Dutch Novelists Beyond ‘Postmodern’ Relativism

Thomas Vaessens


In this article I will show how Dutch authors reoriented themselves from the late 1980s onwards in relation to the postmodern tradition they inherited. I will discuss the critique of postmodernism formulated by Dutch writers in the light of the following hypothesis. A new, late postmodern position has gradually emerged from the Dutch debate about literature and its function. The authors in question consider (literary) postmodernism as a necessary but insufficient counter-reaction against liberal humanism and its self-assured conception of literature. The question that therefore arises is what, if anything, can be saved in terms of values such as sincerity, authenticity, originality and truth, when postmodernism has succeeded in hedging these modern and pre-eminently literary values with suspicion. Can they be reclaimed for literature without returning to their old, essentialist, rationalistic and humanistic underpinnings? Postmodernism is now seen as a medicine against the liberal humanist conception of culture, a medicine which, in the course of the eighties and nineties, revealed unpleasant side effects, such as relativism, cynicism and noncommittal irony. I will try to explain the tendency towards engagement in Dutch novels, not as a late-in-the-day rejection of postmodernism, but as a reaction to its side effects.


(Late) Postmodernism; Contemporary Dutch Literature; The Novel; Relativism; Engagement; Devaluation of Literature; Reality Hunger

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