Cees Nooteboom as Nomadic Writer

For a British scholar to have produced a major monograph on a prominent, internationally known Dutch writer would be a coup in itself. However, Jane Fenoulhet’s ambitions extend much wider than the establishment of Cees Nooteboom’s ‘national canonical status’. (As is well known, until comparatively recently Nooteboom’s critical acceptance in the Low Countries lagged behind…

Cees Nooteboom

Cees Nooteboom (1933-) made his prose debut in 1955 with the novel Philip and the Others (Philip en de anderen), a poetic, melancholy account of an adolescent’s journey through France. It is a classic wanderer’s story about the search for one’s own identity, which places it in the tradition of works like Alain Fournier’s Le…

Visiting Professor

Let’s pretend for a moment that I’m not me; that has its uses on occasion. I’m going to pay myself a visit. My room number is up in the thousands, and to reach it I have to enter a Stalinist building with staircases, lifts and corridors. Behind every door people are in furious pursuit of…

Deeper and Deeper into the Forest

On the Work of Oek de Jong Before the publication of Pier en oceaan (Pier and Ocean, 2012), I asked myself once or twice whether it would be more accurate to refer to the work of Oek de Jong’s ‘pens’ rather than the work of his ‘pen’. After all, each new book bearing his name…

The Making of a Translator

There was a framed Dutch proverb hanging on the wall in my parents’ house. Embroidered in gold on black satin, it read: ‘Gezelligheid kent geen tijd’ – ‘Time flies when you’re having fun’. It was a gift from the Netherlands, from when my father’s brother had studied classical languages at Utrecht University in the 1950s.…

In Search of Self

New Prose Writing in Dutch after 1985 Revisor Prose The wave of innovation which gave rise to the ‘new’ prose of the 1980s first made its appearance in the Netherlands with the publication in 1974 of the literary journal De revisor. The generation of young writers which it brought to the fore — Dirk Ayelt…

The Message of Meaninglessness

The Books of Willem Frederik Hermans Just as an entire generation of Americans and Europeans can recall where they were and what they were doing when they heard that John F. Kennedy had been shot, or that the Berlin Wall was coming down, so the death of Willem Frederik Hermans gave rise to reminiscences from…

Writing is Gilding

The Monumental Oeuvre of A.F.Th. van der Heijden When A.F.Th. van der Heijden (Geldrop, 1951) debuted under the pseudonym Patrizio Canaponi with a short story in the literary magazine De Revisor early in 1978, it was immediately clear that this heralded an extraordinary talent. At the time, however, no one could have suspected what a…

Translator or Actor?

I find myself asking myself more and more: ‘Why do you sit translating?’ What are the deeper-lying, the ultimate reasons for it? After all, for years I have objected to being referred to as ‘James Brockway, the translator’, for translating is only one of the things I have done in the Netherlands since the war.…

Postmodernism in the Literature of the Low Countries

The Dutch language area, like the rest of Europe, did not see the term postmodernism come into use until the early 1980s. The interest generated by this new ‘concept of criticism’ soon gave rise to a welter of publications, all more or less inspired by Jean-Francois Lyotard’s philosophical essay, The Postmodern Condition (La condition postmoderne,…

Remco Campert and the Dubious Lightness of Being

If ever a writer in Dutch literature was blessed with eternal youth, that writer was Remco Campert. For decades his books bore witness to an almost provocative insouciance, which was perfectly expressed by the boyish, slightly mocking laugh in most of his portraits. His own preferred image of himself was as he appeared on the…