The Aggressive Logic of Singularity: Willem Frederik Hermans


  • Frans Ruiter
  • Wilbert Smulders


Literary Autonomy, Alterity, Willem Frederik Hermans


Willem Frederik Hermans is considered to be one of the major Dutch authors of the twentieth century. In his novels ideals of every kind are unmasked, and his Weltanschauung leaves little room for pursuing a ‘good life’. Nevertheless, there seems to be one option left to him, namely literature. In his poetic essays he explains that literature has nothing to do with escapism, but offers a vital way of facing the bleak facts of life. Literary critics and scholars have commented extensively on his poetic ideas, but have never truly addressed the riddle Hermans’ œuvre confronts us with: what might be the value of writing in a world without values? In this article we will focus on this paradoxical problem, which could perhaps be characterized as one of ‘aesthetics of nihilism’. We argue that Hermans’ so-called autonomous and a-political literary position can certainly be interpreted as a form of commitment that goes far beyond literature. We will first give an overview of Hermans’ work. Subsequently we will reflect on the social and cultural status of literary autonomy. Our main aim is to analyze a critical text by Hermans which seems clear at first sight but actually is rather enigmatic: the compact, well-known essay Antipathieke romanpersonages (‘Unsympathetic Fictional Characters’).[2]

Author Biographies

Frans Ruiter

Frans Ruiter is managing director of the Research Institute of History and Culture of Utrecht University. His published work concerns modern Dutch literature.

Wilbert Smulders

Wilbert Smulders is associate professor at the Department of Dutch Studies of Utrecht University. He published on modern Dutch literature, with a special interestin Willem Frederik Hermans.




How to Cite

Ruiter, F., & Smulders, W. (2013). The Aggressive Logic of Singularity: Willem Frederik Hermans. Journal of Dutch Literature, 4(1). Retrieved from