Otherworldly Powers? Narrative Functions of the Supernatural in Flemish and Congolese Literature before and after Congo’s Independence (1945-1975)

October 2019 to September 2023
the supernatural
Dutch Literature
comparative literature
postcolonial Literature
literature about Congo
unnatural narratology
Research fields
Languages and Literatures

Between 1945 and 1975, magical powers, curses and transcendent visions played a decisive role in Flemish literature about Congo, shaping the narrative and evoking different worldviews. Impossible phenomena in science fiction or fantastic literature have similar functions, but, unlike these genres, the supernatural elements in the Flemish literature about Congo have a religious undertone. This is explained by the strong missionary presence of the Flemish in Congo, the increasing anthropological interest in ‘animistic’ beliefs, and the religious debates of the previous mid-century.
In addition, the narrative functions of the supernatural are shaped by the (post)colonial context of these texts. I hold that in the Flemish literature about Congo, the supernatural gives meaning to the post-colonial experience, by evoking inner conflicts and political and social tensions through the lens of religious traditions.
The research project aims to provide insights into this (post)colonial imagination of Congo, by outlining and examining the particular narrative functions of the supernatural in this corpus. To put the dominant colonial, at times racist tone in an adequate perspective, I will compare the Flemish texts with literature by writers from a Congolese background.