Public Keynote: Saskia Pieterse (Utrecht), An Empire without Imperialism? Rethinking Dutch literary modernity (1880–1920)

You are kindly invited to a public keynote, part of the 13th international conference of the Association for Low Countries Studies ‘Worlding the Low Countries’, organised by UCL Dutch as part of the centenary celebrations of Dutch Studies in the UK:

Donnerstag, 7 November 2019, 9:00am–10:00am
UCL Institute for Advanced Studies, Common Ground

Image previewIn the canon of Dutch cultural history, the ‘Beweging van Tachtig’ – a literary movement that started in the 1880s with at its center the journal De Nieuwe Gids – holds a special place. Prominent figures such as Frederik van Eeden, Lodewijk van Deyssel and Albert Verwey are remembered as daring literary iconoclasts, the ones who introduced a truly modern vision of literature into a somewhat backwards literary climate.

Their avant-garde project has thus far never been recontextualized as embedded within the much larger context of Dutch Imperialism.  The Netherlands developed from a protective colonial monopolist into a modern Empire, a transition that created a completely new political, economic and ideological structure.  In my keynote, I will first provide a closer analysis of the ideology that constituted the Dutch imperial project, by focusing on the imperial ideas of the most prominent politician of that day: the Conservative and Protestant Abraham Kuyper. His ideas show the central paradox at work in Dutch imperial ideology. Kuyper diagnosed the conduct of the British during the Boer Wars as a warning sign for the Netherlands: here one could witness what imperial hubris and unbridled capitalism could do to a nation. He strongly believed that colonial politics should and could be combined with a disciplinary project that revived ‘old-fashioned’ protestant virtues. Thus, he rejected the political modernity embedded within the imperial project, whilst at the same time pushing the Dutch imperial project further and further, mostly through military means.

The same paradox structured the imperial ideas of the literary modernists. Most of them were in full support of the Dutch imperial project, and even considered it a necessary condition for the renewal of Dutch culture. Yet, at the same time, they objected to the ‘excesses’ of imperial rule, and believed in the necessity of some sort of spiritual renewal in order to overcome the problems of colonial capitalism.

Saskia Pieterse is an Assistant Professor at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands, currently working on economic criticism and imagology.

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Date(s) - 07/11/2019
9:00 am - 10:00 am