The Low Countries

This English-language blog, which is linked to the yearbook, The Low Countries, offers news about language, culture and society in the Low Countries for a broad foreign public.

  • 23 October 2017

Guest of Honour Nostalgia - Flanders and The Netherlands at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2017

Guest of Honour Nostalgia - Flanders and The Netherlands at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2017

Flanders and the Netherlands’ position as guest of honour at Frankfurt Book Fair in 2016 was a success, the organisers concluded last year, but the growth in interest in Dutch and Flemish literature has really become apparent this year. Many authors, politicians and other interested parties from Flanders and the Netherlands came along to explore the book fair in 2016, but it was back to business as usual this year, with mainly publishers and foreign rights managers present.

  • 11 September 2017

Flemish festival curator Lieven Bertels to expand Walmart art centre

Flemish festival curator Lieven Bertels to expand Walmart art centre

Flemish festival curator Lieven Bertels is to start work on a new project with the Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas, which in the past five years has been turned into a prominent art spot by the heirs of the Walmart supermarket chain.

Bertels was the first artistic director of the of Concertgebouw Brugge, and later worked as director of Sydney Festival in Australia for four years.

His move to Arkansas in September marks the end of his period leading preparations for Leeuwarden Friesland European Capital of Culture 2018, a position he has held since 2015, when Leeuwarden had just been informed that it would hold the title.

  • 5 September 2017

Peter King (1922-2017)

Peter King, one of the most prominent neerlandici of the post-war era, has died on 3 July. 

After his MA Peter began teaching Dutch in Cambridge, with a full University Lectureship in 1959. In 1976 he was appointed to the Dutch Chair at the University of Hull where an Institute of Modern Dutch Studies had been established with financial support from the Leverhulme Trust and other donors.

In 1980 Peter launched a successful undergraduate BA in Modern Dutch Studies with, for that time, an innovative curriculum. 

As literary scholar Peter is well known for, among other things, his study of Dutch dawn poetry and of Multatuli, and for the first computer concordances of Vondel’s works. He was also one of the initiators of Levend Nederlands, an audio-visual language course that was widely used to teach Dutch well into the 1980s

  • 31 August 2017

From Dunkirk to Passchendaele

From Dunkirk to Passchendaele

Recently I watched Dunkirk, the celebrated, ‘true-to-life’ film of the evacuation of Dunkirk of the British Expeditionary Force and some of the French troops at the end of May and beginning of June 1940. As a viewer you sit in a real Spitfire as the Stukas bomb you even on the pier.

Nevertheless, this is fiction, not historical reality. We might even read a Brexit metaphor into it: British soldiers yearning for ‘home’ and leaving that damned Europe behind. The physical enemy is nowhere to be seen, unless we discern it in the silhouettes of a few German helmets taking the courageous Spitfire pilot captive on a French beach at the end of the movie.

I was immediately reminded of the memorial of the Battle of Passchendaele on 30 July 2017 at the Market Square in Ypres and the next day at Tyne Cot Cemetery.

The British Royals William and Kate, at Tyne Cot, accompanied by Charles, turned it into an English in-crowd event. The impressive TV show in Ypres Market Square, and in fact the entire memorial, was in the hands of the BBC. The Belgian royal couple looked on from the sidelines.

No sign in the memorial of an enemy who also suffered, with the exception of the testimony of a German soldier, read out among the gravestones, and some bouquets of flowers placed on the few German graves which by some miracle remain in the cemetery to challenge the immaculate geometry of the British funerary scenography.

The British Empire no longer exists, except as a ‘lieu de mémoire’: ‘(…) some corner of a foreign field / That is forever England’ (Rupert Brooke). Grand, heroic, but tragically ironic. I too am impressed, but still, I recommend Sassoon’s grim poem ‘On Passing The New Menin Gate’, which can be read here.

For the true story of the emblematically futile battles of the twentieth century, see this piece by Piet Chielens, director of the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres. And the article by Dominiek Dendooven, researcher at the same Museum, on the Menin Gate and the Last Post Ceremony, places the difficult art of remembering in a more reliable context.

(Luc Devoldere)

  • 12 June 2017

The Flemish roots of cricket

The Flemish roots of cricket

Former curator of Dutch & Flemish collections at the British Library Dr Jaap Harskamp has written a guest post on the blog European Languages Across Borders about the roots of cricket and the way it connects medieval England and Flanders.

The post describes how cricket developed during the medieval period, when Flanders imported English wool for its textiles industry, while England imported Flemish cloth. 

Harskamp cites 16th century sources attributing the introduction of cricket to immigrant Flemish weavers.
  • 7 June 2017

The Low Countries-contributor Ian Buruma appointed editor of The New York Review of Books

The Low Countries-contributor Ian Buruma appointed editor of The New York Review of Books

Ian Buruma (1951) has been appointed editor of The New York Review of Books, succeeding Robert B. Silvers. Buruma is a contributor to and member of the Advisory Committee of the yearbook The Low Countries,

He was born in The Hague to a British mother and Dutch father. He studied Chinese at Leiden University and Japanese cinema in Tokyo. He has written books in both English and Dutch on a wide range of current affairs themes, from Asia to World War II to hostile views of the West.

In 2008 he received the Erasmus Prize, awarded to those who have “made an exceptional contribution to the humanities or the arts, in Europe and beyond”. He was voted one of the Top 100 Public Intellectuals by the Foreign Policy/Prospect magazines in 2008, and in 2010.

Buruma is currently the Paul W. Williams Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College. He writes about a broad range of political and cultural subjects for major publications such as The New YorkerThe New York Times, and The GuardianLa Repubblica and NRC Handelsblad.

In 2004, Buruma wrote an essay for The Low Countries, entitled ‘I didn't know about the holocaust then. Growing up in Holland’. Read it here.

  • 29 May 2017

Wendelien van Oldenborgh at the Venice Biennale 2017

Wendelien van Oldenborgh at the Venice Biennale 2017

Artist Wendelien van Oldenborgh (1962) and curator Lucy Cotter (1973) are currently representing the Netherlands at the 57th Venice Biennale (13 May to 26 November 2017) with a set of films entitled Cinema Olanda.

Van Oldenborgh’s films present a view which contrasts with the progressive image of openness and transparency conveyed by the Rietveld pavilion. She offers an alternative narrative to the Netherlands’ self-image as a tolerant nation, revealing a complex and rapidly transforming social, cultural and political space, both in the 1950s and today.

  • 12 May 2017

Dirk Braeckman at the Venice Biennale 2017

Dirk Braeckman at the Venice Biennale 2017

Flemish photographer and artist Dirk Braeckman (1958, Eeklo), whose pictures have previously been described as ‘unexploded bombs’, is to provide the Belgian submission for the 57th Venice Biennale, which runs from today, 13 May, to 26 November 2017.

  • 5 May 2017

Ivo Van Hove directs 'Obsession' at the Barbican

Ivo Van Hove directs 'Obsession' at the Barbican

Flemish theatre director Ivo Van Hove is the director of the world premiere of Obsession at the Barbican in London, starring Jude Law alongside actors from Van Hove’s company Toneelgroep Amsterdam.