Aandacht voor irrelevantie. Voskuils Het Bureau als proto-databankroman | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online
2004
Volume 28, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 1384-5829
  • E-ISSN: 2352-118X

Abstract

Abstract

In J.J. Voskuil’s monumental seven-volume novel series (1996-2000), main protagonist Maarten Koning devotes himself to creating an ‘atlas of folk culture’ at a research institute for Dutch culture. The novelistic cycle minutely describes the ‘microcosm’ of a scientific community and at the same time offers a broad panorama of the Netherlands during the period it covers (from the fifties to the eighties of the last century). In this article, I situate at the beginning of the present information age, where switching between different forms of attention becomes important as a new form of adaptation. I read the cycle as an early ‘database novel’, in which literary prose is characterized by seriality, inclusivity, quantitative forms of representation and (seeming) endlessness. I compare the card system of the Maarten’s ‘Folk Atlas’ with the series as a whole, and the labor that Maarten performs with that of the reader. The challenge of sorting the relevant from the irrelevant plays a central role on several levels: thematic (intradiegetic), creative (the writing process) and hermeneutic (the labor of reading). On all these levels, I will argue, an openness for seemingly irrelevant information is thematized or presupposed, and an attitude of tolerance for such apparent irrelevance amounts to a productive reading. With reference to Catherine Malabou’s distinction between flexibility and plasticity, I argue that novels like offer the reader a potential of resistance against the demands of the attention economy.

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