June 30, 2010

"America First?"

The global triumph of Anglo-Saxon culture is manifested in the World Cup, where the main heretics about the appeal of an English game, soccer, are other Anglo countries, such as America, Canada, and Australia, who have their own games.

Of course, cultural hegemony doesn't ensure political or economic power -- Greek cultural hegemony continued for centuries after Rome conquered Greece.

In the New York Review of Books, Tim Parks writes in "America First?" about the dominance of English-language literature in the 21st Century:
Americans do not read enough foreign fiction. The accusation is made by Aleksander Hemon in his anthology Best European Fiction 2010, and again by Edith Grossman, celebrated translator of Don Quixote, as well as many other Spanish works, in her Yale lectures, Why Translation Matters. Only 3 to 5 percent of books published in the US  are translations, we are told. 

And the percentage of books sold in the U.S. that are translations must be even smaller (leaving aside the Bible and high school assignments like Homer). The Swedish "Girl with a Dragon Tattoo" detective bestsellers are the first foreign language bestseller phenomenon in the U.S. that I can remember for a number of years.
Hemon sees this as another manifestation of “culturally catastrophic American isolationism”; Grossman feels that the resulting incomprehension of foreign cultures has dangerous implications for world peace. Thus both these publications that invite us to experience other cultures do so within the frame of a polemic at home.

Hemon’s anthology arranges thirty-five stories in alphabetical order of the country of origin, from Albania to Wales. ...

All the contributions are interesting and some impressive. That is enough for me. But it does make one wonder whether we are learning much about other cultures from this venture, whether it is true, as Hemon claims, that “ceaseless” and “immediate” translation of literature from abroad is a “profound, non- negotiable need.” ... Remarking, in her short preface, on this reluctance of the anthology’s contributors to be identified with their national cultures, Zadie Smith nevertheless feels that "if the title of this book were to be removed and switched with that of an anthology of the American short story, isn’t it true that only a fool would be confused as to which was truly which?"

Truly, truly, aside from superficial markers like names and places, or the fact that it is fairly easy to distinguish translated texts from those in their original tongue, I am not sure that Smith is altogether right. It seems to me rather that as we tackle intriguing stories from Latvia and Lithuania, Bosnia and Macedonia, we are struck by how familiar these voices are, how reassuringly similar in outlook to one another and ourselves.

This affinity is most evident in the stories that take a satirical approach. The Slovakian Peter Krištúfek imagines a city given a cosmetic facelift for an international summit, as a result of which it now “contained numerous phantom doors that led nowhere and false windows that could not be opened.” Ornella Vorpsi pokes bitter fun at male attitudes in Albania, a place where a woman is encouraged to “sew up her slit” when her husband is away, since Albanian men “have a highly developed sense of private property.” Julian Gough indulges in surreal farce to expose the extent of Irish xenophobia and backwardness. Each writer appeals confidently to an international liberal readership at the expense of provincial bigotry and hypocrisy.

This is equally true where humor is renounced for more direct denunciation: Polish writer Michał Witowski recounts the fate of a Slovak rent boy in Vienna; Croatian Neven Ušumovic´ tells of an illegal immigrant in Budapest tortured by local youths and eventually rescued by the local Chinese. 

The Magic Chinese doesn't sound as sure-fire box office as Morgan Freeman, although I guess that's the point of the various Karate Kid movies.
It is as if literary fiction didn’t so much reflect other cultures, obliging us to immerse ourselves in the exotic, but rather brought back news of shortcomings and injustices to an international community that could be relied upon to sympathize. These writers seem more like excellent foreign correspondents than foreigners. Across the globe, the literary frame of mind is growing more homogeneous.

The many different narrative forms used in the collection, though frequently “experimental,” are, again, hardly unfamiliar; stories are fragmented, seen from different angles, in ways that make it interestingly difficult for us to decide how much reality to attach to them or how much emotion to invest. Again this is in line with an eclectic renunciation of any absolute version of events. In personal statements included at the back of the book, writers mention such models as Kafka, Borges, and Barthelme, suggesting that narrative experimentalism (which invariably undercuts certainties, rather than reinforcing them) has become a literary lingua franca, an international convention. ...

Translation matters, Edith Grossman tells us, because without it we would not have books like Best European Fiction 2010, or indeed any literature written in other languages. This is self-evident. She also insists that American publishers have a special duty to foreign writers since without an English translation their work cannot compete for international literary prizes, in particular the Nobel. While it is debatable that American publishers need concern themselves with Nobel ambitions around the globe, the remark does hint at differences between the forces driving translation in Europe and America.

Both Grossman and Hemon applaud countries like Germany, France, and Italy where translations account for perhaps 50 percent of published fiction. What they do not say is that all but a few of these translations are from English and take the form of genre novels, detective stories, thrillers, and so on. So commercially successful are these books in a country like Italy that the newspaper Corriere della Sera splits its best-seller list into domestic and foreign fiction, since otherwise there might be times when domestic authors would not feature. Some publishers concentrate almost exclusively on translations, freeing themselves from the arduous task of finding and fostering new writers in their own language.

Is this, then, American isolationism, or imperialism, or a new kind of internationalism? Grossman says she is at a loss to understand the American reluctance to translate; the fact is that in Europe there is enormous public interest in America as the world’s first power and the perceived motor of changing mores. American authors take up considerable space in the literary pages of Europe’s newspapers not, or not only, because they are good, but because they are American, they talk about America. This gives them a celebrity value; readers want to read them. An equally good Polish author talking about Poland is simply not considered interesting and will very likely not be translated. Indeed many of the authors who appear in Best European Fiction 2010 are not widely published in other European countries.

Since many people have come to share a vision of the novel as a peculiarly liberal art, related, for better or worse, to journalism, dedicated to the construction of a better future through an account of the present, and deeply hostile to anything that curbs the freedom of the individual, it is not so surprising that we are moving toward a literary internationalism whose driving force, at least at the commercial and popular level, remains, for better or worse, the mainstream American novel.

It is ironic here to find Grossman quoting a Nobel Prize judge claiming that Europe is still the center of the literary world; this is wishful thinking on the Swede’s part. European writers may be unconcerned whether or not they are published in this or that other European country, or indeed in Chinese or Japanese, but they are all extremely anxious to be published in America, precisely because, as Grossman points out, this gives access to world recognition.

In America, I sense, that elite artistic culture has been, for the past two or three years, moving vaguely toward the right, in a reactionary direction. Don't ask me to quantify this -- that's just an intuition I'm picking up. In contrast, it sounds like the poor Euros are stuck around where America was in 1990, at the high tide of multi-culti mania. But, then, what do I know since I don't bother to read books in translation anymore?
 

63 comments:

John Walters said...

Americans play foreign video games like Poland's "The Witcher" and "The Witcher 2." Further, Japan has a tremendous impact on the American media market.

Everybody's got a hustle said...

Americans do not read enough foreign fiction. The accusation is made by Aleksander Hemon in his anthology Best European Fiction 2010, and again by Edith Grossman, celebrated translator of Don Quixote, as well as many other Spanish works, in her Yale lectures, Why Translation Matters.

And I bet Japanese auto executives believe Americans don't buy enough foreign cars.

Garland said...

" I sense, that elite artistic culture has been, for the past two or three years, moving vaguely toward the right, in a reactionary direction. Don't ask me to quantify this -- that's just an intuition I'm picking up."

Can you at least give some examples? Because it seems incredible. Do you just mean that the 1990s multicultiness has started to recede somewhat?

Whiskey said...

First off, America imports a LOT of English stuff, notably J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, which is a TRUE best-seller, not the "Dragon Tattoo" stuff which is very, very minor in sales (its basically a drunk old journalist playing captain save-a-ho to some prostitute/junkie).

Second, the whole point is that America EXPORTS literature and movies and pretty much culture all over the world. Examples being the horrid but world-wide popular Twilight series.

Translations of stuff abroad is like selling cheap electronics to China. Its just a losing proposition when so much, from Superman and Iron Man, to Indiana Jones, to Twilight and Transformers is just gushing out of America.

This is because America still retains a bit of cultural self-confidence, belief in itself, and stories that amuse both natives and foreigners abroad. No one in America cared about Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or Jose Luis Borges, or even the Maj Sowahl / Per Wahloo Swedish Police procedurals from the 1970's through 1980's.

Instead, the only stuff that makes an inroad is stuff culturally akin: Inspector Morse, Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, Frederick Forsythe, etc.

Look at the production of the late Donald E. Westlake. Under his own name, what, thirty books about comic capers? Under Richard Stark, something like twenty or so about brutal capers gone awry? And that's just Westlake.

People are not interested in the stuff that Europeans are interested in, Albanian rent boys or magical Chinese (read: European intellectuals). Instead, authors in the US and UK are in it for MONEY. So you get hunky vampires and werewolves batting over some high school girl. Or a kids own adventure story about magical boarding schools. Or a kid with a car that's a super-robot that talks.

That's not intellectual, high-art stuff. But it sells. It MAKES MONEY.

jack strocchi said...

Most people want to be on the side thats winning. The Anglo-Americans are still perceived to be winning ie atop the status ladder in power, privilege and prestige.

Hence most RoW people want to read stories about Anglo-Americans since they can then vicariously identify with the characters relentless obsessive quest for dominance. A book called Harvard Girl anout a Chinese lass who makes her way in the Ivy League is a case in point.

BamaGirl said...

Japanese pop-culture has made a pretty significant impact on Americans, especially among the nerdier sorts. Scandinavian/German metal bands have also had a great deal of crossover appeal to Americans and has even influenced the direction of American metal music a little bit.
Alot of tv shows (especially on Starz/HBO) we enjoy are also British/Austrailian/New Zealand.
But I guess since its in the "Anglosphere" it doesn't count as too much of a foreign influence. Btw, why do we call it "anglo" culture and ignore the fact that probably over half the population of the Anglosphere are of Scottish/Irish/Welsh origins too? Shouldn't it just be called Brittanic or something? I guess the term Anglo annoys me because the only people I hear using it around where I live are obnoxious Mexicans and I assumed the term derived from them.

ricpic said...

In a nutshell? America, even in its present wounded state, is infinitely more dynamic than the rest of the world. The same old same olds are always and ever aware of the dynamic; the dynamic barely notice the bores.

Gilbert said...

But if Americans ever developed a taste for translated literature, you just know that Euros would then turn around and condescend to us for not knowing the languages the books were composed in! "Oh but it means so much more in the original German... stupid Americans can't read German..." etc.

(But I don't get the impression that Americans read much anyway.)

agnostic said...

The article said what the problem is: all the faggy Euro stuff is satire / farce aimed at the power structure and marketed toward a cosmopolitan bunch of self-back-patters.

They tried that during Renaissance humanism and the Enlightenment -- and it bombed. Who would rather read Thomas More or Erasmus over Shakespeare or Marlowe? Who prefers Alexander Pope or Voltaire's fiction to Leopardi or Dostoyevsky or even Grimm's Fairy Tales?

Americans aren't as obsessed with class like Europeans are, so we don't give a shit about who can most artfully slice up their competitors in the status struggle. We'd rather focus on big themes that transcend petty whining.

It doesn't even have to be grand or epic -- just charming will do! Give us your ABBA, your Amelie, your Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland. If we don't consume an awful lot more than that, it's not our fault that the rest of the world is so against having fun.

Anonymous said...

I seem to recall a National Geographic study from decades past that found only 2% of the US adult population reads fiction regularly. And I suspect they are probably all on the right side tail of the Bell Curve so Parks seems to be criticizing the reading habits of a small talented minority with elite college degrees and Democratic Party membership.

It used to be that Anglo Saxon people got vicarious thrills reading travel books containing vivid descriptions of exotic people in distant lands. But diversity has mixed Anglo Saxon countries up so much that Anglo people are now probably reading for relief from their exotic neighbors and neighborhoods, preferring books that describe retro life in safe, happy, homogeneous neighborhoods of yesteryear.

Anonymous said...

If you want a reactionary translation check out Houellebecq.

Peter A said...

I sense, that elite artistic culture has been, for the past two or three years, moving vaguely toward the right, in a reactionary direction.

Maybe that's true in a pure HBD sense. But in economic left vs. right politics I sense the exact opposite. The consensus among artistic elites, since 1991, was that the demise of the USSR proved radical socialism/leftism was a dead end. Communism became an embarassment. My sense is that the last 3 years has changed this - the anger toward Wall Street takes both radical right (Tea Party) and radical left wing forms, and elite artistic culture is moving to the left.

Steve Sailer said...

"Can you at least give some examples?"

I don't want to commit myself yet. If I can come up with a strong enough set of examples, I'll write it up on a large enough scale. If I can't, well, let's just forget I ever said it.

But, if you have examples, pro or con, I'd love to hear them.

Kylie said...

From The New York Review of Books: "She[Grossman] also insists that American publishers have a special duty to foreign writers since without an English translation their work cannot compete for international literary prizes, in particular the Nobel."

Wonderful. Affirmative action for those who can't write in English. (For some reason, our very own Michelle "Thank-you" Obama comes to mind.)

Why isn't it the "special duty" of those writers to learn to write in English?

I have no use for Ms. Grossman's opinions--or her translations. When I read Don Quixote, I read it in Spanish.

Peter A said...

It's interesting that Ricpic is pretty much wrong. America is not infinitely more dynamic than the rest of the world. Not at all. it is the Anglosphere as a whole - USA, UK, Australia, NZ, and Canada - that are the exporters to the world. On a per capita basis NZ, Australia and Canada are arguably more successful culturally than America. A lot of "Hollywood" stars/producers/writers are in fact British, Canadian or Australian. The question, which I haven't resolved in my own mind, is whether the other Anglosphere countries are just piggy backing on America, or whether there is truly an "Anglo" culture that crosses national lines. I suspect, given the similar forms of government, legal systems and free market attitudes, that the latter is the case. The USA is actually not "special" or unique, we are just the foremost exponent of what, at the foundation, is a British form of cultural expression. What we think of as American exceptionalism is really just the best/most advanced form of British culture.

Anonymous said...

Until Salman Rushdie moved to New York, it was acknowledged by many that the two best living writers in England were Rushdie and Naipaul. Indo-Anglian authors - Rushdie, Ghosh, Roy, Chandra - can go mano-a-mano with Amis, McEwan, Roth, Delillo, etc. Its hillarious that the author of this blog thinks Michael Chabon's drek is geat writing!

Anonymous said...

I don't know about book learnin' and such

polistra said...

My impression is the exact opposite. The Anglosphere is still moving insanely and suicidally forward into multi-culti surrender, with England leading the train. Meanwhile, non-English Europe (including Russia) is turning back toward sanity in the last two years. Banning minarets and burqas, controlling Gypsies, returning Christianity to the schools, etc.

Reg Cæsar said...

Hemon’s anthology arranges thirty-five stories in alphabetical order of the country of origin, from Albania to Wales.

The unspoken (imperialistic?) assumption here is that the alphabetization is English. "Wales" would come near the beginning in Irish Gaelic and Macedonian, and just before the middle in most Romance languages, though not in French or Portuguese, where nevertheless it's still not far after the middle-- much better placed than it is in the conqueror's language.

And if you're of a certain age, Welsh literature offers important contributions to Anglophone culture, and with surprising reach.

asdfasdfasdfa said...

Does anyone read literature anymore?
Movies matter more and cinephiles do watch movies from around the world.

But when it comes to music, pop music is 99.9% of what people listen to, and it's mostly Afro-Anglo pop. Why don't liberals decry the lack of appreciation of polka, Arab music, Chinese music, etc among Americans? As long as much of it's black, liberals are pleased and don't care if Americans don't care about music from other parts of the world.

If most American books were written by blacks, I don't think this would be an issue. Problem is most are written by whites, and it bothers the SWPL crowd.

Barack Mugabe said...

“to be published in America… gives access to world recognition”

I guess writing fiction is not your thing, Steve, but I’m sure many of your readers would agree with me that you are one of the best non-fiction writers in America, and in the area of politics, you are THE BEST.
A brilliant writer like you should be competing in the lucrative market for “right-wing” books. Glen Beck for example has a number of best sellers, but his “ideas” are amateurish and silly. Your ideas are data driven and consistently brilliant, and provide a powerful intellectual framework for right leaning people to utilize in the 21st century.
If you don’t have time to write a new book spelling out your philosophy, maybe you could publish a compilation of columns with each chapter focusing on a different subject (like Chomsky sometimes puts out.) Maybe you could have iSteve readers vote on which columns to include.
We the people need less silliness and more Sailer!

Anonymous said...

Hey BamaGirl,

They call it Anglo Saxon because the invading Angles and Saxons came to dominate the ruling classes in the British Isles.

However, as Brian Sykes book "Saxons, Vikings and Celts" spell out, the Celts still dominate the genetic, cultural and mythological picture of Ireland and the British Isles.

I recently came across this long forgotten Robbie Burns poem, "Scots Wha Ha'e", a tribute to Robert the Bruce and the Battle of Bannockburn (in which the Scots maintained their autonomy from the conquering English King Edward.)

It should be remembered that much of the "Anglo Saxon" worldview that came to the Americas was formed in opposition to oppression by the English monarchy. That's true for the Puritans and true for the Scots-Irish that followed them.

Perhaps it's this individualism and desire for freedom that captures the the world imagination. It's the echo of an ancient and unconquerable soul.

Here's "Scots Wha Ha'e":

Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led
Welcome tae your gory bed
Or tae victory!

Now's the day an' now's the hour
See the front of battle lour
See approach proud Edward's pow'r
Chains and slavery

Wha would be a traitor knave?
Wha would fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee!
Wha for Scotland's king and Law

Freedom's sword would strongly draw
Freeman stand or freeman fa'
Let him fa' wi' me!

By oppression's woes and pains
By your sons in serville chains
We will drain our dearest veins
But they shall be free.

Lay the proud userpers low!
Tyrants fall in ev'ry foe
Liberty's in every blow
Let us do or dee!

Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led
Welcome tae your gory bed
Or tae victory!

youtube version

http://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=CKT7qxk9-pw&feature=related

A reminder that freedom is not free!

Best!

-Puritan (and Presbyterian) descendant in SF

Anonymous said...

I suspect that there is a link between having a large orbitofrontal cortex with a dense network of mirror neurons -- a characteristic of the Ice People -- and being able to produce great art and literature that resonates with a wide audience. Anglo Saxons are extremely empathetic people in spite of their inhibited behaviours so it is no surprise that so many of them have a talent for writing psychologically deep novels. I mean, who knew the psyche of young adolescent peasant girls better than the forty-something Victorian, Thomas Hardy?

Certainly not that puerile Germano-Semitic nincompoop, Sigmund Freud.

Steve Sailer said...

"If you want a reactionary translation check out Houellebecq."

Thanks, yes, I've got to find the copy I bought and finish it.

fred said...

"Until Salman Rushdie moved to New York, it was acknowledged by many that the two best living writers in England were Rushdie and Naipaul. Indo-Anglian authors - Rushdie, Ghosh, Roy, Chandra - can go mano-a-mano with Amis, McEwan, Roth, Delillo, etc. Its hillarious that the author of this blog thinks Michael Chabon's drek is geat writing!"

Your system for rating writers seems a little ideological. Ghosh is often terrible (he's what would happen if you took all the good parts out of Steinbeck, and left the bad parts), Roy is terrible (and only wrote one novel, by the way.) Rushdie can be a good writer, but his good books are rare, unfocused and often unconvincing. The only writer you judge correctly is Naipaul, who is better than McEwan, and Roth's equal. But Naipaul is such a clear and interesting writer in part because he stands outside the self-congratulatory liberal elite that Tim Parks discusses in the linked article.

Mr. Sailer's closing observation is interesting, but I confess I haven't noticed any such trend, and no evidence comes to mind to support it.

(I also agree that Houellebecq, despite having only one, unhappy, theme, is worth a read).

Mr. Anon said...

In short: We have plenty of domestic crappy, post-modernist writers. We have no need to read other country's crappy, post-modernist writers.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

Its hillarious that the author of this blog thinks Michael Chabon's drek is geat writing!"

It's amusing that you think that Don DeLillo is a good writer. He's a talentless hack.

And is Arundati Roy even a writer? I though she was just a full-time anti-american propagandist and guest on Alternative Radio.

Anonymous said...

The decline of civilization can be read in how the user above speaks about that Burn's poem as "long forgotten", when it is one of his best known.

Fred said...

"Until Salman Rushdie moved to New York, it was acknowledged by many that the two best living writers in England were Rushdie and Naipaul."

Naipaul is culturally more English than the leading Anglo Saxon English novelists.

Cinco Jotas said...

I sense, that elite artistic culture has been, for the past two or three years, moving vaguely toward the right, in a reactionary direction.

I agree.

I usually cite as my prime example, the painter John Currin, who is usually held up by critics as being the best American painter currently working. (He does figural stuff using Old Master techniques, although his subject matter is decidedly contemporary.)

Anyway, Currin is pretty clearly a man of the right.

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/john-currin-the-filth-and-the-fury-795525.html

daflory said...

@John Walters

It's significant, though, that the author of the Witcher stories was only recently translated in response to the completely unexpected success of the game.

Sapkowski's Witcher stories, with their brutally pre-modern Polish historical-fantasy setting, are about as far as one can get from elite artistic culture.

Anonymous said...

I'm still waiting for the translation of Solzhenitsyn's Two Hundred Years Together

Anonymous said...

French?

Francois Truffault
La Cantatrice Chauve (Ionesco)
Marguerite Duras
Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio
Marcel Pagnol

A lot of American movies are bad knock-offs of French movies based on the works of these authors and directors.

----------------------------------
French Canadian?

French Canadian movies that have a limited international following:

Denys Arcand's "Jesus of Montreal"
Claude Jutra's "Mon Oncle Antoine"

----------------------------------
German?

I agree with the above comment about the influence of German punk and metal band. Rammstein and Nena come to mind.

----------------------------------
Greek?

An early 20th century poet that has quite a following here in the US is Constantine Cavafy (Greek).

----------------------------------

Russia?

Alexander Solschenizyn
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Nina Berberova

-----------------------------------

Classics?

It's doesn't seem to be well known, but many early Puritan New Englanders had been classically trained. ie. they had read the Greek and Roman classics.

I believe it is still quite common for people to read these classics.

----------------------------------

Other historical classics commonly read by Americans:

Inazo Nitobe's "Bushido: Soul of Japan"

SunTzu's "Art of War"

----------------------------------

Finally, what about Bollywood? It's gathered an almost cult like following in many countries, not just those with Indian expats.

----------------------------------
-pd in sf

Anonymous said...

"In America, I sense, that elite artistic culture has been, for the past two or three years, moving vaguely toward the right, in a reactionary direction."

Americans (and Canadians) are moving to the right. I'm not sure about the elite artistic culture. Who do you mean? To be honest, I find the the "artistic culture" of the New Yorker or the New York Times to be weirdly disconnected and almost apolitical in their views. It's as the article says: a cynical, Kafkaesque, surreal writing construct allows the elite to abstract away concern or the immediacy of need to take action.

Anonymous said...

I can't read contemporary scandinavian fiction, when I am, I continually remind myself that this is the last time. What separates europeans from scandinavians are that they live in a culture where everyone is on-message all the time, this makes the fact that they themselves are on-message all the seem completely normal and sane to them. I have not read a lot of it but this is my impression: To the degree our contemporary (low to middle-brow) literature is "journalistic" it is (with one extremely welcome exception, the swedish snabba cash) doctrinaire liberal. The UN is mankinds greatest hope, jews are ok (Israel isn't), USA is suspect, brown people don't do anything wrong, social democracy is just super(!) all bad guys are generally middle class or up. (for mencius moldbug readers vaishya or optimates..) It would be hillarious, if it wasn't for general decandence, low birthrates and third world colonization.

Anonymous said...

I don't think we read foreign fiction in the UK either and I'd be surprised if English Canada and the Antipodes were much different.

I think it's just the case that English language books (and media in general, except for videogames and anime and stuff like that which are strongly limited and where language is really far from not the main dish) are too broadly available. It's hard to learn to like to read in translation. Translated books are really not as good, in terms of pure enjoyment of language, as a fluent L1 speaker or even a halting L2, no matter how neat the ideas they express.

In contrast, Euro countries L1 literatures are more rapidly exhausted, leading to turn to translation, plus they have greater facility with other European languages as a default.

Anonymous said...

These advocates for translated literature are denying the obvious fact that writers in English have far more diverse backgrounds than all European writers. Eg A great American novelist like Ernest J Gaines takes me sympathetically into a world (Blacks in rural Louisiana) farther from my own than any European writer. The great English tradition can bring in talented people from anywhere. (Incidentally, the many fine Black writers in the English novel tradition don't seem concerned about "acting White"). There are a lot of terrific novels in English being written (and read) by Indians in India - I'd particularly recommend Amitav Ghosh, BTW.
In contrast, literature in translation is mostly from tight little, White little Europe - you can learn that upper-middle-class adultery is much the same in the better parts of Paris or Rome as in those of London or New York. Is that what Hemon and Grossman want?
The advocates of translation also ignore the possibility that foreign-language literature is just not as good as English. I've noticed a decline in the number of French novels translated. Maybe French literary theory has killed the French novel? And as for the much-hyped Latin Americans, can it be denied that Ireland (pop c5 million) has produced more great literature than the whole of Latin America?

Howard Hughes said...

"Wonderful. Affirmative action for those who can't write in English. (For some reason, our very own Michelle "Thank-you" Obama comes to mind.)

Why isn't it the "special duty" of those writers to learn to write in English?"
Every author isn't Joseph Conrad. Mostly, quality literature shows up in a person's native language.

Many people here seem to have quite an arrogance concering American culture - dismissing "foreign" literature without having read that much of it. But, then again, it hardly matters since the American public hardly read...

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Indo-Anglian literature, Tyle Cowen ranks A Suitable Boy (Seth) as "better than anything in Dickens" besides Bleak House. You can look it up.

John Walters said...

@daflory:'Sapkowski's Witcher stories, with their brutally pre-modern Polish historical-fantasy setting, are about as far as one can get from elite artistic culture.'

I haven't read the print stories, but I seem to recall having seen an interview where the game creators (possibly the original author as well) compared the hero to a detective in the Dashiell Hammett/ Raymond Chandler vein.

I suppose detective stories are not very highbrow.

David said...

>tight little, White little Europe<

मैं तुम्हें शाप

jody said...

why did the movie adaption of "the road" not get a wide release? and will there be an adaption of "blood meridian"?

i grew up in pennsylvania and found the road to be harrowing. hicks and rednecks are clever and crafty, and cormac mccarthy's depiction of redneck cannibals was terrifying. the scene in the house with the basement was easily the most frightening scene in any movie in a a decade.

his depiction of appalachia was dead on. the road could have happened anywhere in pennsylvania, west virginia, virginia, kentucky, or tennessee. it looked like they were in new jersey by the end, though.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Re: right-leaning, reactionary lit

Pete Dexter and Cormac McCarthy

Also Umberto Eco, who uses William Weaver for his translations

Here's Eco, in the NY Times no less, daring to question our Great Leap Forward into radical secularism.

Anonymous said...

The american literature flow inside the other countries,not because her quality but because Usa is the modern Empire.
It's not just in the literature, such thing is even more pronunced in the film's productione and fiction-movies.
When Rome invaded the Greece, the greece's culture invaded the empire; now the power in economy drive the "cultural market" and this is not good because not alwais the "quality" stay where is the money, and in this case doesn't.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe French literary theory has killed the French novel?"

The "recit" or personal non-fictional account has been the current genre of choice in France for the last twenty years.

I read both French and English and I certainly agree that translations of French works are usually much inferior to the original.

I recently took a class in French Literature and the professor told me that she thought it a shame that the movie made of Marguerite Duras's recit "L'Amant" had been made in English, rather than French.

However, it's true that there are worlds and worlds out there that you capture when you can read another language. Many great literary works are not available in English, or cannot properly be translated.

alonzo portfolio said...

Up through the 1970's, a huge percentage of literature, of whatever quality and from whatever country or political view, was focused on the question of sex. The entire presumption was that sex was either emotionally dangerous or hard to come by. How does literature survive when everyone knows, from a young age, that this is no longer true? Put another way, Sex In The City could not be a long-running hit in a culture in which literature thrives.

Anonymous said...

Anglo Saxons are extremely empathetic people in spite of their inhibited behaviours so it is no surprise that so many of them have a talent for writing psychologically deep novels. I mean, who knew the psyche of young adolescent peasant girls better than the forty-something Victorian, Thomas Hardy?

Certainly not the Anglo-Saxons who excuted her. Have you even read the book or at least seen the movie? One of the last scenes occurs at Stonehenge, a nostalgic reminder of Britain prior to the arrival of those wonderfully empathetic people.

James A. Donald said...

To what extent is fiction trending right?

John Scalzi mouths all the correct progressive platitudes, precisely because his fiction is set in a distinctly right wing authoritarian universe: In his fictional universe, The human race is ruled by an aggressive warlike imperialist colonialist military dictatorship - who are, more or less, the good guys, the civilian politicians tending towards incompetent and unrealistic pacifism. Politics just makes us weak. His protagonists settle a world of primitive man eating savages, while menaced by races of comparable and sometimes superior technology and intellect.

He is terrified of being thought a right winger, but John Ringo gives them the finger, and to the extent that Ringo's work is piously politically correct, it is pious in a transparently insincere way that gives the PC the finger, after the fashion of South Park.

And then, of course, there is South Park.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about John Ringo, but I do sometimes like South Park. However, it seems a little over the top sometimes. Kinda surreal. Like I really don't know too many men who would worry about going on testosterone therapy.

I never liked "Sex in the City." Women endlessly, into their forties, chasing after the next [weird] guy. Never rang true to me.

We haven't talked about The Simpsons. Favorite episodes:

One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Bluefish

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bangalore

Two Cars in Every Garage, and Three Eyes on Every Fish

All things Apu. For some reason, I love Apu . . . his innocence, his general dignity in the face of so much chaos.

-pd in sf

Anonymous said...

Someone said you shouldn't even read Proust if you can't read it in French. I enjoyed Swann's Way in English. Maybe I am missing something.

I think Nietzsche is hard to translate also.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'll have to try to read Proust in French. Thanks for that.

Black Sea said...

It's hard to improve on what Leslie Fiedler wrote almost 60 years ago:

From Europe it is easy to understand the religious nature of the American belief in innocence and achievement; to see how even the most vulgar products of "mass culture," movies, comic books, sub-literary novels are the scriptures of this post-Christian faith--a faith that has already built up in Western Europe a sizable underground that worships in the catacombs of movie thaters and bows before the images of its saints on the newsstands. A hundred years after the Manifesto, the specter haunting Europe is--Gary Cooper! Vulgar, gross, sentimental, impoverished in style--our popular sub-art presents dreams of human possibilities to starved imaginations everywhere.

baduin said...

There are different types of books:

- popular adventure and SF stories, romances etc - all mass produced according to a formula, better or worse, but never new.

- would-be elite boring books describing boring life of the would-be elite, written in an especially boring way so that would-be elite readers can feel that no one not elite would be able to struggle through them,

- interesting books.

Obviously, there is no sense in translating either the mass literature or the would-be elite posturings - Americans can produce those very well themselves.

As for interesting books, they do not have a ready made public. Being interesting, they require thinking. For that reason there is no sense in translating them into English, because nobody will read them.

Also, good writing is very difficult to translate, and the public is generally not interested in it.

As for the similarity of American and European literatures: would-be elite books are the same everywhere, because they want to be the same. The ideal of transnational elite must be by definition the same everywhere.

The good books, on the other hand, can be very different from anything found in America - but that doesn't matter, because no American will read them.

David said...

Why have you wasted your time reading this far in the comments, when you could have been reading a novel?

Or were you really wasting your time?

Steve Sailer said...

The novels of the future will be written in the form of blog comments.

Anonymous said...

But diversity has mixed Anglo Saxon countries up so much that Anglo people are now probably reading for relief from their exotic neighbors and neighborhoods, preferring books that describe retro life in safe, happy, homogeneous neighborhoods of yesteryear.

Despite the fact that Mad Men is one of the most odious pieces of anti-WASP propaganda ever to be played on American television, I wonder whether Matthew Weiner is aware that its popularity is entirely due to Boomer nostalgia for an era when their fathers wore starched white shirts and wool suits to work, their mothers stayed at home to raise the kids, and black people only appeared on-screen as elevator operators, bellhops, porters, and maids?

If he is as cynical as I imagine him to be, then I'd be willing to wager that the answer is, "Yep!"



But, if you have examples, pro or con, I'd love to hear them.

Early NCIS, with scripts written by Bellisario [before the professional Bolsheviks seized the writing credits and ruined the series].

Early South Park, when Cartman was still the hero of the series [e.g. Scott Tenorman Must Die, before the Elena Kagan crowd took over the writing credits, and had Wendy defeat him in a school-yard brawl].

Stargate SG1, written by Canadian Scots, from a decidedly Scots perspective.

Breaking Bad ['nuff said].

Smallville [which has shockingly few professional Bolsheviks in its writing credits, as opposed to Supernatural, which is pretty much 100% Bolshevik-Phariseeical propaganda & disinformation].

At the movies, the best recent work has been conservative in nature [although when was that not the case?]: The Gift, The New World, The Nativity Story, Broken Trail [AMC mini-series], etc.

Heck, even the Bolsheviks pointed their guns at the Muslims in S&TC II.

PS: Has anyone seen this new TV show, The Whitest Kids U' Know?

How does it compare with Stuff White People Like?

PPS: Isn't it pretty amazing that The Outlaw Josey Wales could have been written by the likes of an Asa Earl Carter, yet it makes so much money that the shekel-mongering Bolsheviks at Time-Warner have to swallow their pride and play it about once every weekend, on either TBS, or TNT?

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Anonymous said...

But diversity has mixed Anglo Saxon countries up so much that Anglo people are now probably reading for relief from their exotic neighbors and neighborhoods, preferring books that describe retro life in safe, happy, homogeneous neighborhoods of yesteryear.

Despite the fact that Mad Men is one of the most odious pieces of anti-WASP propaganda ever to be played on American television, I wonder whether Matthew Weiner is aware that its popularity is entirely due to Boomer nostalgia for an era when their fathers wore starched white shirts and wool suits to work, their mothers stayed at home to raise the kids, and black people only appeared on-screen as elevator operators, bellhops, porters, and maids?

If he is as cynical as I imagine him to be, then I'd be willing to wager that the answer is, "Yep!"



But, if you have examples, pro or con, I'd love to hear them.

Early NCIS, with scripts written by Bellisario [before the professional Bolsheviks seized the writing credits and ruined the series].

Early South Park, when Cartman was still the hero of the series [e.g. Scott Tenorman Must Die, before the Elena Kagan crowd took over the writing credits, and had Wendy defeat him in a school-yard brawl].

Stargate SG1, written by Canadian Scots, from a decidedly Scots perspective.

Breaking Bad ['nuff said].

Smallville [which has shockingly few professional Bolsheviks in its writing credits, as opposed to Supernatural, which is pretty much 100% Bolshevik-Phariseeical propaganda & disinformation].

At the movies, the best recent work has been conservative in nature [although when was that not the case?]: The Gift, The New World, The Nativity Story, Broken Trail [AMC mini-series], etc.

Heck, even the Bolsheviks pointed their guns at the Muslims in S&TC II.

PS: Has anyone seen this new TV show, The Whitest Kids U' Know?

How does it compare with Stuff White People Like?

PPS: Isn't it pretty amazing that The Outlaw Josey Wales could have been written by the likes of an Asa Earl Carter, yet it makes so much money that the shekel-mongering Bolsheviks at Time-Warner have to swallow their pride and play it about once every weekend, on either TBS, or TNT?

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Anonymous said...

Baduin and Black Sea,

Thanks for making me laugh over my morning coffee.

The problem is that it is hard to tell right away if a book is a would-be elite book, or a truly amazing book.

It's also a matter of opinion.

I love La Cantatrice Chauve, especially for it's pure edgy language, but I spoke to someone else who put it in the "would-be elite" category.

Could you mention some books that you think sit in the truly original category?

pd in sf

Gc said...

Americans seem to overestimate their influence in the world literature, at least seen from here in Northern Europe where most of the high cultural influences has always came from Germany. Also Houllebecq is passionately valued by some, especially other writers. I can`t think any other contempary author who could be a subject of an book of essays in finnish written by finnish fiction writers.

Anonymous said...

Houllebecq. OK, I'll have a look.

Who else would you recommend?

pd in sf

Anonymous said...

I grew up reading translated European literature: the Perry Rhodan series!

Anonymous said...

To those who think Umberto Eco is from the right...in Italy he's considered a liberal and leftist, belonging to an elite-caste.
Rosa

Anonymous said...

"I wonder whether Matthew Weiner is aware that its popularity is entirely due to Boomer nostalgia for an era when their fathers wore starched white shirts and wool suits to work, their mothers stayed at home to raise the kids, and black people only appeared on-screen as elevator operators, bellhops, porters, and maids?"

I am sure tha't shy most people like it. That's when white men were still riding high in the saddle before this country was changed by immigration and diversity.