Daniëlle Zawadi: Gasping
Eighteen young Flemish and Dutch authors have taken inspiration from seventeenth-century artefacts from the Rijksmuseum. Looking at these objects, what eureka moments do they see? Daniëlle Zawadi wrote a text in response to The Meeting of Odysseus and Nausicaa, a painting by Jacob Jordaens. ‘Tell us Odysseus, how do you keep going?’
Jacob Jordaens, The Meeting of Odysseus and Nausicaa, ca. 1630 – ca. 1640 © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
How does a bird sing without vocal cords, when its species is known for its vibrant song? How does a barren oasis feed a lion that has lost its way? How does a caterpillar handle death before it transforms into a butterfly? How does a messenger bear witness to the loss of his motherland? How does a child say sorry for a lie that’s been exposed? How does a dawdler greet the 25th hour? How does a king forgive the death and dishonour of his son? How does an army acknowledge the blood of a recently conquered nation? How does a servant translate the song that’s hummed during unsung labour? How does a stranger view a history after digging into it? How does the head of a narcissus die after drooping under its own weight? How does a sheep walk down the mountaintop after seeing that it can’t catch up with the herd? How does a writer scratch the words off the page after readers complain about a lack of beauty, about the architect’s fingerprints being too obvious? Too human?
How do you do that without shame, Odysseus, once mighty and now begging for help?
How do you not give up long after the war has ended? After the spoils have been divided. The statues erected. The landscapes renamed. A generation raised on the story in which your name is mentioned and from which they learn that you, such a resourceful figure, drowned in a fictional sea.
Tell us Odysseus, if it really is you, draped in greenery and scars, are you only human?
Tell us Odysseus, how do you keep going?
What do you swallow without it leading to suffocating shame?
I’ve learned not to make friends, only allies. I’ve learned that my character evokes not sympathy but jealousy. I’ve learned to love myself, as no one else is going to keep me alive. I’ve learned that every day, sometimes every second, the sea changes colour when I decide not to give up. And for every glistening first glimpsed, I overcome the test that comes with it. And each time it chips away at my humanity, my history, my dignity. See me standing naked before you. What remains is the essence. The narcissist whose head has not collapsed under the weight of his own hubris.
Not yet anyway, because I’m unsure of your help. I’m unsure about tomorrow, and the days to come.
But I’ve learned to relax my jaw after the victory with the wooden horse. I’ve learned to move like the tall grass in the wind. Like my ships somewhere deep within the fictional sea, in a fictional story. It can end here if you like. It can take root here if you like.