Cannibalism and Literary Indigestibility: Figurations of Violence in Bart Koubaa’s De leraar

Maria Boletsi


Several novels that respond to the events on September 11, 2001 in more or less direct ways engage with the issue of violence. While many of these novels centre on external agents of violence inflicted upon Western societies, this article draws attention to recent literary preoccupations with violence as an intra-European phenomenon by zooming in on Bart Koubaa’s novel De leraar (2009): the narrative of a disillusioned teacher who turns out to be a cannibal. The article analyses the intertwinement of different forms of violence in this novel in the context of recent rearrangements in the European political landscape, a politics of fear of ‘others’ and, particularly, a shift in Dutch public rhetoric on migration and multiculturalism labelled as ‘new realism’. Through an ambivalent and often ironic use of ‘new realist’, liberal humanist, and right-wing discourses, the novel teases out the violent desires inherent in dominant European discourses on migration, tolerance and hospitality, and the interrelatedness of ‘external’ violence, such as terrorism, with a kind of violence generated by the liberal West. The article unravels the novel’s performance and critique of violence, and addresses its affective operations on the reader by introducing the concept of ‘literary indigestibility’. This concept is brought to bear on the implications of literature’s subjectivisation of ‘indigestible’, untranslatable subjects (here, a European cannibal), as well as literature’s potential intervention in public rhetoric in ways that cannot be easily ‘digested’, i.e. appropriated into familiar categories and ‘rational’ arguments.


Violence; Post-9/11 Literature; European Identity; New Realism; Cannibalism; Bart Koubaa

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