Dutch Landscape: Pride and Inequality

Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is a vibrant city with intricate hydraulic systems, colorful buildings, and unique architecture that attract millions of tourists. Dutch architects and fiction authors have written the  inspiring city and portrayed it in a plethora of ways. Architect Aaron Betsky wrote about Dutch architecture and the technology that the Netherlands was founded and operates on . In False Flat, Betsky describes an outing in his city, Rotterdam and guides the reader through the design of The Netherlands as an innovative country that has expanded the limits of technology, industrial design, and urban planning. He largely argues that Dutch architects re-examine modernists styles and designs. Betsky details the “false flat” that is the landscape of The Netherlands and walks us through how historically the reclaiming of land and irrigation have brought about a unique landscape, which has transformed and been transformed by this innovation. Through a historical description of the country’s design, Betsky depicts The Netherlands through a proud nationalist lens, stating the achievements of its people, but also centers on modernity’s issues such as racial discrimination and xenophobia. The Dutch author Nescio writes Amsterdam Stories, a book that has been described as impressionist because of the detailed imagery of light, water, and the sunset. In “Young Titans,” One can better understand the impressionist-like attitude that Nescio employs via the painting of View of Delft by Johannes Vermeer, painted in 1660, which depicts the typical of Dutch artists. He depicts the city in cloudy skies, with the grayish clouds directly contrasting the colors of the blue sky. The dark canals contrasts the primary colors present in the houses. The contrasts between dark and colorful are an integral part of Dutch landscapes. Nescio describes the color gold as central to the setting alluding to all that is in Amsterdam as gold. The young hero in “Young Titans” battles with the moral of what wisdom will teach him. Nescio wrote the story a few months before Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination.  Although he uses detailed description and imagery to depict Amsterdam as a city with nature, water, and the sun, the characters’ dilemmas with class inequality, directly contrast this. The narrator, Bekker, describes how he “suffers poverty and write articles.” Similarly, he discusses how his boss, the nice gentlemen labeled by society as so because of their wealth, had control over their life. Since they “had us in their power, the confiscated the greater part of our time, they has us out of the sunshine and away from the meadows and seaside…They chew us out. At the office, we were totally insignificant” (40). However, whenever the boss made fun of Bekker, Nescio always refers to Bekker’s poetry and the boss’ incompetence in literature. In other words, although Bekker and the narrator enjoys the nature and beauty of Amsterdam by going on nice walks along the canals, he is deprived of this pleasure because of his job. His lower-class status reminds him of his inferiority in society, especially compared to his boss, yet nature offers an escape from these negative thoughts. Through describing capitalism, Nescio, similar to Betsky, offers a nostalgic sense that longs for a past different from modernity’s problems. Both Nescio and Betsky bring up the theme of rural versus urban lifestyles in The Netherlands. Bekker wanted to go work on “heath someday, and work a little piece of land and never go back to the office” (38). Although Bekker wants to escape capitalism and return to an autonomous and simpler form of living, he brings up the dilemma that he has a moral obligation to society, a sort of calling. Through Bekker’s desire to escape his office job and live autonomously on the land, but not being able to, Nescio implies that capitalism is impossible to escape in today’s world. Betsky also refers to rural lifestyle and directly contrasts it to the issues of modernity when he describes farmers who had a vital role in constructing Rotterdam: “Hordes of poor tenants farmers who had seen their lands depleted and subdivided by centuries of agriculture turned to digging up the very fields that sustained the country” (22). The irony in Betsky’s example is that the he alludes to the farmers being displaced by the building of Rotterdam and the loosing of their lands; he discusses how modernity brought with it a sort of violence to the rural poor. Yet, Betsky’s point that these same farmers dug up the fields that sustain the country depict just how important the rural poor and their labor is to the development of a nation’s architecture and survival (since farmers feed people). However, these same farmers are never financially compensated for their essential work. One can see a more contemporary example of this today with so-called “essential” workers who keep the economy and society going. Their work has been key to our lifestyles, yet it is not until this global pandemic that one sees how important they are to maintaining the lifestyle we have built. Yet, these essential workers are underpaid and at high-risk of the COVID19, often unable to stay at home or social distance. Nescio and Betsky both refer to social inequalities in The Netherlands, although in different ways. Nescio describes the poverty and class inequalities present in Amsterdam by describe the psychological inferiority that Bekker and the narrator are made to feel. Yet, their escape from their office job and the “gentlemen” who think that they can accomplish anything in the world (their bosses), is art—poetry and painting as well as Amsterdam’s nature. Betsky also discuss class and racial inequality. After praising Dutch architecture and explaining how it has been essential to the current landscape, Betsky does acknowledge that there is xenophobia and racism present in The Netherlands. He begins by discussing the inequality in housing conditions that immigrants from Algeria, Morocco and Turkey face in crowded housing projects (29). He then goes on to state that the Dutch identity is dependent on excluding others who cannot fit into the ideal of what it means to be ‘authentically’ Dutch. Through creating the imagination of what is and is not Dutch, there is the division of “us versus them” that is created in Dutch politics—giving power to the ultra-right. Ultimately, both Betsky and Nescio acknowledge that although the landscape of The Netherlands is unique and beautiful, there are still flaws in its society that exclude certain individuals form benefiting for nature and the country’s design. This gives the reader a more critical and realistic view of The Netherlands. Both intellectuals are able to admire their country without romanticizing it and turning a blind eye to the problematic issues that still need reforming. Indeed, nationalism is not a blind devotion to one’s nation, but rather the ability to critique the part of one’s nation that needs bettering and moving forward with social change to make it a more equal society that allows multiculturalism to exist.

 Betsky, Aaron and Euwens, Adam. False Flat: Why Dutch Design is So Good. Phaidon Press, 2004

 Nescio. Damion Searls  (Translator), Joseph O’Neill (Introduction). Amsterdam Stories (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – March 20, 2012.


2 thoughts on “Dutch Landscape: Pride and Inequality

  1. Hi,

    You’ve clearly portrayed both views on the topic of Amsterdam through each cited source. Your descriptions of the authors are intricate and well written. Your voice in the essay comes across clearly, and you’ve contrasted the readings well, along with clarified or expanded on the cases from each author, which enhances your own voice in the paper. I think, overall, that you’re very articulate and even from a perspective of someone outside of the class, this essay is understandable and interesting.


  2. Hi there,
    I really enjoyed reading your essay. I thought you did a great job comparing and contrasting the writing of Nescio and Bestky in particular. I think it may have helped to split your essay up into paragraphs, but maybe the formatting got mixed up while copy and pasting. Regardless, I thought it was very interesting that you noted Nescio’s writing to be impressionistic and compared it Johannes Vermeer’s painting. I too agree that the way Nescio writes about light is integral to his story, the dutch landscape, and defines impressionism. Also a quick note, I’m fairly certain the narrator of Young Titans was Koekebakker and that Bekker was his friend. Lastly, I think you did a great job dealing with Koekebakker’s inferiority complex as relating to inequity and how that compares to Betsky’s observations of the Dutch farmers and immigrants.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s