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Baak, J. van

Baak, J. van

Joost van Baak, born in Utrecht, the Netherlands, in 1947. Ph.D. from the University of Groningen. Professor of Russian Literature at the University of Groningen

Fellow (1 September 1998 – 30 June 1999)

The starting point of my study is the idea of the house as an anthropological universal, and at the same time, as an image which reflects a historically and culturally specific view of the world. Literature – art in general – is a powerful medium for the expression of such images. Apart from being the setting of everyday life, the house also functions as the vehicle for a variety of symbolical meanings and values. On the basis of the Indo-European basic house lexicon and the inventory of mythical house motifs a house myth is (re)constructed: a programme in which the anthropologically relevant house motifs find a place. Thus, we can distinguish the universal idea of the domus, literally embodying the bonds between people: dynastically (as a family), architecturally, emotionally, as a point of orientation and identification.

In Russian literature of the nineteenth and twentieth century, the elements of the house myth can be traced in a variety of transformations and recurrent symbolic functions. The domus ideal, for example, can be recognised in the utopian projections of the estate world of nineteenth-century realism, and again, but from a totally different perspective, in the work of twentieth-century avant-garde authors. On the other hand, the absence, or loss, of the domus idea can activate different house motifs, in different symbolic transformations. During modernism, evidently a catastrophic period for Russia, the house characteristically becomes a powerful literary image expressing the existential crisis of the individual.