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Word of the day: SELFMADE (self-made)

The invasion of the English language cannot be stopped. The influx of English words is a ‘fait accompli’, an accomplished fact, ‘een voldongen feit’, ‘eine vollendete Tatsache’. Cannot be helped, cannot be changed. Like it or not, we will have to resign ourselves to this linguistic development.

But, you must admit, that it is a weird accomplishment, a stunner to say the least, that the Dutch literary museum in The Hague – ‘het letterkundig museum’, a venerable museum consecrated to serious Dutch literary writing – has organised a nude photo exhibition with candid selfies by a Dutch lady author, unDutchly called: SELFMADE.


Now, make no mistake, the word SELFMADE may sound and look English, yet it was officially incorporated into the authoritative Dutch dictionary Van Dale. On its way in, it lost its little hyphen, but no matter.

If you wonder what the Dutch definition of SELFMADE is and how it should be pronounced, here it is according to the Van Dale heirs:

‘selfmade [sɛlfmet, sɛlfme:t] door eigen kracht gemaakt, door eigen kracht een positie in de maatschappij verworven hebbend, … voorbeeld: een selfmade ondernemer (made under one’s own power, having acquired a position in society on one’s own, example: a self-made entrepreneur).’

So a SELFMADE person is someone who has risen from the ranks, someone who pulled him or herself up by his or her own bootstraps.

The exhibition’s title SELFMADE does not only refer to the unbridled ambition of the author Heleen van Royen (Amsterdam, 1965), it also plays with the other linguistic newcomer word SELFIE.

Aad Meinderts, managing director of the Literary Museum, who initiated this exhibition, says in an interview with the newspaper Algemeen Dagblad (15 May 2014):

‘We besteden aandacht aan het hele Nederlandse literaire landschap. Heleen van Royen is een schrijfster die veel boeken verkoopt. Het is bijzonder hoe zij aandacht trekt en haar persoonlijkheid inzet om het publiek te bespelen. Bovendien hebben haar foto’s een dubbele boodschap: ze doen ook verslag van haar leven, vergankelijkheid en lichamelijk verval.’

(We give attention to the entire Dutch literary landscape. Heleen van Royen is an authoress who sells many books. It is unusual how she attracts attention and how she deploys her personality to play on her audience. What’s more her pictures have a double message: they report on her life, mortality and bodily decay.)

Heleen’s selfies have also been published in a book with the same title. The silent authoress talks to us through her skin pics both in the book and in the exhibition. Literary? Well, words are few indeed. In the newspaper Algemeen Dagblad she has reacted to the question why she has done it.

‘[The urge to make selfies] is stronger than myself and sometimes it annoys me. Just like my children who shout: “Ooooh mummmm.” My ex says: “Leave her, that’s the way your mother is.” It is certainly exhibitionistic. But it also goes without saying that these pics contribute to the promotion of my book.’

SELFMADE in other words is a brazen act of self-promotion by a staunch exhibitionist. Do you know her? Have you read her? Much of Heleen van Royen’s work was translated into English. Happy Housewife and Escape were nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Heleen van Royen who has lived In Portugal since 2005 made her debut in 2000 with the bestseller ‘De gelukkige huisvrouw’ (The Happy Housewife) which was adapted for film in 2009.

Both the book SELFMADE and the exhibition which runs until 7 September 2014 are thematically arranged. The five themes sound like a little sad poem:

Licht (light)
Liefde (love)
Seks (seks)
Vergankelijkheid (mortality)
Duisternis (gloom)

Curious to know what thoughts you have about this new phenomenon in the literary landscape.