The OSL Award winners of 2016 are Daan Rutten and Emy Koopman. Both received their prize during the annual OSL Research Day on April 7, 2017.
The OSL Award is intended to acknowledge original and innovative contributions to Literary Studies by OSL members who have obtained their doctorate no longer than four years ago. This was the first edition of the contest and the jury was very pleased with the high quality of the contributions. Picking a winner wasn’t easy – as a matter of fact, the jury decided to award the price to two contributions, an article (by Emy Koopman) and a monograph (by Daan Rutten). But the members of the jury would also like thank explicitly all the participants and authors of priceworthy contributions who have made this a particularly strong and impressive competition.
Congratulations, Daan and Emy, on behalf of the jury and OSL Board!
Report of the Jury
Daan Rutten will receive the OSL Award for the published version of his dissertation on the work of renowned Dutch writer W. F. Hermans, which he defended in December 2016 at Utrecht University. The book is entitled De ernst van het spel (The Gravity of the Game). Willem Frederik Hermans en de ethiek van de persoonlijke mythologie.
In his study, Rutten proposes a new view of Hermans, who has long been seen as typical example of a disengaged modernist author, characterized by an autonomous poetics and a ‘cynical’ or even nihilist attitude towards society. Rutten’s fascinating revision of this ‘standard view’ does not simply consist in arguing that Hermans, in fact, was much more ‘engaged’ with society than previous critics thought, but in taking the notion of game seriously: Yes, Rutten argues, Hermans regarded existence as a form of ‘play’, but in the serious sense of language games (as seen by Ludwig Wittgenstein) and the games of signification we cannot escape once we enter the symbolic order (as described by Jacques Lacan).
To be an engaged writer, then, means to be engaged with the ongoing construction and deconstruction of these symbolic games; it means to be a ‘speler’ rather than a ‘spelbreker’ (spoilsport), as which Hermans has been typically seen. And it opens up new perspectives for the interpretation of Hermans’s works and his approaches to the serious ‘games’ of politics and science.
The jury was very much impressed with Rutten’s original and compelling re-interpretation of Herman’s allegedly disengaged modernist poetics as well as with the vibrant and accessible style of his study. It also admired the convincing combination of an aesthetic perspective and careful close readings with a cultural studies sensibility for the discursive entanglements of literature and a clear theoretical framing of the analysis.
Our second laureate is dr. Emy Koopman, who defended her dissertation Reading Suffering at the Erasmus University cum laude last year
Emy Koopman is granted the OSL Award for her article ‘Effects of “Literariness” on Emotions and on Empathy and Reflection after Reading’, which appeared in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts in 2016 (and her first novel Orewoet also appeared in 2016, so it was a very prolific year indeed for Emy).
Koopman’s study tackles one of the perennial questions in Literary Studies, namely whether reading literary texts can make people more empathic. Koopman approach this issue in an experiment in which 142 participants who were asked to read different versions of an excerpt from a novel about the loss of a child. The versions differed with regard to their foregrounding of semantic, phonetic and grammatical features of the text (in one version of the text imagery/metaphors were edited out, in another version all elements of ‘literariness’ were removed).
Koopman’s quantitative and qualitative analysis showed that foregrounding had “a significant and robust effect on empathic understanding”, on the basis of the measures that Koopman used. The results also provided evidence that foreground, somewhat surprisingly, did not significantly affect reflection (which has been claimed before by several researchers, without sufficient empirical evidence).
The jury was impressed by the clear focus and careful set-up of Koopman’s experiment and her analysis. It noticed that she refrains from sweeping statements and freewheeling speculation and is very precise in what her research demonstrates and what it does not. Koopman has drawn her own methodological conclusions from what she sees as shortcomings in previous research in the field (for instance studies by Kidd & Castano) and opens up perspectives for the integration of philosophical, hermeneutic and empirical research. Last but not least, her work provides tentative but solid evidence for the claim that, under certain conditions, literary language can indeed enhance empathy.