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Holland Park Press

Burn This Letter!

22 November 2012 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

Part of being a celebrity is keeping things neat and tidy. Before you know it, your old love letters turn up. Soon someone says, picking up a present from under Christmas tree: ‘Good heavens, what’s this?’ The reply is fumbled: ‘Darling, I’ve bought you Mick Jagger’s love letters.’

Those letters are actually on the market. In 1969 Mick Jagger wrote them to Marsha Hunt, with whom he was having a brief relationship at the time. They have a child together: Karis. To quote her, Marsha is ‘broke’, hence the sale.

In spite of the fact that Marsha says she hopes the buyer will protect the letters, I’ve already learned from newspaper reports that Mick read the diaries of Russian dancer Nijinsky and the poetry of Emily Dickinson. In addition, it seems that the letters say something about Mick’s sexual preferences. This suddenly conjures up a picture of a naked, bound Mick dangling upside down from the ceiling.

You can question, of course, whether it is allowable to publish extracts from letters at all. Isn’t this quite a similar situation to the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World?

But at least in those days they still wrote letters. Nowadays a lot of communication is lost. Your computer crashes and all your emails disappear. That’s why I’ve begun to print out the most important emails and store them in a shoebox.

Some writers are more extreme: the Dutch writer Gerard Reve left behind tufts of his hair, fingernails, stitches from operation wounds and even a wisdom tooth, every item accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the author.

A certificate of authenticity is pretty important. For example, there is some doubt about the penis of Napoleon. You could say that the emperor’s manhood has taken on a life of its own.

It’s been like this throughout the ages. At Prüm Abbey in the German Eifel you can view the holy sandals of Christ. Part of St Eusebius’s skull and his hardened tongue exist in my home town of Arnhem.

In 190 AD St Eusebius was tortured to death, together with Pontianus, Vincentius and Peregrinus, in the reign of the Emperor Commodus (180–192), who thought of himself as Hercules, the son of the ‘most high God’ Zeus.

Even in my own town there is hardly anyone who has heard of Eusebius, let alone knows that the city is home to bits of him.

Somewhere in the world someone is storing Albert Einstein’s brain (against his will, so they say), Frédéric Chopin’s heart, one lock of Beethoven’s hair, Galileo Galilei’s middle finger and Jacoba of Bavaria’s plaid.

So now some of Mick Jagger’s love letters have emerged. It seems Mick Jagger is not too happy about it. Yet one day he will die. What will happen to his archive then? Think about it, Mick!

If Vladimir Nabokov had got his way, his last unfinished novel, The Original of Laura, would never have been published. Only just before he died in 1977, he begged his wife Véra to burn it. More than 32 years later his son Dmitri Nabokov published it after all.

The odd thing is that many ordinary people no longer possess any letters from their own grandparents. I did a quick survey among my friends about what they could remember about their grandparents. Did they still remember granddad’s first name? Or grandma’s maiden name? This knowledge was amazingly thin on the ground.

My bookshelves contain my uncle Henk’s books. He left them to me. Occasionally, when I open one of his books I find a poem. It’s one of the poems from uncle Henk to aunt Wil or vice versa. It’s as if the poems say a quick hello to me. I won’t quote from them but they do touch me.

Stories, myths and dreams are just around the corner, and not in letters from celebrities. I can always read the biography. Even if I had the money, I still wouldn’t bid for Mick Jagger’s letters. Luckily, it recently transpired that they couldn’t sell Elvis’s dirty underpants.

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press

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