On meandering winds
the voice of the brook…
The waves converse
on the breath of the night…

My little alarm clock is ticking…

O Time, O Eternity

Christian Morgenstern

[Auf dem Schwingen des Windes
die Stimme des Bachs…
Der Wellen Gespräch
auf dem Atem der Nacht…

Mein kleiner Wecker tick dazu…

O Zeit und Ewigkeit]


My mother is now 98 years old – very old.

Removed from the house in which she brought us up and in which she endured living with my alcoholic father, she has now become a very tired female in a ‘home’. She is from a previous time, certainly not all that up to date. Lonely and so alone. Lost in herself.

I do not dare to make a picture of her…

In 1941, the year in which this portrait photo was snapped, she is already looking a little bleak. But certainly not without hope for better.


She’s is, at this moment, not married all too long, my father’s future at the time did not look too bad – an artistic intellectual knowing a lot and a good writer of essays. Children were not there yet, but they would come – so it seems. If only that bloody war and the German occupation of the Netherlands would end… In 1941 it still looked very bad, hence her gloomy look.

Both were in the Frisian resistance against the Krauts. Such things cut into you harshly. That children were a possibility may be shown in this second photograph. Like the other one, I found this between mountains of rubbish encountered in the family home.


‘Frivolous’ seems the be word, for that time perhaps even ‘erotic’ – a picture taken before the war. My father was a lot more free and easy going than my mother, he had broken out of the moral shackles of his parental home. My mother comes from a family in which the morals of my grandmother were puritanical, something which carried over into her own life.

Here she allows my father to take a picture of her. However, a certain reticence on her side is undeniably there, showing in her face. She knows that this pose goes just that little bit farther than a mere holiday snapshot. Then again not all that further.

I was in fact produced and born after that war. Unfortunately, and a little later, also a brother who was mentally disabled and died at an early age. My parents left him to die when he was suffering a hard case of pneumonia. Today we would call it euthanasia.

From that experience my mother never really recovered. Since then she has changed from a cheerful woman, partying and playing tennis, into a cool mom who – although acquitting herself carefully of her educator’s and motherly caring duties – did not have any inner warmth left. I once described this as lifelong Trauerarbeit.

These two pictures I never saw before. They just happened to me…

How I would have loved to meet my mother when I was still unborn – what a beauty! I would have courted her and, perhaps, she would have given birth to my father.

The Child – the Father of the Man…

Sierksma, December 2016

P.S. Could it be then, that I really am a ‘primitive’? They are said not to want their picture taken, because their soul is eaten up by the camera… Tales are told of aboriginals in New Guinea who, when they saw for the first time photographs with their own person in it, did not recognize themselves. Sure enough, it took me some weeks to suddenly recognize my wife’s face in the image of my mother’s, which is kind of primitive I would say.



Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

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