Pieter Waterdrinkers roman Danslessen
: Posities ten opzichte van antisemitisme

Translated title of the thesis: Pieter Waterdrnker's novel Dancing lessons: Positions on antisemitism
  • I.P. Homans

    Student thesis: Bachelor's Thesis


    This research is about the case of the debut novel Danslessen (Dancing lessons) by Pieter Waterdrinker, which was published in 1998.1 I have examined which positions were taken on antisemitism in the novel Danslessen, by the writer Pieter Waterdrinker and in the public debate of that time and how those positions correspond.
    Waterdrinker’s novel seemed to have violated the taboo on antisemitism with the following passage: “Maar ja, wat wil je ook, met zo’n joodje aan het hoofd” (But anyhow, what would you expect, with such a Jew at the head”).2 This line is said by a character about the Jewish mayor of Zandvoort in the seventies. The real mayor of Zandvoort in the nineties was also Jewish and had the same name as the mayor in the novel. He filed a lawsuit against Waterdrinker for insulting him and for insulting the Jewish community.
    I used Ann Rigney’s model of relationships between literature and the society. She names three possible relationships between literature and the society: in relation to the society literature can be preserving, critical or help to cope with incomprehensible events.3 To find the position of the novel on antisemitism I have made a narratological analysis of those elements that were relevant for the answer to my problem definition. To find the position of Waterdrinker and the positions in the public debate I did a contextualized research. To reconstruct Waterdrinker’s position on antisemitism I used interviews, newspaper articles and autobiographical texts. The positions in the public debate I found in scientific books and articles. I looked at the different subjects in the public debate about antisemitism and for each of these subjects I examined which positions were taken.
    The conclusion of my research is that both the novel’s and Waterdrinker’s position on antisemitism correspond well with diverse positions in the public debate. The first main position in the public debate was to be worried about antisemitic incidents and to feel like they were not taken seriously. The second was to question whether the incidents were even antisemitic and to feel irritation about the attention Jews received. The novel contains both anti-German and anti-Jewish sentiments without expressing judgment. Yet the novel fits with the first position in the public debate, because by presenting antisemitism as commonplace and present below the surface, it draws attention to the problem. The novel is closest to the position in Rigney’s model that sees literature as critical against dominant views in the society. It makes the reader take a critical distance and think about the remark concerning the Jew. Waterdrinker himself also sees his novel as critical about the society and antisemitism and seems to fit with the first position in the public debate. However, he has also expressed irritation of the way an accusation of antisemitism seems to imply an automatic condemnation. Furthermore, he seems to find the way in which people react to accusations of antisemitism a bit exaggerated. This corresponds to the second position in the public debate.

    1 Pieter Waterdrinker, Danslessen (Amsterdam 1998).
    2 Ibidem, 94.
    3 Ann Rigney, ‘Teksten en cultuurhistorische context’ in: Kiene Brillenburg Wurth en Ann Rigney ed., Het leven van teksten. Een inleiding tot de literatuurwetenschap (herz. ed.; Amsterdam 2008) 293-331, aldaar 307-311.
    Date of Award13 Jun 2019
    Original languageDutch
    SupervisorTed Laros (Supervisor) & Lizet Duyvendak (Supervisor)


    • literature
    • Pieter Waterdrinker
    • antisemitisme

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