The very words threaten to strike
Jacques Presser

‘The very words threaten to strike’ is a quote from ‘De Nacht der Girondijnen’ (The Night of the Girondines) (1957) by historian, writer and poet Jacob (Jacques) Presser (1899 -1970).
Among other things, Jacques Presser wrote the magnum opus ‘Ondergang, De vervolging en verdelging van het Nederlandse Jodendom 1940-1945’ (‘Doom, the persecution and annihilation of Dutch Jewry’) about the history of Jewish persecution in the Netherlands in the Second World War.

For the Jacques Presser pedestal I chose the phrase ‘the very words threaten to strike’ because the sentence may be viewed as characterising the impossibility of recording the horrors of war in writing. In terms of his vision and experience of them. Even the words resist offering themselves to the writer and historian. I think that the poetry this quote expresses covers the ‘implications’ for basing the Jacques Presser figuration upon this. The aphorism ‘illustrates’ Jacques Presser’s life and work, but also concerns ‘the legacy of the twentieth century’ linking all the different pedestals to each other.

Naturally, it is my aim to approach the theme of ‘the legacy of the twentieth century’ with a ‘suitable humility’ in the design. This is shown in the artwork by incorporating precisely this quote in the figuration.
During the interpretation of the public artwork, this aphorism ‘The very words threaten to strike’ contributes to the ‘downplaying’ of the design for the artwork. The quote by Jacques Presser is literally a welcome acquisition for the compilation, because the aphorism – just like ‘I don’t know’ for example – consciously takes care of ‘breathing space’ in this artwork honouring ‘the legacy of the twentieth century’.

MS

Photo

‘The very words threaten to strike’, column, 80cm x 80cm x 40cm.

Biography

Jacob (Jacques) Presser (1899 -1970) was a historian, writer and poet. Presser also wrote literary novels in addition to his historical work.
In 1950, Presser began writing the book ‘Doom’, commissioned by the National Institute for War Documentation. “Writing ‘Doom’ was sheer torture for Presser. He was himself a survivor, had never recovered from the loss of his wife who was gassed in Sobibor, and after he received the commission to document the destruction of Dutch Jewry, he spent fifteen tortured years behind his writing desk. ‘Oftentimes I saw him leave our Institute reeling, deathly pale with a face wrung by grief’’ said his friend, pupil and patron, Loe de Jong, in a memorial speech after Presser’s death.” (from: ‘The legacy of the twentieth century’, results of literature research, Drs M.V.M. Wijman, 2001)

Artwork: You Are Here
Artist: Martijn Sandberg
Material: concrete
Measurements: (lxwxh) 80cm x 80cm x 40cm
Project: Legacy of the Twentieth Century
Realisation and completion: 2019
Location: Oranje Vrijstaatkade, Oostpoort, Amsterdam
Commissioned by: Amsterdam Municipality, District Oost