Thursday, April 21, 2011

Identikitlit

At the TLS, a dispiriting but all-too-persuasive piece by Tim Parks about the paradoxes of 'international literature':
When I started writing in the late 1970s, one still thought of a book as directed towards a national audience. Today, a first draft, a first chapter, by Jonathan Franzen can be emailed to a score of publishers worldwide. And if, nevertheless, Franzen can continue to write in a traditional fashion and to address himself largely to an American readership, describing in meticulous detail every aspect of American life, that is only because America is very much the object of the world’s attention. In a study I have been directing at IULM University in Milan, we have compared the number of articles in the cultural pages of major newspapers dedicated to Italian authors and the authors of other nations. The space given to America is quite disproportionate. American authors, far more than their British, French or German counterparts, need not make any special claims to international attention. No novelty is required. The opposite is true for the writer from Serbia, the Czech Republic or Holland. A writer from these countries must come up with something impressive and unusual in terms of content and style if a global audience is to be reached. Five hundred pages of Franzen-like details about popular mores in Belgrade or Warsaw would not attract a large advance.

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