van Alphen, Ernst 1958- (Ernestus Johannes van Alphen)
van Alphen, Ernst 1958- (Ernestus Johannes van Alphen)
Born December 4, 1958, in Schiedam, Netherlands. Education: Attended Harvard University, 1985-86, and Sorbonne, University of Paris, 1987; University of Utrecht, Ph.D. (cum laude), 1988.
Home—Amsterdam, Netherlands. Office—National University of Leiden, Faculty of Letters, Van Wijkplaats 2, Postbus 9515, 2300 RA Leiden, Netherlands. E-mail—[email protected]
University of Utrecht, Utrecht, Netherlands, instructor in modern Dutch literature, 1989-91; University of Nijmegen, Nijmegen, Netherlands, assistant professor of comparative literature and financial manager of department of general arts, 1990-92; National University of Leiden, Leiden, Netherlands, instructor, 1992, assistant professor of comparative literature, 1992-2000, professor of literary studies, 2000—. Lecturer at colleges and universities, including University of London, University of Rochester, University of Leicester, and Tel Aviv University; appointed Queen Beatrix Professor of Dutch Studies, and Professor of Rhetoric, University of California—Berkeley.
Visiting professor at the International Institute for Semiotic and Structural Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1991; KNAW Visiting Professor, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1999; visiting professor, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary, 2001.
Erasmus Award of Excellence for Dissertation, Foundation Praemium Erasmianum, 1989; National Endowment for the Humanities fellow, University of Rochester, 1989; Dutch National Foundation for Scientific and Scholarly Research fellow, Free University of Amsterdam's Interdisciplinary Program of Word and Image Studies, 1989-90; Bellagio Study and Conference Center Residency Fellowship, Rockefeller Foundation, 1994; J. Paul Getty fellow, Getty Research Institute (Santa Monica, CA), 1994-95, 2002; Mellon Institute fellow, Dartmouth College, 1996; fellow at the Society for the Humanities, Cornell University, 1996-97; Clark-Oakley fellow, Clark Art Institute, 2006-07. Mondriaan Foundation publication grant, 2000, toward the publication of Armando: Shaping Memory; Prins Bernhard publication grant, 2000, toward the publication of Armando, and Schaduw en spel: herbeleving, historisering en verbeelding van de Holocaust.
Caught by History: Holocaust Effects in Contemporary Art, Literature, and Theory, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 1997.
Armando: Shaping Memory, translation by Nancy Forest-Flier, Distributed Art Publishers (New York, NY), 2000.
(Editor, with Isabel Hoving and Frans-Willem Korsten) Africa and Its Significant Others: Forty Years of Intercultural Entanglement, Rodopi (New York, NY), 2003.
Art in Mind: How Contemporary Images Shape Thought, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2005.
(Editor) Philippe Hamon, Er staat meer dan er staat: Tekst, kennis en leesbaarheid, Van Gorcum (Assen, Netherlands), 1985.
Bang voor schennis? inleiding in de ideologiekritiek (title means "Afraid of Violation? Introduction to the Critique of Ideology"), HES Publishers (Utrecht, Netherlands), 1987.
Bij wijze van lezen: verleiding en verzet van Willem Brakmans lezer (title means "As a Manner of Reading: The Seduction and Resistance of Willem Brakman's Reader"), Coutinho (Muiderberg, Netherlands), 1988.
(Editor, with Irene de Jong) Door het oog van de tekst: essays voor Mieke Bal over visie, Coutinho (Muiderberg, Netherlands), 1988.
(Editor of Dutch translation) Umberto Eco, Lector in Fabula, Bert Bakker (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 1989.
(Editor, with Maaike Meijer) De canon onder vuur: Nederlandse literatuur tegendraads gelezen, Van Gennep (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 1991.
(Editor of Dutch translation) Umberto Eco, The Limits of Interpretation, Berk Bakker (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 1992.
De toekomst der herinnering: Essays over moderne Nederlandse literatuur (title means "The Future of Memory: Essays on Modern Dutch Literature"), Van Gennep (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 1993.
De literaire magneet: essays over Willem Frederik Hermans en de moderne tijd, edited by Frans Ruiter and Wilbert Smulders, Bezige Bij (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 1995.
(With L. Duyvendak, M. Meijer, and B. Peperkamp) Op poëtische wijze. Een handleiding voor het lezen van poëzie, Coutinho (Bussum, Netherlands), 1996.
Schaduw en spel: herbeleving, historisering en verbeelding van de Holocaust, NAi Publishers (Rotterdam, Netherlands), 2004.
Work represented in anthologies, including Death and Representation, edited by Elisabeth Bronfen and Sarah Webster Goodwin, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1993; The Point of Theory, edited by Mieke Bal and Inge Boer, Amsterdam University Press (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 1993; and Perspectives on Vision, edited by Theresa Brennan, Routledge & Kegan Paul (London, England), 1993.
Contributor to Moves: schaken en kaarten met het museum (title means "Moves: Playing Chess and Cards with the Museum"), Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (Rotterdam, Netherlands), 1997.
Contributor of articles and reviews to scholarly journals. Also member of editorial board of Diepzee: Tijdschrift voor het literatuuronderwijs, 1983-85.
Ernst van Alphen has written extensively about the relationship between literature and the visual arts. He has published several books on art that refer to the Holocaust, including Caught by History: Holocaust Effects in Contemporary Art, Literature, and Theory, Armando: Shaping Memory, and Schaduw en spel: herbeleving, historisering en verbeelding van de Holocaust. In Armando, van Alphen analyzes the life of the Dutch artist who lived through the German occupation of the Netherlands as a child, and chose to live in self-imposed exile in Germany in the 1970s. Van Alphen writes that his subject "does not understand the past in the moments of astonishment in exile—on the contrary; but he does keep alive the effect the past has on him. This reenactment of astonishment is a way of talking back to the past, an effort at keeping in touch." In effect, as critic Marita Sturken observed in a review of Caught by History for Afterimage, van Alphen's analysis of Armando's work demonstrates that "the Holocaust can be understood and experienced only in forms that are essentially nonrepresentational."
For van Alphen, memory is a highly personal matter: the house in which he lives in Amsterdam, Netherlands, was designed and built by Harry Elte, a Jewish architect who lived in the house from 1928 to 1943, when he was sent with his wife to the Theresienstadt concentration camp and died. Van Alphen describes the experi- ence of living in a house designed and lived in by an individual who died in the Holocaust as both uncanny and sublime. "The experience of uncanniness can be overcome," he writes, "when sublimity is allowed to happen. The possibility of sublime experience emerges through the dialectic between private and public, personal and collective."
Among the books for which van Alphen is most admired is Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self. In a review for Art in America, critic Faye Hirsch described the book as a "major new study" of the British painter who died in 1992 at age eighty-two. She added that the book departs from convention by attempting to understand Francis Bacon's work in aesthetic and theoretical terms rather than essentially biographical ones. In the book's introduction, van Alphen states, "The first time I saw a painting by Bacon, I was literally left speechless." Indeed, Bacon's canvases present disturbing imagery: "Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef" shows a man dressed in what appears to be papal garments sitting before two halves of a hanging animal carcass; "Triptych 1973" depicts a man on the toilet, vomiting in a sink, and writhing in pain; the work is thought to refer to the drug- and alcohol-related death of Bacon's lover, George Dyer, on the opening night of Bacon's retrospective exhibit at the Grand Palais in Paris, France. Describing the intensity of his response to his initial exposure to Bacon's work, van Alphen writes: "I was perplexed about the level on which these paintings touched me: I could not even formulate what the paintings were about, still less what aspect of them hurt me so deeply."
Drawing on a wide range of theoretical texts, van Alphen argues that Bacon's work stimulates, but then cancels, coherent narrative readings. As Hirsch observed, "van Alphen sees Bacon as eroding the distance between the viewing subject and the painted object…. What the viewer sees, according to van Alphen, is a shattered image with no potential for a heroic reconstruction of self." Impressed with much of van Alphen's analysis, Hirsch nevertheless found his "tendency to step too warily around the details of Bacon's life … a weakness of his study. Rather than limiting the possibilities for a sound theoretical analysis of the artist's work," Hirsch continued, "a judicious use of the biographical facts might well have helped van Alphen expand his interpretation in a manner more fully complementary to his own admirable purposes."
Van Alphen is "the first scholar to produce a convincing interpretation of Bacon's work free of the heavily biographic and iconographic concerns that have burdened other commentators," Andres Mario Zervigon wrote in a review for Art Journal. "More importantly, he is the first to finally address the critical silence that has existed for so long around Bacon's art. By reading this silence as an important factor in the art's meaning, he has proposed a wholly new way of understanding what was otherwise inexplicably impenetrable painting."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
van Alphen, Ernst, Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1993.
van Alphen, Ernst, Caught by History: Holocaust Effects in Contemporary Art, Literature, and Theory, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 1997.
van Alphen, Ernst, Armando: Shaping Memory, Distributed Art Publishers (New York, NY), 2000.
Afterimage, May 1, 1999, Marita Sturken, review of Caught by History, p. 10; May 1, 2005, Amber Hares, review of Art in Mind: How Contemporary Images Shape Thought, p. 45.
Art in America, December 1, 1994, Faye Hirsch, review of Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, p. 31.
Art Journal, June 22, 1995, Andres Mario Zervigon, review of Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, p. 87; June 22, 1995, Andres Mario Zervigon, "Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times," review of Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, p. 87; June 22, 2006, Helen MacDonald, "I Feel, Therefore I Think," review of Art in Mind, p. 130.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, June, 1993, J. Weidman, review of Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, p. 1614; September, 1998, J.A. Dompkowski, review of Caught by History, p. 104; September, 2005, I. Spalatin, review of Art in Mind, p. 1.
Library Journal, February 15, 1998, Gene Shaw, review of Caught by History, p. 158.
Religious Studies Review, April, 1999, review of Caught by History, p. 203.
Research in African Literatures, spring, 2006, Francis Ngaboh-Smart, review of Africa and Its Significant Others: Forty Years of Intercultural Entanglement, p. 158.
Cut-up Media,http://www.cut-up.com/ (June 27, 2008), Marcel Finke, review of Art in Mind.
National University of Leiden Web site,http://www.lw.leidenuniv.nl/ (June 27, 2008), author profile.
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Web site,http://www.clarkart.edu/ (June 27, 2008), author profile.