notes on dutch literature

Entertainment for the Middle Classes?

In Interviews on November 28, 2012 at 6:00 PM

English PEN
Over a million copies sold, multiple translations, a stage adaptation – does Herman Koch’s The Dinner show us a new way for Dutch literature? Michele Hutchison investigates for PEN Atlas

Not long after I’d moved to Amsterdam and become interested in Dutch literature, I was confronted with an exotic word: straatrumoer. Literally, ‘the sound from the street’. I learned that, in the 1980s, an academic called Ton Anbeek, who’d spent time in the States, had caused ripples in the literary world by suggesting that contemporary Dutch literature needed a lot more of it. Anbeek had compared recent American fiction with Dutch and came to the conclusion that Dutch fiction contained too little political engagement and too much navel-gazing. Novelists should work harder to reflect and comment on social reality, presumably as Don Delillo and Thomas Pynchon did.

Anbeek was lucky, just then a new generation of young writers like Joost Zwagerman, Arnon Grunberg, Ronald Giphart, and Hafid Bouzza came along, and the problem ostensibly was addressed. Contemporary social reality and politics – matters outside the protagonist’s psyche – gained a larger role in fiction. Psychological fiction moved towards faction. Nevertheless, public complaints against Dutch literature rumbled on. In 2006, then Prime Minister, JP Balkenende, wrote to eminent novelist Harry Mulisch lamenting the lack of social engagement in the arts. Where was the Grand Design? Vision? Ideals? Anbeek’s criticism had resurfaced and had even been added to the country’s political agenda!

Read the rest of this article on the website of English PEN

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