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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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Moving between languages, speaking several but mastering none, living in a constant simultaneous translation, is a possible location for the nomadic sensibility which best expresses itself in creative writing. — Rosi Braidotti, Metamorphoses I Introducing Cees Nooteboom and the Dutch Literary Field This is a book about Cees Nooteboom, a novelist, poet and travel writer who writes in Dutch. It is not a book about Dutch national literature, though part of it is about literature in Dutch. I have chosen Cees Nooteboom as my subject for two reasons: first, because I think he is an interesting and important writer who deserves more attention in English-language criticism and second, because of the transnational nature of his literary presence. As the editors of a recent volume on translating Nooteboom say, ‘Nooteboom is well known as the most cosmopolitan and transcultural of authors from the Dutch language area’.1 What I want to investigate in this book is the extent to which Cees Nooteboom can be said to embody a mode of existence that of fers a pos- sible solution to the problem of how to approach the local, or regional, in a globalized world. His way of life and his writing are not only literally nomadic in that he narrates his own wanderings and those of his characters, 1 ‘Nooteboom staat bekend als een van de meest kosmopolitische en transculturele auteurs uit het Nederlandse taalgebied.’ S. Evenepoel, G Rooryck and H. Verstraete, eds, Taal en cultuur in vertaling: De wereld van Cees Nooteboom (Antwerp...

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