Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
VAN COLLER, H.P. The drafting of a Dutch literary history: generic characteristics as positivistic traits?. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2014, vol.54, n.3, pp. 409-424. ISSN 2224-7912.
The writing of history as a form of historical representation has always elicited theoretical discussion. Eventually the realisation dawned that due to the inherent narrative qualities of historical representation an "objective" rendering of the past is impossible. Within the realm of literary criticism approaches to literature profoundly influenced literary history. Especially the theories of Pierre Bourdieu pertaining to the concept of the Literary Field had an enormous impact on literary history in recent years. Subsequently, the emphasis shifted to the institutional aspect of literature and publishers, libraries, journals, literary affiliations seemingly warranted much more attention. The reception of literary histories affords the opportunity for reviewers to voice their own literary and methodological beliefs. The drafting of a literary history is therefore fraught with danger and it also necessitates theoretical contemplation and an intimate knowledge of the work of forerunners. Research with the object of drafting a Dutch literary history led me to certain conclusions. There is often a "stabilisation" of facts, periodisation and even interpretations and evaluations of texts and authors alike. Evaluations of the latter in literary histories often only deviate marginally from those in the very first reviews and rubrications of a specific author often stem from his own initial characterisation of his own work. This striving towards concensus within the Literary Field can not only be contributed to a shared scientific paradigm and conception of literature; it is often a strategic stance. Increasingly current historical representations shift the emphasis to the past and to the then current conceptions of literature; even validation of their evaluations. In the process the past is "morphologically" reconstructed. This approach is not only relativistic in nature but also historistic; even a concept like literature (and epitheta like "good", "bad" and "great") are increasingly seen as dependent on, even confined to a specific time and space. A consequence is that a concept like "intrinsic value" not only becomes suspect, but also superfluous. Researching Dutch literature it became clear that there are quite a few apparent similarities between Dutch and Afrikaans literature and that certain generic traits can be discerned that can almost be seen (in neo-positivistic terms) as inherent and recurring: • The evolution of Afrikaans literature is similar (in the main) to the most important phases in the evolution of Dutch literature; • The literary system is an open one; • It is robust, independent and relatively autonomous; • Institutions like libraries, publishers, etc. are of the utmost importance in the Literary Field; • Literature is also a commodity and subject to the laws governing any economic system; • Literary systems (and literary canons) protect their centres (kernels) in a way comparable to that of scientific paradigms (cf. Lakatos 1970). Penetration of all the protective layers often necessitates the same strategies by authors and groups of authors; • New generations / schools of authors (like the Dutch "tagtigers" and the Afrikaans "dertigers") eventually institutionalise their conceptions of literature; • Pivotal figures are of the utmost importrance within the evolution of literature; • The evolution of literature can not be seen in isolation. It is always linked to the literary tradition even if it is in part only a reaction to it; • Literary evolution is often a pendulum movement between the poles of involvement with society and its problems and a fixation on the medium itself; • Literary evaluations stabilise within certain periods and also in what is known as the Western Literary Canon (Bloom 1994). This is also attributable to the recognition of or attention to qualities inherent to the object. It seems that not all literary objects (texts) have the same potential for evoking aesthetical reaction or appreciation in the same or even in different periods.
Keywords : Dutch literary history; literary system; Literary Field Concept; literary criticism; canon; canonisation; intrinsic value; historicism; relativism.