JAN MENSAERT & JULIA TULKENS
 

The uncle and grand aunt from Alex.

The uncle of Alex, Jan Mensaert, was a writer. He lived for many years in Morocco. The country he liked the most. The grand aunt of Alex was Julia Tulkens, from Belgium, who became in Belgium pretty famous as a writer...

Here on this page, more about them. 

 

 


  
The communion card from Jan Mensaert, with official name: Jean-Marie Mensaert. From 1949

   
An old picture with on the left side Jan Mensaert and on the right side his father Maurice Mensaert
 
   
In 1986, Jan Mensaert was with a 2 pages big article in a Belgian newspaper. This was after his return from Morocco.

A scatch made by Jan Mensaert

This scatch was made for a friend of Jan, who we met over the internet and have send this to us.
 


A picture from the Holly Comunion of Jan Mensaert
 


Jan Mensaert around the same time with a friend
 

 

Alex about his uncle Jan Mensaert

I don't remember me that much, and mostly my uncle was in Morocco. I remember that he came almost every four year to Belgium to visit his mother, my grandmother. I lived with his mother. At that time, he was married with his American wife. He met her in Egypt. Together with my grandmother and grandfather, we went once to Morocco, to the city Larache, where he lived. That was in the year 1977. I was only seven at that time. I know that my uncle loved classic music. For sure Mozart. He even wrote once a book about this composer with the tittle: 'The suicide of Mozart'. I also remember that he wrote a lot of letters to his mother. She kept them in 2 big iron cases. I guess it was a few thousand letters.
When Jan came back from Morocco, I have seen how bad it went with him. Every day more and more. He could not live without Morocco. That country was the only country where he could get used.
I always wanted to write a book about him and his life but, my grandmother gave things from him to a museum in Belgium, Het Toreke at Tienen and without those things, it would be very difficult to write a book about him. Also, with the special style of living and the many adventures he did, I'm wondering or that all would fit in just one book.

     
Some pictures from the city Larache in Morocco, where the uncle from Alex, Jan Mensaert -lived for many years.

Some pictures from Jan, before he got married. In Morocco.
Jean-Marie Mensaert lived for many happy years in Morocco. Here are 65 pictures from that time.

 

Poems from the mountain of Lening.
One of the poem books that Jan wrote. In Dutch; The cover.

Merovingian poems.
One of the poem books that Jan wrote. In Dutch.

 

A text his ex-wife had send to us a time ago:

FROM EGYPT TO THE PRESENT

            I met Jan Mensaert in Marrakesh, Morocco, arriving there in the early morning of my first trip to Europe, alone. Realizing that it was necessary to have companions in this country, in contrast to France or Spain (I was 24), I had in my mind to find a friend. The ground-level terrace of a large café at Jemaa-El-Fna Square (overlooking where live snake charmers sat in the open, monkeys did acrobatics, and a dentist might set up instruments, to pull teeth and insert false ones, in the middle of the square in the heat of the day) was empty, except for one cup—without an owner, on top of a table. Inside the Café de France, many people were drinking coffee. However a quick glance assured me that they would not be acceptable friends. Therefore, I sat beside the coffee cup and waited.

            Not long afterwards he returned; as he read a French newspaper we began to talk. The spontaneous, comical nature of that beginning depicted one aspect of his approach to life; in reality he was in Marrakesh during a school break (he was an admired French teacher in a Spanish area of the country; the students needed to learn French for national exams; Larache, his home, had been under Spanish rule, whereas most of the country had been under the French). Jan Mensaert had arrived in Morocco, brought there by visions of The Arabian Nights, "Scheherazade," and the Orient, which he had pursued around the age of 20, in a hitchhiking trip to Bangkok and the East from his home in Belgium, undertaken on virtually no money—a trip where, among the colorful stories he was to recite about it, he had slept on the cold floors in temples and begged for old crusts of food, that bakeries amassed to throw away. Such a style imprinted his experience of life. The art of everything (adding those dimensions into a conversation for instance) intrigued and drew him. Anything done inartistically, he ignored.

            Back to that first meeting: he was visiting Marrakesh during the Ramadan festival, with a friend. Out of money, he had been up all night, playing cards in a smoking den, to win ticket fare to return to Larache. He had won. But his friend, not expecting him to win against Moroccans, had bet against him. So in reality he had lost. Thus the situation rested when I sat before his coffee cup. He strode back to the now-occupied table, the only one occupied on the terrace—carrying his newspaper, Le Monde. Looking for archetypes, one might see Desdemona, being introduced to someone who knew an unfamiliar part of the world. Alternately, he himself had come here to learn a section of the world unknown to him, romanticized—a cultural imprint he had to make connections with. He did not feel at home in the Western world—the materialistic preoccupations. He did feel at home here, in the loping countrysides of nature, where the people themselves made space when none existed—a family of 17 in a three-room house, for instance. No space existed outside, they learned how to make it in the society's customs. Probably those beyond the country boundaries never dreamed how it worked. Morocco was called "the thinking man's country." Of course, that was "man's," but we will not go into here what spirit the women were carrying, totally different. Lessons also—such as few can imagine, in the modern world: out of the heart of Africa, and in the backgrounds of our past, where pottery was made and cooking an all-day, sitting-on-the-floor art. Breads not known to exist were crafted here, delicate pastrylike breads, with "lace" formations as intricate as on any Brussels lace. It was the way the tradition had enforced a pre-terrorist consciousness. Looking back, I found something significant in the name of the newspaper, The World, and that he had handed to me the very introduction to this area of the world, that he himself had received from a friend he met at this same café—who took him into the indigenous situations that a born Arab could.

            Jan Mensaert's apartment in Larache, which I was now to discover, was unusual in the village, which rested on the Atlantic Ocean, on a beach that only men could respectfully walk on (yet he was increasing the female literacy rate significantly, in this teaching stint), with caves that had many-colored rock formations—where ships from Carthage had been viewed in the past. This was a contemporary of Carthage. The caves as well, if not older. The apartment, in a Moroccan neighborhood—once one opened the door—had an array of copper and brass handwork from both England and Morocco; along with his record player and perhaps 100 discs, from classical music to the complete Edith Piaff. The comedy of the initial meeting continued inside the apartment, in which an acquaintance seriously suggested buying me as a second wife.

            For five years this friendship flourished through correspondence—a friendship, not a romance. He had sat on a rock with me, overlooking the Atlantic, reading poems stored inside a trunk. I had encouraged him to publish them. By the sea he built a tomb of sand and pieces of twig and buried a beetle in it. Remarkably then, when all seemed finished, he added the concluding touch—a long walkway leading up to the tomb. I am sure I said not a word, as he built so retrospectively a monument from the past. I do not and did not know exactly to what it referred. But his reconstructions always had some connotations and references. This one rising out of the sand, with a beetle as its occupant, has so many mythological meanings that the very act of re-creating it now captures the imagination. Did he entomb the symbol of "Life" in burial, as in a pyramid or cave. And did he wordlessly also cross the barriers of spoken language with some unhinted-at, undreamed-of implications in the psyche—supposing one could take this dream language and authenticate it in life.

            Five years later, when we remet and married, we went to Egypt on our honeymoon, where he would buy me a scarab ring (lost in travel soon afterwards). From Cairo, to Karnak and Luxor, past the Nile, where he was eager to see the Valley of the Kings, entering the recessed area, where behind the door one saw gold relics of those centuries past; how the burial ceremony connected to the afterlife; the ritual preparations, things one should carry—plus  the towering statues and memorabilia. Everything was done in a giant way here. He could not believe that I did not know which end of the chariot to stand on. He of course did.

            When we visited the Sphinx in Cairo, a guide, saying that he would ride me through the near-desert of the Gaza Strip (a war zone at the time—in fact, a blackout had greeted our arrival—) in actuality galloped off, to the west, as if kidnapping me on camel. Though that could have been light humor, a newspaper reporter, showing us the pyramid, took the matter seriously. And went racing through the sand into the distance, chasing my camel. Jan Mensaert always accepted such situations as part of life—expecting the intensity as contributive to the source of his art. When things were truly serious, that was another matter. On that honeymoon, he converted to Islam (both from a belief in the religion and in an attempt to "burn his bridges"); this took place before the high Moslem religious leader, in Cairo—covered by the local reporters. He announced to me that I was to leave Egypt alone, because he wanted to walk his way up the Nile—as Richard Burton, the nineteenth-century explorer, had. For some days holding to this idea, he abandoned it because of the excruciating late-February temperature.

            Born artist, he felt that he had been showered with possibilities—he first wanted to be an architect (he noted the similarity of his name to the great "Mansart"), then painter or composer—only lastly directing the drive into poetry. So deeply historical was his mind, formed by culture and its expressions, that he used to draw up his own lists of the greatest ten painters, the top ten writers, of all time, and determine who he believed them to be. He hoped to join such a list. In the Ancien Régime, he told me, he would have had a patron; to support this, he cited the fact that he had been discovered at twelve, when reproducing a style of window that he would not have been expected to have seen. Left to himself without encouragement and discipline, self-taught at the piano, he suffered from lack of structure. In Larache he would draw blueprints of towns. Afterwards often put an arm over his eyes, and with the arm still blocking where the attack fell, he would bomb the blueprint with quick-landing pencil points.[1] This, in deep concentration. It speaks to such a poem as "The Bombs of Dresden." As a child, he said, he (like the psychologist C. G. Jung) had constructed block towers, then toppled them to the ground with his hands. About the physicalities of life, he paid little attention, which had disadvantages. He could do without material things. Alternately, he never protected what in himself needed physical protection. Though he was quick to care for wounded animals. In fact, death defiance was inside his fiber. If he ever met death, it would be inside an art situation too, or a principle. Though perhaps only the deepest sense of art could understand how his actual death was an act of art and of belief-statement. A stand. Even Custer's.

            First realizing he was afraid of death, he dared the fear to be important to him. He stayed overnight, hidden, in a morgue. By morning when he came out he had brought a skull. In drinking from this skull in the weeks ahead,[2] or having it near his side, he conquered the fear that he did not want to dominate him. Thus, though he had what we call a suicidal streak strongly in his components, that was only sometimes present (not in the Third World lands); when there, it was present at the same time as this refusal to allow death to be important—that is, so important that it dominate his choices and responses. On the other hand, he had a certain fascination with death and the many ways one could meet it—even as if he were in a challenge with it. Or sprung from a culture that had a fascination with it, that he did not remember. Death would not kill him when he walked up to it and, as in Greece, set the stage (see letter excerpt, where he describes this dramatic incident). It refused to accept this player. And it waited.

            Why?

            In Hillman's Commentary to Chapter One and Two, of the Gopi Krishna autobiography, he places the two events described below (of which there are parallel events in the autobiography of Jan Mensaert) under particular "signs." They portend, or can, of the life work.

            The "personal myth" of Gopi Krishna, "the experience of having almost died and having been saved by a wonder" (p. 43) is called the "child-in-danger motif." "Part of the mythologem of the savior-hero. It establishes chosenness. One has in childhood met the powers of darkness and been rescued from them by supernatural forces. The Gods single out at an early age those who are to carry consciousness further. The miracle of consciousness is frail at the beginning and can easily be snuffed out. Moses, Christ, Dionysius, Hercules are examples of the child-in-danger" (pp. 44-45).

            Jan Mensaert's encounter with this motif—in biography and in his autobiographical novel The Suicide Mozart—is a variation. The child-in-danger, in his biographical life story, is met by a nurse who prevents it from crying. He is to remember that when he tried to cry, this nurse—watching over him during the day in his parents' absence—would put a cigarette to his lips to frighten him and evoke silence. He was forced into the world of silence, in this backwards way. That this stayed in his psyche is evidenced in the following tiny anecdote. When he read (for the first time) pages of writing by me, he noticed that the character Ian took a step to assure that he would never again meet a particular person (this character was based at that time primarily on a Scot, met just before Jan Mensaert, even though the name turned out to be, by a quirk of fate, similar). He said (in a rare comment  of advice in the writing) that if Ian was to decisively get rid of an address, to ensure he would never remember it, he should not—as I had written—merely throw the address away. "He should roll it up and burn it in a cigarette!"

The variation is that there WAS NO miraculous intervention. This WAS the intervention: to turn everything on its heels, to begin the deflection from the natural path RIGHT HERE. It could even be that he was telling me, in this oblique way, that the relic of the cigarette experience would remain branded in his associations or relationships. I do not know how old he was when this memory became clear or if he held it always (but it was corroborated). Thus, he had built on the sand some sort of Ancient Tomb (placing, or laying out as if in burial, the beetle inside); additionally, the beetle/scarab is the instigator of the first demonstration of synchronicity publicly associated with C. G. Jung).[3] So was it a synchronicity IN ITSELF, that it was in fact the ancient scarab, such a symbol-laden creature, that brought the illustration of synchronicity into modern science and psychology, which I don't believe anyone has ever pointed out. That the symbol of synchronicity's arrival is likewise a heavily loaded symbol, of Egyptian immortality. It was in fact a beetle, the symbol of both Egyptian belief and of the original display of the theory of synchronicity, that Jan Mensaert mysteriously buried on the beach. Why?[4]

            Hillman continues: "Lastly, in regard to the author's personal psychology, we find two further typical facts. The failed [scholarly] examinations cut Gopi Krishna off from a substitute career, in which his spiritual aims could have become an intellectual or academic ambition. This sort of failure is often to be found in biographies of unusual people. It is a signal, preventing the personality from developing along collectively approved lines.  After the examination failure, there was only one way to go: his own" (p. 45).

            This second parallel, the failure of an exam—in the case of Jan Mensaert, a single FINAL EXAM in the university curriculum, which he thought he had passed—points to a similar loss of a foregone natural career. Not receiving his license in a kind of fluke—due to this unexpected failure or miscalculation of his conscious self—he was pushed out of that line of development. That he would wind up, ending The Suicide Mozart, AFTER DEATH, in a position of reaffirming the survival of all that had been thought lost forever—specifically, in his words, the character Fiss rediscovers hope, faith and love have always remained in his heart—he has won everything in losing everything. And realized it after the "death" end of the life story. That is, if one could go just a little bit further. So the author anticipates what is in store, imagines what DEATH will change and reveal in himself.

He sent back, before-the-fact—in this posthumous fictional perspective—a longer-range concluding note. Opening that door. He sent it back, as a message from somewhere beyond physical "life"; there, he was encountering an exam. This time, in terms of how it looked FROM THE SOUL LEVEL, not the human. In this case, it happens that the message comes in a reworking of a passage lifted (without bringing in any name) from St. Paul; in the oblique reference, Jan Mensaert's autobiographical character Fiss states that he has experienced (he, Jan Mensaert) what St. Paul prophesized, after the end of Life. The end is built on top of a famous passage from St. Paul, omitting his name—but once one realizes the source, the levels began to enrichen even more. How failing (or rather, shall we say, was it only "rebelling" and fashioning a different sort of  biography?) on the human level was part of establishing—on a larger scale—what it was that such a person as he (who prized freedom!) also prized, as part of the heritage of every Earth citizen. A citizen who moaned loud and long at the bombing of the art history of these civilizations. Who rather than creating more art, in the largest sense, tried to insist on an appreciation of it, so that it would survive. So that all the values which upheld it would.

                                                                             *    

           Now, I have presented the Anti-Mozart, self-titled, as being, in a true Mozartean sense, in a position more complex than even the stated position, with mysteries attached that to decipher require mind-stretching.  Or they can be left out.

            This is only the beginning of a retrospective, down-the-tunnel-of-time look at what his life brought in! But it will do, for the tiniest impression of a start.

            He wrote a few short letters, from the clinic where he was to die, saying to publish his book, and summoned me a few times to see him, just to tell me to publish his book. And then, one day, choosing among the many implausible ways attempted before—turn a screw driver into his head, jump off a wall, cut his wrists in a tub, take all the pills in sight and go out as Popeye the Drunken Sailor, take arsenic day-by-day—having outgrown these and sombered into merely the position of having outgrown his life (other things calling him: things this side of himself heard and said to the child that he was, yes you have done your work), he, and if this sounds contradictory to the above paragraph, they were both true at the same time, in two directions of looking toward the future—one where there was a future here, one where the future was elsewhere but the past exonerated—he died. He committed suicide. But only if one contextualizes to this extent. Moreover—can one say it?—it was not an act against God or even the lifetime he had been given. Just as, and this is not being sacrilegious, a guru might sit in a position and say now I know it's time to go. We can think of it like that and be not far "from the fact," touching at least the periphery. He was, we remind ourselves, in a physical way, "wounded beyond despair". Besides, he had had enough. He was now a nonparticipator.  He dreamed of being busily involved in writing a book about God; the dream brought the information as if the task still remained to him here. Truly it could no longer be here; he left, to become—one can speculate (not quite in the snap of a finger; there would be healing required first)—the self he had given up in the first place, when coming here "on a mission, the work of Divine Sin."[5] Left, to do the next work of his soul.

            Can all this be true?

            I would hope that if I leave anything behind, it is the habit of wider thinking, the habit of stretch, of the solution beyond the boundary of solution, the explanation beyond the last boundary of explanation, where resides the truth coming into being—for which lives are paid, by bringing us to the border where we stop. Or knowing something doesn't fit, doesn't make sense, we go on and become—in universal contexts, however—individual. Then we say what is left out, what no one else can. Then we stand shining in the only light we have. Then we talk to each other in what Kierkegaard called "poetic infinity." Then we are unreproduce-able and uncopyable, though we  can be stood on top of.

                                                                                    *

             This young poet, concealed from all others, drew cathedral after cathedral, interspersed into pages of poetry and novel—for whom the tall, straight lines of the cathedrals of the past had privately so much significance that the bombing of some meant that all he stood for had been bombed. But he hadn't openly stood for the cathedrals of his drawings. He had kept the relationship, as of many things, private. Just like the boxes of music composition, some of which no one but he heard played.

            The death date—December 27—is (for the Romanian Orthodox) the celebration day of the stoning of St. Stephen; it is also reportedly a date observed in honor of the Slaying of the Innocents, to try to prevent the growing-up of the authentic Christ. All these symbols swirling around together, put into the box (Pandora's?) of anti-self, in the final Jan Mensaert work, are introducing something even more radical yet. This, in our preparation for the centuries ahead. He always wanted things to be taken to the genius statement—that is, the thing no one else has said! So we have tried. As if one might spray genius seeds, in unconscious planting. From that, perhaps in being picked up—without having lived one's genius, in a sense, for it was too unconsciously located—to make it survive. For it would be beaten into ploughshares of its own planting. And that means— BUT WE HAVE TO STOP SOMEWHERE.

 Afternote:

            Hillman says, by the way, that reading The Arabian Nights, as Gopi Krisna did—he could have alluded to the storytellers on the Jemaa-El-Fna Square as well—put one in touch with the transpersonal and archetypal level of things; being connections into not the conscious pathways, but the unconscious information that these by-streams and side passages can reveal to us. The closed roads and doors into the main streams of life were the unconscious pilgrimages on the pathways of the unknown futures in a more collective way. That they could become known and could succeed, in their own way and on their own terms, is nothing short of a miracle. We could have totally lost this information. As the lifework of Gopi Krishna was inside the evolution of the human race, and it pursued some of these personal-myth checkpoints, is this, then, also a story about pathways into the unconscious evolutionary future. The real pathways, those that no one knows until being on them. And figuring out where they are. Is it an unconscious MESSAGE???[6] No, in the end, no longer unconscious.

                                                                       *

             Even his suicides were original and up-in-the-air—an artistic act that might or might not result in death, and he himself was not in charge of the result or particularly concerned which it might be, to all intents and appearances. Yet the childlike aspect redeemed this irresponsibility, the playful interaction with circumstance, the utterly serious relationship to the art of everything; the style, the refusal to live on the surface. He once said, "I would hate to die with a stranger"—meaning AS a stranger to himself. Principles such as this give credence to the seriousness of an investigation of his life.

            Referring to a page of an  unpublished text I wrote then:

            He was introduced as a man with an ailment: "Too much imagination."

            This ailment was incurable, as things stood. Too much imagination could breed, of course, an extreme love of freedom.

            Still, after his death, almost too many questions remained. Someone offered a challenging insight, in saying that: "He couldn't make art out of the rock. He could make art of suffering. Art out of everything. But not the rock."

            This comment came through Dr. Russell Dean Park.

                                                                          *

             So tell the story any way you like. This is the only way I can tell it.        

            But you told a fairytale.

            Maybe  to you. To him, however, not so.
 

 REFERENCE:

Krishna, G. Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man (with psychological commentary by J. Hillman). (1997). Boston & London: Shambhala.

1]The young Mozart had the habit of shaking ink from his pen, which made dots on the music page. One can see the rudiments of such a gesture (in irony) in the bombing pencil points. (Not to say what in the psyche caused this gesture.) The child shaking the ink pen, to make it write better, the man "bombing" (blindfolded) sheets of paper that had excavations and blueprints of towns on them—is there any likeness??

[2]The latter part of this incident with skulls—set up in his living room—also figures in the life of Lord Byron.

[3] It was, of course, in the "meaningful," simultaneous appearance of a beetle, or "golden scarab," during the recalling of a client's dream, that Jung was able to demonstrate the new concept of synchronicity, formulated with Wolfgang Pauli. The beetle/scarab is welded to the gestation or arrival of it.

[4]By chance, in conversation, with someone who had often been there, just before this essay was handed in, I learned that the Temple of Karnak and the Temple of Luxor have ancient walkways (formerly connected), lined on each side with palm trees and statuettes. Of course, there are other architectural designs from the past that include extremely long walkways. Where? 

[5]I use this phrase, having heard it after a dream. I do not know to whom it referred. It can be applied here, as a "for instance." The dream words, not specifying about whom: "he came on a mission—the work of Divine Sin." That's "hypnagogic-state" language.

[6]An analogy came to me as I was putting the final touches here—urgent, stark. The image of the bearer of a Letter by St. Paul. How fragile, survival—when thought of in these terms. How fraught with chances, when using only one logical outlet. How like the scarab—if it does manage to cross the dangerous terrain into the consciousness of the human Psyche. To stand as an archetype of the next century. What tomb was in his psyche as he buried the beetle there? What synchronicity? What precognitive awareness, that the "tomb" would be found, recovered. Here, indicating the tension or dichotomy of a discovery, even birth, of this level of the consciousness of Love in a psyche primarily focused on preserving a very special and fearless consciousness of the meaning of FREEDOM! To lose nothing by way of freedom; then discover that one did not, as in "Aziza's Dance," end up "the way the seagull dies somewhere unseen"—but that there were ramifications. How? Why? Well, it had something to do with the opening of his heart after he died, because there was something he wanted to see—with the heart. If this is true, then his words also were: that the message of his unpublished novel would be "PROPHETIC."  

Last Modified on February 14, 2002

This page © 2001 Margaret A. Harrell (Harrell Communications), All Rights Reserved

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An old picture, with on the right side Julia Tulkens

   
A few years ago, a stamp came out from Julia Tulkens in Belgium

Some covers from some of the books that she wrote.


 

 

Alex about his grandaunt Julia Tulkens

My grand aunt lived in an apartment on the 'veemarkt' from the city Tienen. From time to time I went over to visit her. I remember very well she was always clothed in white; Almost as a princess. Every time I came in she said to me: 'My sweet boy...'
I know she wrote a lot of poems. Mostly for children, as My little sweet birds,...
They called her also a poet of conception and became the honorary citizen of the city Tienen in Belgium.