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Nomadic Literature

Cees Nooteboom and his Writing


Jane Fenoulhet

Cees Nooteboom (born 1933) is a writer of fiction, poetry and travel literature. Translated into at least thirty-four languages, his work raises important questions about the mobility of literary texts and invites a new theoretical approach, for to read Nooteboom straightforwardly as a Dutch author would be to do him an injustice. In this book, his fiction and travel writing are discussed on the basis of his English oeuvre, while the chapter on his poetry moves between Dutch and English editions. The first part of the study reflects on texts crossing boundaries and the ways in which literary theory and history have dealt with them. The author then brings nomadic philosophy to bear on translation studies, considering translation as the process through which a literary work is welcomed into a new culture. The second part of the book argues that Nooteboom’s themes and preoccupations are themselves nomadic, with their philosophical treatment of the subjective experiences of death, writing, love, sex and crisis as opportunities for becoming and self-exploration. Nooteboom’s imaginative worlds are constructed in language that is playful, laconic, meditative, witty and yet, especially in the poetry, deadly serious.


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It would not have been possible to research and write this book without support from UCL in the form of generous research leave. I am particu- larly grateful to the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and to the School of European Languages, Culture and Society for enabling this leave and for financial support towards my research costs. I would also like to thank the Association for Low Countries Studies for their support through the award of a grant to help with publication costs. I am particularly grateful to my brother Simon Fenoulhet for provid- ing me with a striking image for the cover. For me, this photograph of one of his light installations reminds me of literary translation, with light as literature and the shift in colour as the language shift. In the case of other images, every ef fort has been made to trace copyright holders and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. The publisher apologizes for any errors or omissions in the list of illustrations, and would be grateful for notification of any corrections that should be incorporated in future reprints or editions of this book. Finally, I would like to acknowledge the enormous contribution from colleagues, students, friends and family who have given me the encourage- ment needed to see this project through to completion, who responded to my ideas, and who shared their readings of Cees Nooteboom’s writing with me. Special thanks to my husband Jeremy who never questioned my need for...

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