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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 2 Cees Nooteboom: The Writing


Chapter 4 The Novels: Fictions of Becoming Nooteboom’s English Afterlives The English Nooteboom is first and foremost a novelist: nine novels and a collection of stories have been published in English since his debut in 1983 with Rituals, whereas only a small collection of poems and three travel volumes have appeared in book form. There are also a number of translated poems and stories in periodicals. This chapter aims to give a sense of Nooteboom as a novelist in his English afterlife: the mode and mood of his writing, his distinctive voice and his preoccupations. This reading of Nooteboom’s fiction is constructed in dialogue with other critics and commentators, mainly those who write in English and Dutch. Given that Nooteboom is well-established as a writer of fiction in the English-speaking world and that so many of his novels have appeared in English, in this chapter I base my discussion on the English works alone without comparing them with their Dutch counterparts. I do not assume that translation is transparent and that the English versions are identical with the Dutch ones – rather, I set out to read Nooteboom as he is read by the vast majority of his English readers, that is, without reference to the Dutch texts. On the other hand, I am concerned with the contrast- ing ways in which the texts have been read by others in both languages, and for this reason, I will compare the writer’s reception both in the Netherlands and in England and the...

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