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In Memory of Dirk Lauwaert

Dirk Lauwaert

Ten years ago today, Belgian critic Dirk Lauwaert (1944-2013) passed away. For over half a century, Lauwaert published essays on film for magazines including Film & Televisie, Kunst & Cultuur, Versus, Andere Sinema and De Witte Raaf. In addition, Lauwaert wrote about fashion, photography, the city and visual art. For Lauwaert, such criticism was never a purely professional affair; it was, first and foremost, a way of documenting how a film or a piece of art personally impacted him as an amateur. As Rudi Laermans has insightfully argued, Lauwaert’s mode of writing is above all animated by the bodily experience of pleasure that comes with spectatorship, whether visual or auditive.1 “My story of critique is a personal one. It is, in essence, my biography, a series of confessions. Practicing critique is a mode of commitment, a life choice. It is also a solitary story, since it deals with one person only. It is also a rather ‘unpragmatic’ story. The generation that came after me and engaged in critique opted for a much more pragmatic approach. To them it is the ‘doing’ that matters, the preconditions for film are of lesser importance.”2 Lauwaert’s film criticism thrived on this problematic relationship between the work of the artist (or, what the work is) and what the work does (how I experience it as a spectator). “The crucial quandary of critique is as follows: how to do justice to the improbable and inconceivable existence of something.”3

Lauwaert’s film criticism is not, as yet, internationally recognised. To provide a corrective to this, Sabzian has published many new English translations of Lauwaert’s writings on film over the past years, and more recently in collaboration with LUCA School of Arts. These texts, alongside new translations that will be published up until November, will be compiled in a new Dossier. Meanwhile you can find an overview on Lauwaert’s author page.

Two new publications dedicated to the writing of Dirk Lauwaert are also set to appear this fall. Zelfportret, a collection of Lauwaert’s autobiographical texts, compiled by his close friend and collaborator Bart Meuleman and Dirk Lauwaert. Selected Writings, 1983-2008, published by Leuven University Press. Both new publications will be presented on 9 November in collaboration with Bookshop Passa Porta, Brussels.

Lauwaert was an author for whom “watching film and loving film are ways of being with the world”. Remaining suspicious of “the power over the concrete, which is necessary for life,” Lauwaert was someone for whom the act of watching films made up his “whole life.”4 In this vein, a series of screenings will be organized together with Cinema RITCS later this year, and continuing in 2024, highlighting some of the films that were of particular importance to Lauwaert. Each time the screening will be accompanied with a corresponding text.

Lastly, LUCA Library is highlighting the Dirk Lauwaert Collection which is kept in their premises. From October onwards, each month someone is invited to make a selection from the extensive collection of Lauwaert’s books and present them in the library. More information to follow soon.