Transnationalism and Translation

This week on Thursday, which was yesterday, the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Patrick Modiano, a sixty-nine year old Frenchman whose previous literary awards include the 1972 Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française, the 1978 Prix Goncourt, and the 2010 Prix mondial Cino Del Duca. Barely half of his works are translated in English and widely available to the American public.

Former permanent secretary and current member of the Swedish Academy Horace Engdahl has said that “the US is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature.”

In an interview with the French newspaper La Croix (here), Engdahl suggests that the proliferation of creative writing institutions and the dominance of their so-called “industry” creates a professionalization of the task of writing that chokes “literary riches” otherwise found in places such as Asia and Africa (more at The Guardian). For him then, perhaps, this perceived issue of American insularity is not estranged from, is perhaps even informed by, the nature of ‘the writer’ in the United States.

Rather in contrast to our discussions of yet, which have suggested the dissolution of terse boundaries that might harbor certain insularity, Engdahl wants to cite the United States as less a melting pot of blended cultural tradition, and more one resistant to accepting external influence. Giving him credit as more than a mere surly old man, how might this perception of American cultural narrowness work with and against our tentative conceptions of transnationalism? I find the issue of translation of particular interest here, though it tends to point more toward the Anglo-sphere generally than to make the United States the sole bastion of cultural (and particularly literary) resistance.

Taylor McDowell

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