before, erotic, breaking with taboos and challenging tradition and authority. They sought to expand our consciousness and to deepen the senses by searching for new forms, shapes and language. James Joyce’s Ulysses, but also T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, and Herman Hesse’s Siddharta,were all published that year. By the same token, Bertolt Brecht’s Baal and Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duineser Elegien were completed that year, and Franz Kafka started writing his novel Das Schloss. The same year also witnessed the translation of important literature, such as Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, which was published in English for the first time in the important and celebrated translation by C.K. Scott Montcrieff.
Times were changing, there was turbulence and excitement, throughout all levels of society and the arts. Modernism was what this unruly phase was named, although the term was not new. The wave of renewal was not so much defined in terms of style, but rather came about as a result of considerable unrest in the people and in (a post-industrial) society at large. In the arts, the reader, the writer, the publisher, the visual artist were all clearly eager to explore new boundaries and styles and, by replacing the existing patterns, even to break with them if necessary. This was caused by a multitude of factors. Unsurprisingly, a lot of books and articles have been written about this period, many about the year 1922 alone—but it is not my place here to go into detail. What l will say is this: the roaring twenties were chaotic—frightening for some, but liberating for others.
And here we are, in 2022. A new year, a century later, and I see parallels and similarities. The restlessness, the Covid pandemic (at that time it was the Spanish Influenza), the breaking up of Europe (with Brexit as a warning of further disruption), the search for new ways of expression with which new generations could convert their voices into art, politics, and literature. Sexuality and gender, religion and spirituality, identity and culture, migration and climate are all examples of literary themes that are anxiously awaiting to be shown in a new light; frightening and chaotic, for some, but liberating for others. There is turbulence and excitement, that much is certain. And maybe this is a period in which we can try to detach ourselves from any type of -ism that has ever attempted to capture the waves of time.
From our perspective, that is good news. At publishing house HetMoet, we like a little turbulence. We like the excitement involved in investigating new possibilities that can help us explore or move the presupposed boundaries, endeavouring to search beyond predetermined structures and surpass systems of shame and taboo. All of this begins with language—we need language. We cannot ever dispense with language, except perhaps in dance and music.
During the modernist period, a theory called structuralism evolved within the field of the humanities. The main idea of structuralism is that all elements of human nature and culture are connected and must be understood by way of their connections and relationships within a broader system. Structuralism works to reveal these underlying structures, even the ones that are not easily perceived or are even unconsciously present. Ultimately, structuralism is a complex combination of methodology and critical analysis within (linguistic) philosophy and other disciplines in the humanities, which aims to critique the pre-existing systems that mankind thus far has placed at the centre of its self-understanding.
Literature at HetMoet: An exercise in deconstruction
The philosopher Jacques Derrida took the methodology of structuralism a step further and questioned why issues are often formulated in this-or-that structures. Derrida, an ardent reader and lover of literature—at one point, he had fourteen thousand books in his personal library— always regarded a text as a dialogue: a dialectics between the reader, the writer, and the characters, with all the ensuing complications. He did not only consider the content, but focussed mainly on the structure of the text. Language can, after all, always create new interpretations and ideas by continually creating new combinations of words.
He called this technique or method deconstruction—not to be confused with destruction. Deconstruction wishes to destabilise the dominant presupposed structures which enforce a multitude of binary oppositions that are considered ‘natural’ or ‘logical’: man/woman, black/white, present/absent, love/hate. Deconstruction considers these binary oppositions to contain hierarchies, which are not as natural, self-evident, or innocent as they may seem; one term is always given a more privileged position than its opposite. By destabilising these generally accepted oppositions—by flipping the system on its head, if you will—deconstruction forces one to reinterpret these hierarchies, and therefore reinterpret one’s view of reality.
The consequential chaos is not necessarily a solution, but it undeniably contributes to the expansion of our consciousness, and ultimately to a better understanding of Derridean différence. This will, in the best scenario, lead to a stronger sense of solidarity and generosity.
Against this backdrop, examining each other’s and our own boundaries creates a space for new perceptions and thus for new (his)stories. With this in mind, deconstruction carries the promise of new interpretations—ones that are, as much as possible, stripped of (imposed) hierarchical structures. This will grant a ‘truth’ of a text—which had previously been delegated to the margins—to occupy centre stage.
Destabilising this ‘system’ thus creates a space for smaller narratives, some that may have been marginalised. And all of these narratives, by people like you and me—who cannot and certainly do not always want to be labelled and compartmentalised; who cannot be confined, who cannot be fitted and measured—connect us to one another. Again, a new coherence arises, a larger narrative that can then again be deconstructed.
There may be people who, at this point, sigh deeply and think to themselves: ‘But in this way, we will forever be building, breaking down, redefining, reformulating, finding new interpretations of words for new meanings… Will it never end?’ The good news is: no, it will never end. Let’s, by all means, hope it doesn’t! Because this means we will always continue to create and to connect narratives, which in itself can be regarded as a way of survival. We keep ourselves and each other alive by creating new narratives and new insights; new language and new values.
So do not be afraid of a little chaos. Do not be afraid if you cannot label someone within a gender-fixed pattern. Do not be afraid when you cannot put a work of art in the seemingly appropriate category. Do not be worried when you cannot distinguish fiction from non-fiction, or poetry from prose. Embrace it; embrace the difference, turbulence and defiance: the more stories are shared, the more connections are made. Try to go against the grain now and then, to improvise. Try another way of interpreting and reading, writing and painting, thinking and dreaming. Start by shaking up your own system, the one you were brought up in, fed from the cradle, told in school, church or country.
We at HetMoet are curious about what Ulysses, The Waste Land or Duineser Elegien will emerge from these brand-new twenties. Whether they will be epic stories, or tiny words in the corner of a book, or very different narratives, all of which must be written and read, all containing their own truth. And by sharing them, they will create kinship and solidarity alongside the sustenance, the comfort, and the inspiration of our wandering souls.
Not ‘either-or’ but ‘and-and’
The above lies at the core of our ethics and values; it is the raison d’être of HetMoet Publishers. There is nothing outside the text, but to truly understand what you’re reading and allow it to affect you, you should dare also to explore what is written in the margins of the text, to explore the voice of the pieces explicitly left unwritten. Or as Virginia Woolf—who would have highly appreciated Derrida’s work, methinks—says: at the very least, a reader has to treat a book, a story, with the highest form of respect and consider it from as many angles as possible. This enables a close reading of the text, which makes the reader a part of its entire construction.
The mammoth in our logo is the personification and amalgamation of all these intricate theories. An extinct animal with vigour and primeval force endeavours to break out of its borders, trying to escape certain laws and conventions, daring to make a free fall, perpetually shifting and moving, crossing boundaries, perhaps causing tumult and commotion, ideally creating space for new interpretations, for truths hidden in the margins. It is no coincidence that ‘The Fool’ is the first card in a tarot deck. We too choose the road of the hero! The untrodden path. We do not settle for either-or, but reach for and-and.
It is in this context that we have, in recent years, chosen to publish books which are not easily classifiable, which are not obvious choices—books that evoke questions and a certain irritation or distress. For example, I am very happy with the Dutch translation, by Callas Nijskens, of Lucia Osborne-Crowley’s book I Choose Elena, because this book is a true deconstruction of the author’s very personal and painful narrative. Without taking centre stage, Osborne-Crowley examines, from her own experience, the equally important narratives of others in her essay about living with a chronic bodily trauma after being raped at the age of fifteen. This year, we intend to publish a Dutch edition of her latest book: My Body Keeps Your Secrets, translated by Jolanda Treffers, who has also translated Bessel van der Kolk’s widely acclaimed book Traumasporen (The Body Keeps the Score). We publish these books with full conviction, despite the fact that we keep hearing “#MeToo books don’t sell”. In fact, the more often I hear noises like this, the more I am inclined to continue publishing such books.
At HetMoet publishers, we work out of strong ethical beliefs, which also results in proper appreciation for literature at large as well as for the creators—writers, editors, translators, illustrators and so on—of all these great ideas. Our main objective is to publish books that matter. In Dutch, the name of the publisher, “HetMoet”, is a play on words. HetMoet literally means “it must” (be done, be written, be shared, be said, be read... etc.).
We work together on books that matter, reaching much further than the centre of Amsterdam or even the Netherlands alone. Our designers—Steven Theunis en Thijs Kerstens from Armée de Verre—and our bespoke printer Jozias Boone are located in Ghent, Belgium. We also work with artists like Lousia Albani in London, Nick Morley in Margate, Octavie Wolters in Limburg (The Netherlands), and the Hungarian Laslo Antal in Berlin.
Progress, in the broadest sense of the word, defines us: being the only sailing publishing company in the Netherlands—we are not based in an office building, but on a historic sailing barge—we are literally always on the move, sailing to new horizons, sometimes even crossing the Channel. In the United Kingdom, we work together with authors and publishers, booksellers and loving readers. It is currently complicated or virtually impossible to do business here due to the Brexit-regulations, but we do it anyway. Every system can be deconstructed. A little persistence is warranted here, as is a good dose of intuition, creativity and the will to be always on the lookout for connection, kinship and solidarity with diverse and likeminded people.
Consequently, the first publication of this new year will be the special uk-Edition of On Being Ill. This book, already published in the Netherlands in the autumn of 2021, is a beautiful example of an exceptional collaboration between writers and artists from all around the world, with different backgrounds, cultures, languages, norms, and values. What they all have in common, however, are their thoughts and experiences of illness and literature, brought together in this book with an unusual cohesion: an intrinsic deconstruction of illness.
We do not cross borders with our English editions alone, but also with our many translations into Dutch. The last publication we launched in 2021 was the translation by Irwan Droog of Rememberings, the authentic and genuine autobiography of Ireland’s world-famous protest singer Sinéad O’Connor. She explicitly chose to publish her book at HetMoet because our radical, creative and audacious spirit appealed to her.
We like both old and new, both young and old. Everything contains its own truth, beauty, room for reflection, interpretation, meaning and expression. We therefore do not only travel beyond the borders of countries, but also beyond the borders of the current time period we live in. Alongside contemporary writers, we also publish the works of people who have died a long time ago, but who, by being read in another timeframe and context, are able to give us new insights that will create new dialogues and narratives. Charles Baudelaire, Henriette Roland Holst, and Mordechai Gebirtig are only some examples of such authors.
2022: A new literary year for books that Matter
As of today, team HetMoet contains four people and always has room for an internship of six months. The next intern will be Eva Soares, a young Portuguese woman who was raised in France and moved to America at an early age. Her multilingualism is something we very much welcome at HetMoet. The team includes a trio of powerful women, Miriam, Fannah, and Ilse, who possess Mammoth-strength and energy. Together we steadily and vigorously grow and go forward. We are always on the lookout for old and new voices and insights. HetMoet is a call for action on the part of the publisher, its readership and the communities we work with to engage with the social, embodied, affective and material transformations of society at large. We publish material by young authors and bring new translations to the attention of the reader.
The collaboration with poetry centre Perdu has been proven fruitful and inspiring, as are those with partners such as the poetry foundation Feest der Poëzie, and the historic sailing barge ‘de Vrijbuiter’ with whom we partnered up to organise literary events and our sailing-summer-writing-course—for which Stefanie Liebreks will be in charge of the curriculum. We are equally excited about our upcoming collaboration with ‘De Baaierd’ in the southern province of Zeeland, with whom we are working on the debut of an actual literary journal, promoting a platform for local artist and writers.
Thanks to our partnership with the experimental poetry centre Perdu, we will from 2022 onwards promote our Mammoths every three months by presenting them at live events which will encompass different artistic disciplines. The written Mammoths are published online on the first day of every month. Everything is possible and allowed in a Mammoth, as long as it contains literary quality and originality. We endorse creativity and idiosyncrasy, at all times. Here we have yet another one of our monthly Mammoths, of course!
Ever since HetMoet existed, especially in the past three years, much has happened, and much has not come to be. Due to illness and Covid-19, we have missed out on a lot. Plans have been cancelled or postponed; contacts with booksellers, fairs, colleagues, and our readers have sometimes come to a standstill for weeks on end. They have definitely not been easy years, but we are still here and will continue to create books that matter.
We adhere to our core values and principles; collaboration and partnership are crucial and decisive: you never make a book alone! Our books, and also our prospectus, are produced as sustainably as possible. The latter is published every five years, instead of producing endless flyers that end up in the bin along with ever-increasing consumer trash. We like to slow down instead of rushing things; we navigate and set course with due consideration of the elements, to put it in a metaphorical and nautical sense.
Welcome aboard HetMoet. If you thought that Mammoths were extinct, you are wrong— isn’t it a matter of interpretation at the end of the day? We are ready, as implied by our logo, to break out of the set boundaries and assumed structures, trying to move forward with force and reason, with passion and urgency. Beyond binary oppositions; beyond borders.
Come aboard, write and read HetMoet! It must be written; it must be read, it must be shared.
To start the new year of 2022, we are open to submissions in January. We accept manuscripts in Dutch as well as in English.
Elte Rauch is a writer and the founder of HetMoet Publishers. She obtained her Master’s degree in Philosophy and Social Sciences at Bristol University in England, where she lived for a long time. Today, she lives in Amsterdam on a historic sailing barge, on which the publishing company is situated. It is there that she sails, writes, reads, and publishes her books. Her novel Een vrouw met mooie borsten. Het dagboek van Veere Wachter (A Woman with Beautiful Breasts: The Diary of Veere Wachter) will be published in 2022 at Uitgeverij Cossee.