Research into literature is increasingly performed outside the traditional national boundaries. The literature of a specific country or in a specific language is after all not independent of what happens in other languages and cultures. Mainstream thinking is that large language regions, such as for French, English and German, mainly export a lot of their own literature, whereas smaller language regions, such as Dutch-speaking regions, primarily depend on import. Recent research nevertheless demonstrates that this presentation of the facts is too simplistic. In the cultural world, Dutch is a far more important language than you would assume, based on the number of native speakers. Since Dutch-speaking people tend to be multilingual and since the Dutch culture is actively involved in various forms of international exchanges, the Low Countries occupy a fairly large footprint in the global language system.
Novels, poems and stage plays also pass from smaller literatures across language and cultural boundaries to start a new life, for example in translation, or in a different adaptation (film, comic strips, visual arts, music, etc.). Eastbound wishes to investigate how oeuvres from Dutch literature found their way to the German-speaking region and also to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic – often via Germany. The project has a threefold objective. First, it will look at how literature was brought into circulation in a transnational context. It follows the trajectory travelled by a number of oeuvres and pinpoints the factors that played a role in the transfer of literary texts, from the distribution in the country of origin) i.e. Flanders or the Netherlands) to the reception in the country of arrival. Second, Eastbound raises questions over the frequently presumed hierarchy between the periphery and the centre of the literary system. The image of a Europe that only contains a few export cultures and numerous import cultures must be adjusted. By outlining the pluralism by import as well as export, the project will demonstrate the complexity of transnational culture flows. Third, Eastbound raises the question whether oeuvres from Flanders and the Netherlands change their cultural identity when they are translated or adapted and start a new life elsewhere. To what extent are they still identified as ‘Dutch-language literature’ in the country of arrival, or to what extent have they become ‘European’ or ‘universal’ stories, or have even adopted a new local (German, Polish, Hungarian or Czech) character?
The period to be investigated commences in 1850, as the professionalisation of the literary domain, translation and adaptation start to take off. Afterwards, new media (film, radio, television) emerge that offer additional possibilities to give existing literary works a new profile, and hence a new life. The examined era ends in 1990, a turning point in the countries of East and Central Europe envisaged for the project, and also the start of an active European cultural policy. The rise of the internet also provides a new dimension in literary infrastructure. By researching a longer period spanning 140 years, it is possible to establish patterns and shifts in the international circulation of Dutch-language literature. Eastbound concentrates on the trajectories of ten frequently translated oeuvres from Flanders as well as the Netherlands.
In two complementary sub-projects, the trajectories of Dutch-speaking literature in an easterly direction are mapped out and interpreted. It has already been established on a few occasions that Germany was the main outlet for literature from the Netherlands and Flanders. The idea of cultural affinity – which has politically been exploited, for example during the two world wars – played a major role in that respect. Also the role that Germany played in distributing Dutch-language literature in the Slavic and Hungarian cultures has already been addressed in case studies. The researchers of Eastbound are now taking a more systematic look at the different stakeholders (publishers, translators, adapters, critics, literary agents, etc.) and institutions (publishing companies, literary magazines, associations, judging panels, government services, commercial organisations, etc.) that were involved in the export and subsequent transport. They also investigate the connection with the political, religious and economic context that influenced the international reception given to Dutch-language literature. Naturally, the researchers will also analyse the relevant translations and adaptations.
Eastbound comprises two subprojects. The first one, performed by Theresia Feldmann at the KU Leuven for her doctoral degree, looks at the distribution and reception of Dutch-language literature in the German-speaking region. Orsolya Réthelyi is working as a postdoctoral researcher at the Huygens ING in The Hague on the second subproject. It is a study into translations and adaptations of Dutch-language literature in the Polish, Czech and Hungarian language regions, via German or directly.
Eastbound started in August 2016 and is expected to conclude by 2020 with a synthesis of the research findings. The project is financed by FWO and NWO, in the context of the ‘Netherlands-Flanders Collaboration’ programme.
Website of the project
Prof.dr. Elke Brems (KU Leuven)
Theresia Feldmann MA (KU Leuven)
Dr. Ton van Kalmthout (Huygens ING)
Dr. Orsolya Réthelyi (Huygens ING)