Dr. Marius Buning
Retired Professor of English Literature, Free University of Amsterdam
(Speech delivered by Robert Rival)
A VALEDICTION FOR MY BELOVED BROTHER-IN-LAW, IVAN RIVAL
It is with a heavy heart indeed that I accept the kind invitation by the
Rival family to say a few words about my relationship with Ivan.
Words utterly fail to express the deep sorrow and the sense of irreparable
loss at his sudden departure from life that I share with all of you here
present today. Faced with the finality of his death, all one can do is to
remember him as he was when still alive and to tell each other our cherished
stories about him.
As for myself, I have the privilege of having known Ivan for many years. We
always exchanged views on a great variety of subjects on his yearly family
visits to Holland and, more recently, when staying twice at his hospitable
home in Ottawa. Beyond the warm family ties, we developed over the years a
close intellectual friendship, based on our common interest in the arts, in
particular music, painting and -- above all -- literature. He always
surprised me by his passionate interest in modern literature, Proust being
one of his great favourites. I found the unusual combination of his being a
prominent mathematician (and later in his career a great computer expert) as
well as an avid reader of literature most interesting and rewarding in our
conversations. He was a sharp debater, always questioning my underlying
literary assumptions, while at the same time always open to new ideas.
I'll give you just one delightful example of his inquisitive mind and
literary enthusiasm. Some two years ago he confided to me that he found
ULYSSES, by common critical consent the greatest novel of the twentieth
century, "unreadable". Having spent much of my university teaching trying
to dispel this "myth of unreadability", I egged him on to start reading this
great novel with an open mind, using a simple commentary to get properly
started. Much to my delight he accepted the challenge. He dug his way into
the novel's labyrinth, picked out much relevant background information, and
soon became in fact a great admirer of Joyce's masterpiece! So much so that
at last year's meeting he tossed Joyce quotations at me with great ease at a
barbecue in his delightful lakeside cottage. Hetje and the children will no
doubt equally remember Ivan's literary enthusiasm in this respect.
On this same occasion I suggested to him that he might extend his literary
explorations even further by diving into the work of another great Irish
writer, Samuel Beckett, as a counterexample of what can be done with
language. Laughingly he promised that he would do so in the near future.
Alas, time has run out for him. I therefore conclude this brief memoir by
quoting Beckett's last poem, written shortly before his own death, which by
using minimal words expresses maximal meaning:
Go where never before
No sooner there than there always
No matter where never before
No sooner there than always.