Theo Van Gogh basically tried to connect with that extended leg

Theo Van Gogh basically tried to connect with that extended leg

Absorption, teasing and sarcasm: director and columnist Theo van Gogh practically made his living by insulting others. But Van Gogh could be poor at correspondence, as writer Jaap Cohen discovered. This week, seven years after its debut, Cohen's biography of Van Gogh was published.

Jaap Cohen approached the subject of his book through letters that Van Gogh wrote to his loved ones and friends. Cohen passed stacks of letters through his hands. “I didn't know he wrote so many books,” Cohen says. “And a lot of great letters too. I didn't know that.”

Endearing and difficult

Cohen found everything about Van Gogh in the letters. When asked about his favorite, Cohen mentioned the short-lived correspondence with Connie Balmain. “It only lasted a month and a half. Everything about his personality is in it, everything passes. On the one hand, those letters are so sweet and touching and endearing.”

That tone changes when Balmain, who begins one of her letters with “A Beautiful Mystery,” attempts to analyze Van Gogh. “Then his tone changes. Then he becomes very rough and really tries to hit her and hurt her.”

However, Van Gogh caused a sensation with his columns, in which he mainly targeted politicians and the alleged dangers of Islam. “It has a lot of swearing and a lot of repetition. Sometimes you get bored of it. And I also often thought: Why? Why are you doing this?”


It's tempting to dismiss Van Gogh's provocations as shouting or overcompensation: as early as elementary school, a teacher mentioned his inferiority complex in a report. But Cohen sees bullying as the flip side of Van Gogh's strongest points: his empathy. “He was instantly able to get through to someone with just a few questions. That's why his TV interviews were so good. At the same time, he also used his ability to empathize to try to hurt and touch people.”

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Van Gogh paid dearly for his bullying: on 2 November 2004, he was murdered on the Linnaeusstraat in Oost. His killer, Mohamed Bouiri, was a Muslim who had converted to extremism in the previous months. Cohen will never know whether he and Van Gogh will get along. “I would have loved to have a beer with him. I'm the complete opposite of Theo's personality. But that doesn't necessarily mean you don't like each other.”

no De Paul Gogh In stores, Cohen is wrapping up an intense seven-year tenure. The writer is satisfied, but also regrets that the project is now complete. “I talked to a lot of interesting people. I kept finding a deeper layer. It was great.”

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