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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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Part 1 Literature and New Belongings


Chapter 1 Literature on the Move: Finding a Disciplinary Framework Mobile Literature: The Classics Literature has always travelled, crossing dif ferent kinds of frontiers as it does so. In Europe, the literature of ancient Greece and Rome is still in motion after more than two thousand years. Though a history of the Classics would be out of place here, the literary texts of ancient Greek and Rome provide a particularly fine illustration of the mobile condition of literature. Because of their special place in the development of European culture, they crossed and re-crossed frontiers at many dif ferent times throughout history, and in dif ferent forms for dif ferent audiences. Such textual peregrinations are emblematic of the mobile view of literature I am proclaiming and will serve as the starting-point for my ref lections on literary border crossings, cultural capital, translation and the availability of academic disciplines for studying them. This chapter will map the disciplinary terrain with a view to arriving at a framework of ideas, approaches and methods for discussing mobile literature written in Dutch and the work of Cees Nooteboom in particular. The strictly defined political boundaries that have determined the map of Europe since the creation of nation-states from the eighteenth century onwards are a relatively recent phenomenon when viewed in relation to the cultural legacies of Greece and Rome. In contrast, there have always been physical barriers such as sea, mountains, rivers and marshes which played an important part in checking the development and distribution...

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