Kritiek als houding en handeling


Onder de titel ‘nieuwe namen’ weidt het onvolprezen literair-wetenschappelijke tijdschrift Vooys een nummer aan het onderzoek van net gepromoveerde letterkundigen. Het is een bonte aflevering geworden met bijdragen van historische en moderne letterkundigen, van biopolitiek en queer studies tot herinneringscultuur, van gelegenheidsgedichten van 16e-eeuwse edellieden tot de ‘zeesterren’ van Judith Herzberg.

De redactie vroeg mij voor dit themanummer te schrijven over de verhouding tussen de literaire kritiek en literatuurwetenschap in Nederland, maar dan met het oog op de eigentijdse situatie: welke posities worden er in de huidige moderne letterkunde ingenomen ten aanzien van de kritiek? Die vraag leidde meteen tot een volgende, veel ingewikkelder vraag die mij al een tijdje bezighoud, namelijk: wat betekent het eigenlijk om als literatuurwetenschapper (of algemener: geestesweten-schapper) ‘kritisch’ te zijn?

Door een onderscheid te maken tussen ‘kritiek’ als een nieuwsgierig, onderzoekende houding die alles wat als vast gegeven wordt gepresenteerd bevraagt en ter discussie stelt en ‘kritiek’ als een concrete oordelende, evaluatieve handeling wordt het mogelijk enkele uitgesproken positiebepalingen te herkennen en analyseren. Gekeken is onder andere naar de invloedrijke studie De productie van literatuur (2006), het handboek Literatuur in de wereld (2013), de oratie van Yra van Dijk Fanfare uit de toekomst (2014) en het artikel ‘Revanche of conflict? Pleidooi voor een agonistische literatuurwetenschap’ (2014) van Hans Demeyer & Sven Vitse.

Een tip van de sluier: antwoord op de vraag wat het betekent om als letterkundige in de 21e-eeuw kritisch te zijn, lijkt niet gezocht te hoeven worden in het aandeel ‘literaire kritiek’ in de wetenschap. Maar waarin dan wel? Je leest het in Vooys 36.1 (2018).


Het artikel ‘Betrokken en/of gedistantieerd? Kritiek als houding en handeling in de moderne geesteswetenschappen en Nederlandse letterkunde’ vormt een tweeluik met het stuk ‘Interpretatie en/of patroon?‘ uit Vooys 31.1 (2013) waarin ik reageerde op de oratie van Rens Bod Het einde van de geesteswetenschappen 1.0 (2012).



‘Scientific’ Literary Studies


On December 20th, literary scholar Angus Nicholls (Queen Mary University London) will deliver a lecture on the ‘science’ of literary studies for the national research school literary studies (OSL). After his lecture – entitled ”Scientific’ Literary Studies During the Late Nineteenth Century and Today: a Critical Overview’ – there will be time for discussion on the question of literary studies’ scientific state and status, then and now, in and outside the Netherlands.

Everybody is warmly invited to attend the lecture and discussion!

The event takes place in Amsterdam from 15:00 to 17:00 (PCHoofthuis, room 5.59). See also the website of OSL for the details.


Short summary of the lecture:

The late nineteenth century was a period in which academic disciplines began to form and professionalize themselves in modern research universities. Like many disciplines during this period, literary studies (Literaturwissenschaft) attempted to establish itself by arguing that its methods were ‘scientific’ or wissenschaftlich. But here the key term in the debate – that of ‘science’ (Wissenschaft) – was a contested one, and was defined in different ways, in different cultural contexts, by different protagonists in the field. In this paper, I will attempt to show that these nineteenth-century debates on the ‘scientific’ nature of literary studies bear a striking similarity to present day discussions. This is so because – especially in the UK system – the humanities continue to be assessed and funded according to models predominantly derived from research in the natural sciences; models which favour a linear conception of objective scientific progress and which valorise quantifiable impact upon society. This paper will offer an overview of this subject in relation to British and German intellectual history, as part of an introduction to a larger monograph project. Some of the better-known thinkers treated will include Matthew Arnold, Thomas Henry Huxley, Wilhelm Dilthey and Wilhelm Scherer.


Afbeelding: Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) balancing between poetry and philosophy by Frederick Waddy, 1872




CfP The Icon as Cultural Model

Mona Lisa Graffiti 7
Op donderdag 25 en vrijdag 26 januari 2018 organiseert de Open Universiteit het interdisciplinaire congres ‘The Icon as Cultural Model: Past, Present and Future’.
De Call for Papers staat nu online! Kunsthistorici, filosofen, mediawetenschappers, letterkundigen, cultuurhistorici: tot 1 juli kun je een abstract for papers insturen!

Theme description

Journalists, artists and scholars, among others, tend to refer to iconic events or images from the past in order to better understand present-day developments. For example, in the wake of the American elections media repeatedly referred to the iconic ‘years of crisis’ of the thirties of the last century. Also, they recalled George Orwell’s iconic depiction of a dystopian society from his novel 1984 to contextualize the use of ‘alternative facts’. In this respect, the icon functions as a model that generates cultural meaning by connecting past and present. But the icon not only shapes our (collective) image of the present, nor does it merely re-evaluate our image of the past. It also opens up potential scenarios for the future – be it brilliant or gloomy.

The making of specific icons is a much-studied topic in cultural studies, literary studies, art history and even in the history of science. However, theoretical and/or synthesizing studies on how the icon functions as a cultural model from which we can learn how to act or perform are scarce. The conference ‘The Icon as Cultural Model’ wants to fill this gap.

First, it will do so by addressing different manifestations of the icon. Traditionally understood as a static visual image, the concept of the icon is also used to refer to:

  • a specific period (e.g. the thirties or sixties, the Enlightenment or Golden Age);
  • a specific place (e.g. Waterloo or Woodstock, cities like Amsterdam, Rome or New York, or imaginary places such as Orwell’s ‘Oceania’);
  • a specific person (e.g. Christ, Michelangelo, Mae West);
  • a specific phrase (such as Descartes’ ‘I think therefore I am’ or Clausewitz’ ‘War is the continuation of politics by other means’).

Static as the icon may be, its evaluation by different groups (artists, scholars, politicians) can change through time. Recently, scholars have shown an increased interest in phenomena linked to the theme of the icon: such as fan culture and celebrities, artists’ self-representation, cultural marketing, and processes of canonisation. This poses the question why at present the search, and explication of, cultural models occurs to be highly relevant. By posing this question the conference’s second aim is to encourage reflection on how the icon has functioned and still functions as cultural model (and how it can be studied as such).

In addressing the icon as cultural model the conference explicitly wishes to bring together scholars from various disciplines such as art history, literary studies, history and philosophy. In this way the conference wishes to offer room for joint interdisciplinary reflection on the question how the study of cultural models may contribute to our understanding of the dynamics of culture in general.

Paper submissions

We welcome abstracts for papers (20 minutes max. excluding discussion). Contributions can address, but are by no means limited to the following aspects:

  • How do periodical concepts like the ‘Golden Age’, ‘Enlightenment’ or ‘Renaissance’ function as icons? How does the evaluation of these concepts by artists and/or scholars change through time? And how can we study this shifting evaluation?
  • How do both general spatial notions such as the ‘city’ (as opposed to the ‘country’ or to ‘nature’) and specific places function as models for writers, philosophers and artists?
  • How do specific historical events become iconic? Who attributes power to these events? And how, why, and by whom are their cultural meanings rewritten?
  • How do artifacts such as novels, poems, paintings, sculptures, and films construct iconic images of the past and/or future? How can we study iconic representations within these artifacts?
  • How, and for whom, do certain phrases from philosophers, politicians or artists function as icons? What are the contexts that make phrases iconic?
  • How do specific historical persons function as icons in art, philosophy and scholarship? And how can we study these cases in the broader context of the study of cultural models?

Note: all papers’ conclusions should include a statement on how cultural icons may contribute to an increased understanding of the dynamics of culture in general.

Abstracts of papers consist of approx. 250 words and should include the name of the speaker, affiliation, full contact address (including email), the title, and the summary of the paper.

Practical information

Deadline for abstracts is 1st of July, 2017.

A notification of acceptance will be sent no later than August 15th, 2017.

Abstracts can be sent to Marieke Winkler via

Papers will be selected for publishing in the conference proceedings.

The conference takes place at Utrecht, the Netherlands.

See also the website:

‘Learned Forgetfulness’ and a little dog


In ‘Scholars in Households: Refiguring the Learned Habitus, 1480-1550’ (2003) Gadi Algazi, professor of history at the University of Tel Aviv, examines the way scholars developed a trait of ‘Learned Forgetfulness’, a form of intense concentration that makes it possible to ignore one’s immediate surroundings. This was much needed, Algazi argues, because early modern scholars exchanged the celibate lifestyle for a married life and in return had to solve the novel problem of combining study and running a family.

This has lead to the creation of a separate study in which the scholar could retreat and devote all his attention to his scholarly work, having only his books and instruments to keep him company. It became very much the prototypical (self-)image of the scholar, that was copied by some artists as well. It survived in modern times, at least amongst literary scholars: the picture of Albert Verwey that I posted recently fits in perfectly. And what to think of contemporary (literary) scholars that like to depict themselves standing in front of a stuffed bookcase?

When you look closer at the paintings of early modern scholars, like Algazi does in ‘At the Study: Notes on the Production of the Scholarly Self’ (2012), you might notice that the scholar is not always without company. For example, Algazi draws our attention to the presence of the little dog in the study of St. Augustine:


But also in the study of Christine de Pizan and St. Jerome we encounter the little dog (in this latter picture the dog is sleeping next to Jerome’s characteristic symbol, the Lion). Of course one can interpret the presence of the dog in many ways, but seen in the perspective of ‘Learned Forgetfulness’ it functions both as a positive confirmation and as a warning of the calmness and concentration that comes with proper scholarly work. The dog is watching attentively or sleeping peacefully but can awaken anytime, ready to ask immediate attention for its earthly needs. As such the little dog reminds the scholar of the world outside his study.

‘Learned Forgetfulness’ is a trait, but should not become a flight from reality.

On the 27th of November the Huizinga Institute organizes a masterclass by Gadi Algazi. Historicizing the very idea of ‘being a scholar’, Algazi investigates shifts in the meaning of scholarly selfhood that occurred with changing circumstances of life and learning. In the masterclass we probably won’t be talking about little dogs. What we will discuss is the application of concepts of selfhood to the history of science, as well as the question: what can be achieved by shifting attention from practices or products to the person of the scholar?

sleeping dog



A Scholar in His Study (detail) by Thomas Wyk, around 1616-1677

St. Augustine in his Study by Vittore Carpaccio, 1502

Sleeping Dog by Gerrit Dou, 1650

Albert Verwey als academicus

Verwey in zijn studiekamer 1910 Op 14 november 1924 werd de dichter en criticus Albert Verwey (1865-1937) bij Koninklijk Besluit benoemd tot hoogleraar letterkunde en wijsbegeerte aan de Rijksuniversiteit Leiden. Zijn leeropdracht betrof het onderwijzen in de ‘Nederlandse letteren, haar geschiedenis en esthetische kritiek’. De benoeming van Verwey was een novum, niet eerder werd iemand zonder academische scholing aangesteld als hoogleraar. De studie van de literatuur, zij het van tijdgenoten of van voorgangers, was vanaf het begin een belangrijke pijler onder Verweys creatieve werk, en hij voelde zich dan ook verplicht om dit in zijn oratie ‘Van Jacques Perk tot nu’ (1925) te benadrukken:

 ‘Mijn studie is nooit op het onderwijs, maar uitsluitend op mijn dichterlijk werk en de beoordeeling van letterkundige geschriften geweest. Opleiding aan een hoogeschool heb ik nooit genoten. […] Redenen genoeg, mijnerzijds, om niet zonder moeite tot de aanvaarding van dit ambt te besluiten.’

Het domein van de academische literatuurstudie was voor Verwey duidelijk een heel andere dan het domein van de niet-academische literatuurbeschouwing. Hij sprak dan ook over twee verschillende werelden waartussen enige mate van onbegrip heerst: de literator voelde zich ‘een vreemdeling’ binnen de muren van de academie.

Wat waren de criteria voor afbakening van de twee werelden? Deze vraag staat centraal in mijn artikel ‘‘De vraag is deze: waarom is een akademisch neerlandicus zulk een heel ander mens dan een nederlands letterkundige?’ Literatuurkritiek en literatuurwetenschap: het hoogleraarschap van Albert Verwey (1865-1937)’ dat deze maand verscheen in het tijdschrift Nederlandse Letterkunde. Andere artikelen in dit nummer zijn van de hand van Gilles Dorleijn (RUG) en Ralf Grüttemeier (Universität Oldenburg). Abstracts zijn hier te lezen.


De foto van Albert Verwey is afkomstig uit Het Geheugen van Nederland. Hier zijn meer mooie portretfoto’s te vinden, zoals deze met de Duitse dichter Stefan George, maar ook foto’s van aantekeningen voor gedichten en lezingen (zoals Verweys afscheidscollege ‘Het lezen en schatten van gedichten‘ (1935)).

The Making of the Humanities

MAKHUM IV poster

Within two weeks the fourth conference on the history of the humanities, ‘The Making of the Humanities IV’ will take place at the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome. This series of biennially organized conferences brings together scholars and historians interested in the comparative history of the humanities.

For some time histories of single humanities’ disciplines exist, in the case of literary studies one can think for example of Gerald Graffs Professing Literature. An Institutional History (1987) and the Dutch study Het belang van smaak. Twee eeuwen academische literatuurgeschiedschrijving (1997) by Nico Laan. Yet, the history of the humanities as a whole has only very recently been object of study.

While previous editions of ‘The Making of the Humanities’ conference focus on a specific period, this fourth edition welcomes papers on any period, taking as its central theme ‘Connecting Disciplines’ with a special interest in comparing methods and patterns across disciplines. Keynote lectures will be held by Fenrong Liu (Tsinghua University, Department of Philosophy), Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science) and Helen Small (University of Oxford, Faculty of English).

I am very thrilled to deliver a paper on the first day of the conference on ‘Criticism as a Connecting Principle: ‘Modes of Subjectivity’ in the Humanities’. In the paper, I would like to approach criticism as a scientific ‘mode of subjectivity’. According to Steven Shapin the inquiry of scientific modes of knowledge-making focuses primarily on objectivity (as an ideal). As a result, the investigation of the workings and specific forms of subjectivity in science is often neglected. Yet, when thinking about connecting disciplines in the Humanities the aspect of criticism can offer a fruitful insight in the way the Humanities form a whole. The study of the precise workings and functionalities of this special mode of knowledge-making in the day-to-day work of scholars is much needed: What do we actually mean when we speak – as academics – of criticism? Does the academic idea of criticism differ from the public idea of criticism, and if so, in what respect? How do conceptions of criticism change through time? In my paper I will give a demonstration of current research into the interrelation of scholarship and criticism that is characteristic of the history of the Humanities.

For more information on the conference see the website: