n Stilet : Tydskrif van die Afrikaanse Letterkundevereniging - Jan Wolkers. ʼn Nuwe Nederlandse literatuurgeskiedenis in Afrikaans as kanoniseringsinstrument

Volume 30 Number 1-2
  • ISSN : 1013-4573


The process of literary canonization is fraught with the danger of subjectivity due to the fact that literary evaluation is not an exact science. It is often stated that “intrinsic value” is a misnomer and that literary evaluation amounts to aligning an object with extrinsic norms and values. Often these norms and values are ostensibly those of a “cultural elite” or ruling social class and (literary) canonization is thus a product of systemic forces and acts as a relation between the classification of an object and the functions that it has to fulfil. This also implies that the canon is not a stable construct, because literary norms, functions and values are in a continuous flux. This standpoint however cannot explain why some literary works have been positively evaluated in different historical settings. Van Peer (1996) states categorically that the more positive evaluation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (in relation to contemporary dramas with the same theme) can be ascribed to its esthetical qualities, a view that is also stated by Wellek and Warren (1973:243) whose criterion is that of inclusiveness: “imaginative integration” and “amount (and diversity) of material integrated”. In this article the Dutch author Jan Wolkers is “re-canonized”. In the last few decades Wolkers has lost much of his previous literary lustre and from mentions in many literary histories one can surmise that his position within the Literary Field or literary system is peripheral. This can be ascribed to his later works which are more accessible and “popular” and to his change in topics and genres: the later works are more factual and essayistic. Wolkers’ reputation as a “serious” author most probably also suffered due to his public persona as “star author”. The underlying hypothesis of this article is that his work has been underrated due to the fact that the emphasis was put solely on his vanguard position in the Dutch literary sexual revolution and revolt against a Calvinistic upbringing. In the process the unique way in which he has represented a specific historical period (that of World War II) has been underexposed due to the fact that Reve’s novel De avonden (1947) has been the standard measure. In this article Wolkers’ novel Terug naar Oegstgeest (1965) is discussed in depth as culmination of his oeuvre and as a literary masterpiece that in its own right should afford him a permanent place in the Dutch literary canon.

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