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Prof. dr. Ellen Rutten, Dr. Arent van Nieukerken, Dr. Eric Metz

Members of the research group

Carrol Clarkson, Yra van Dijk, Shelley Godsland, Christ-Maria Lerm Hayes, Eric Metz, Divya Nadkarni, Arent van Nieukerken, Esther Peeren, Suze van der Poll, Ellen Rutten,  Jenny Stelleman, Thomas Vaessens, Philip Westbroek.

Description of the research programme of the research group

The research group ‘Literary Studies in the 21st Century’ focuses on the description, categorization and analysis of various types of “literariness” that have developed just before and after 2000. Hitherto, academic research of 21st-century literature has largely focused on grasping general cultural processes: literary texts have usually – and fruitfully – been employed as illustrating the rhythms of cultural change. Much less attention has been devoted to the development and/or evolvement of various types of “literariness” as a specific feature of these general processes. However, the relationship between individual literary phenomena (poems, novels, plays, essays) and the realm of cultural narrations is essentially mediated by a “middle ground” of literary conventions, such as generic conventions, narrative structures, stylistic devices etc. The relative neglect of this field of studies in the discourse of cultural studies – a discourse that not seldomly overlooks the categories elaborated by twentieth- century (post-)structuralist narratology and poetics – has led to many misrepresentations, not only of the immanent development of various local literary traditions, but also of their transnational and transregional interaction. Our research group aims to correct one-sidedness by exploring “multivoiced” (à la Bakhtin) representations of literariness as a major branch of cultural transformation in the new millennium.

The research questions that the group will critically address include the following two:

  1. How do 21st-century authors relate to trans-Atlantic postmodernism in its different phases? In answering this question we explore the interaction between both positive views of postmodernism (as a universal model of cultural “progress” and “emancipation) and negative interpretations (of postmodernism as boasting a “disintegrating” impact that, e.g., home-grown literary traditions can combat)?
  2. How do contemporary literary authors engage with previous phases of cultural narrations? Relevant examples of engagement with existing paradigms include the wish to return to “Christian European culture” or different forms of “positivist” anti- relativism.

Investigating the “literariness” just before and after 2000 from a transnational (and trans- regional) point of view will modify – and enrich – existing representations of the afore- mentioned cultural processes. Local models of literary currents differing from – and modifying – the mainstream can only be pinpointed by studying artistic and critical texts from a number of local literatures that are not always easily available in translation. An adequate presentation of these texts presupposes an intimate knowledge of the local languages and culture that can only be accomplished by a research group, uniting experts from a wide field of national – and regional – literary traditions. During monthly seminars the members of the research group will give presentations devoted to: 1. examining the various types of new millennium “literariness” in national literatures; 2. describing and comparing them in the context of larger cultural narratives; 3. investigating the relationship between national “literariness” and larger (e.g. regional) literary and cultural entities.


Societal Relevance

In recent years, several literary experts – academic and non-academic alike – have argued that in the 21st century, literature has regained its role as commentator and constructing force in social and political processes. Although social commitment should not be considered a sine qua non for all the trends that we explore, as a whole 21st literature does testify to a heightened awareness of social and political dilemmas. This research group places the renewed engagement high on its agenda not only by addressing it in in-group discussions, but also by framing its concluding conference emphatically as a public event – one where academic speakers alternate with literary critics and writers, and where a broad audience is welcomed and invited to participate.

This research group is active in the following constellations: