Andrew W. Mellon Penn Faculty Fellow in the Humanities
2006—2007 Forum on Travel
Associate Professor & Chair, German, Penn
Travels of a Bookcase: Boudewjin Büch, Literature, Trauma, and the World
Boudewijn Büch (1948–2002) is little known outside of Dutch-language circles. This is unfortunate for an author, poet, and travel journalist whose work warrants comparison with that of W.G. Sebald, the German-British novelist of travel, memory, and trauma. Rarely have memory, literature, personal and national trauma been so obsessively and idiosyncratically mapped onto cultural and physical geography as in the neo-baroque cosmos of Boudewijn Büch. Who was this unique traveler who thought of himself as a “boekenkast op reis,” a bookcase on the road? Obsessed with Goethe, Buch’s proclivities are baroque in spirit in manner. His is a life lived allegorically, a continual mapping of a small terrain of trauma and pain onto literature and the world. He lives in the wound. His travels in literature and in geographical/historical space are conducted metonymically and relate to the body, in fragments and decomposed. At a time when travel, memory, trauma, and the book are guiding concepts for study in the humanities, Boudewijn Büch deserves a place at the table.