GEMS Seminar 7 June: Kornee van der Haven inspired by… Alan Sinfield

Wednesday, June 7th, 2-4 PM. Faculty Library Arts & Philosophy, Magnel-wing, Room ‘Freddy Mortier’

Inspired by cultural materialism and Marxist literary critique, the Shakespeare scholar Alain Sinfield has developed (together with his partner in crime Jonathan Dollimore) a theory of ‘dissident reading’ (or reading dissidence) in the course of the 1980-ies and 90-ies, with works like Political Shakespeare (1985) and Faultlines (1992). Especially in this last book he develops a reading strategy that allows him to detect ‘dissident potential’ in early modern literary texts by pointing to moments of conflict and contradiction that are produced within the social order as represented in a literary work. A lot of Sinfield’s later work deals with power structures in the work of Shakespeare in relation to gender and sexuality, like in his last book of 2006, with the revealing subtitle ‘unfinished business of cultural materialism’.

During this GEMS seminar Kornee van der Haven will reflect on some of Sinfield’s main concepts and reading strategies. By way of discussing some examples from his own research about early modern Dutch literature, he will also illustrate how Sinfield’s theory and methodology could provide an inspiring approach for scholars outside the specialized field of Shakespeare studies.

For literary scholars and for early modernists in particular, but also for (cultural) historians with an interest in discourse and textual analysis.

Registration is not required for GEMS-members. Non-members who wish to attend can sign-up with Kornee van der Haven: For this seminar we will read some chapters from Faultlines (1993) and Shakespeare, Authority, Sexuality (2006)



The GEMS Seminars provide the opportunity to members of our research group and other scholars with an interest in the early modern period to meet and discuss current research issues. There are categories of these meetings (see schedule on First there are the Ateliers during which GEMS-members or guests present their research projects, recent publications or ideas for future projects. Who is interested to spotlight his or her current or future research projects during one of these meetings are cordially invited to get in contact with the organization ( Secondly we will have three meetings this academic year with specialists of the early modern period who will introduce to you the work of a famous scholar by whom they are inspired in their own scholarly work. The work of at least three important thinkers will be at the fore in the following sessions of Inspired by…: Michel de Certeau (by Prof. Steven Vanden Broecke on December 14th, 2016), Natalie Zemon Davis (by Prof. Alexander Roose on March 15th, 2017) and Alan Sinfield (by Prof. Kornee van der Haven on June 7th, 2017).

GEM: Literature and Speculation

Pieter Langendijk’s Quincampoix of de Windhandelaars (Quincampoix or the Wind Traders; Amsterdam, 1720) is aspeculators comedy about the impact of Europe’s biggest speculation crisis of the 18th century (the so-called South Sea Bubble) on the merchants in Amsterdam. The comedy’s first and third act are situated at the huisgezin (family household) of a speculating Amsterdam merchant called Bonaventuur (good adventure), his wife Beatris, his daughter Hillegond, and his office boy Pieter. Beatris, Hillegond and Pieter acquire and adopt knowledge about the dangers of new forms of trade in order to restore the socio-economic order within the family household and to prevent financial ruin. In the family’s power structure this knowledge is an important weapon in the hands of its members, especially so in the case of the mother and daughter. Since they know what is going on in the world outside the family household, they can act to exclude from the family any suspect ideas about property as well as suspicious people related to these ideas. Knowledge about the foundations of the speculation crisis is considered by the minor characters as a weapon against these suspect ideas. ‘De grond dient eens gepeild, / Van al het werk’ (‘We have to find out what the foundation is / Of all this business’), Hillegond concludes in the first act –  a respectable intention indeed, and we may wish for financial journalists who would act a bit more like 21st-century Hillegonds…

GEM: How to sing the Night?


‘How to sing the Night?’ – it is one of the questions the Dutch 18th-century composer Frederik Nieuwenhuijsen (1758-1841) dealt with in 1783 when he wrote this note to the poet J.P. Kleijn (the author of several odes and songs for which Niewenhuijsen composed the music). Nieuwenhuijsen admits his disappointment with the fact that the music of his cantata De starrenhemel (‘The star-spangled sky’, based on a text by H. van Alphen) does not find the right expression for the word ‘Night’. Whereas the ‘rising’ (occurrence) of the ‘Song’ (Gezang) has been expressed simply with a rising musical figure, a pause is inserted in the score after the singer has mentioned the ‘Night’. The inserted pause however is qualified as a kind of stop-gap (‘good enough, but nothing good compared to the poetry,’ he writes), not an apt expression. What may fascinate us is the way in which Niewenhuysen refers to this word ‘expression’. It is poetry, which can name the ‘Night’ and the associations related to it, whereas music can only suggest a sense of meaning by indirect means (here: silence). In the eyes of the 18th-century artist this is a less ‘expressive’ form of imagination, which confronts him with what he considers as the disadvantages of the chosen art form.

The fragment is taken from a document at the collection of the Netherlands Music Institute (NMI) in The Hague. More information (in Dutch) about Nieuwenhuijsen’s manuscript can be found here.