The academic world appeals to the imagination, not least to that of authors. In Anglo-American literature of the 20th century in particular, the campus novel came to its heyday as a satirical dissection of academic life. It is also the case in Dutch literature, such as Onder professoren by WF Hermans or Veel geluk, professor by Aster Berkhof.
VUB professors Inge Arteel, professor of German literature, Janine Hauthal, professor of intermedial studies, and Janna Aerts, guest lecturer in English literature, place the genre in an international context in their book Campus Fictions: Literary and Intermedial Constructions of the University World. The contributions – in English, Dutch and French – show that campus literature is actually a reflection of developments in the academic world. Or, as the editors write: “The many innovations of the genre mean that the campus novel has liberated itself from clichés in recent years. This book can therefore make an important contribution to the debate about where the university is going and can go.”
The book stems from a study day held by the research group CLIC (Centre for Literary and Intermedial Crossings) and examines how campus novels represent the microcosm of academia and academic life. It discusses popular English-language examples (by Malcolm Bradbury, Tim Parks, James Hynes, Ian McGuire and others) as well as lesser-known novels from American, British, Dutch, German and Romanian literature of the 20th and 21st centuries, including Rebecca Goldstein, Christine Brooke-Rose, Wouter Oudemans, Thea Dorn andAlexandru Muşina. It also covers hybrid and intermedial genres such as philosophical memoirs (those of Louis Althusser, for example), detective stories, internet literature and blogs that explore the boundaries between fact and fiction. A literary-historical contribution traces the history of campus fiction in the German “Gelehrtensatire” (scholarly satire) of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The contributors show how writers of campus fiction often choose satire and write critically. Power relations between teachers and students are food for sharp portraits. Some authors target the clichés of the traditional campus novel in which women hardly play a role; others cast the university environment in the form of a crime or detective novel. In recent decades, the economic situation of the university, the university as a biotope of intellectual debate and the growing internationalisation of teachers and students have also caught the eye of the authors. Online forms of campus fiction are also appearing more and more frequently. In a playful way, they invite reflection on the expectation that one should communicate science to a broad audience in an attractive way as if it were “a peepshow” (Eelco Runia).
In the introduction, the editors outline the history of VUB, and a foreword written by rector Caroline Pauwels is also included. She says she has learned from this book “that the format of the campus novel is in full change. It is interesting to read how the genre developed and burst out of the classical seams. You hear new voices, read about new experiences, in new locations.”