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The Power of Autonomous Literature: Willem Frederik Hermans

Project: Research projectDissertation research


The concept of autonomy is a frequently recurring concept in research on Western literature since 1800. Clearly, this concept is used to refer to what is considered an essential characteristic of modern literature, namely the ambivalent relationship between literature and society. However, it is also clear that this concept represents a range of different issues: sometimes it refers to the autonomy of a work, sometimes to that of the author, and at other times it refers to the autonomy of the literary domain in its social context. Moreover, autonomy is appraised in a variety of ways: autonomy is frequently seen as the liberation of literature, which can only flourish once it has attained particularity, but sometimes autonomy is taken to symbolize the declining function of literature.
In the historiography of modern literature, the discussion about autonomy is fundamental. It is therefore necessary to provide an analysis and explanation of the concept. In this project, the discussion of autonomy will be placed in a broader context by approaching it as a multi-dimensional concept consisting of three distinct dimensions: the social ?statute? of modern literature, the modern writer as a prototypical subject and the particularity of the aesthetic.
In order to substantiate these complex concepts, we will focus on one author, Willem Frederik Hermans, a writer whose significance for post-war Dutch literature is beyond dispute. The reception of Hermans? works positions the author as an autonomous writer, but his writing is nevertheless credited as having had a cultural impact. In order to clarify this apparent contradiction, we need to employ a lucid and multi-dimensional concept of autonomy.
Indeed, the project has a dual objective: examine the type of significance of Hermans? works and further develop the concept of autonomy by substantiating it in such a case study. On the one hand, this project aims to explain how Hermans gave shape to literary autonomy (PhD project 1) and to situate his writing, both in the context of modern Dutch literature (PhD project 2) and in contemporary European literature (Post-doc project 3). On the other hand, the project creates an opportunity for the research team to delve more deeply into the complexity of the concept of ?autonomy?, by making a diachronic and synchronic comparison between Hermans? writing and that of a range of authors who have attained literary autonomy in a different way (project 1, 2 and 3). The synthetic study (project 4) will evaluate the findings from the other projects, resulting in an elaborate proposal for a multi-dimensional concept of autonomy.
Effective start/end date1/02/1030/04/15
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