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Everything you need to know about the world's great writers and emerging voices is being collected and shared on the English PEN Online World Atlas. Head over to the Atlas to create (or edit) a profile for your favourite author or book, leave a comment or contact another user, and discover your next great read. We believe that great writing has the power to change your life and change the world, one book at a time.

The Atlas is proud to be partnering with the Hay Festival's Beirut39 contest, celebrating Beirut's year as UNESCO World Book Capital, to find the hottest authors under 40 of Arabic origin. Nominations are open until August 24th, 2009.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

World Literature/Literature and the World: Three Views

It's the beginning of literary festival season, and Chad Post at Three Percent has been travelling to many of them, including Montréal's Metropolis Bleu festival, which claims to be the world's first multilingual literary festival; in this rather breathless post he contemplates Canada's "two solitudes" and the implications for global publishing at large -- and gives a sense of the new transnationality of the publishing business.

Over at NewPages, Denise offers a post on the "conundrum" of world literature that picks up on two recent articles about the topic, including Pankaj Mishra's Author, Author column from last Saturday's Guardian Review, which offers a Marxist analysis of "world" literature as a globalised market. Her other pick is a Reuters article concerning the lack of circulation of contemporary Chinese writing. One of the article's sub-heads refers to the "Banned in China" brand, supported by a quote from Jo Lusby of Penguin:
Oftentimes 'banned in China' is the only selling point publishers can use to communicate what the book is about. I don't think it's surprising it's not necessarily the big literary tomes from China which are making it out, but it's the more racy, pacey books.
While censorship may help foreign rights sales, it still "hurts" writers' careers inside China, as Yan Geling comments in the article. The global market is not bringing freedom of expression to the country, in other words.

An article on the AFP about Arabic literature suggests that the fashion for translating banned or controversial books is an extension of Orientalism, whereby only works that conform to (and flatter) Western notions of oppression and liberation get picked up for translation. Lebanese author Jabbour Doueihy makes a sharp critique of the current boom in Arabic novels when he tells the AFP,
Individualism and the ego awoke in the Arab world through the novel, as though it were personal resistance against oppression.
Fakhri Salih, a former jury member for the award and current chairman of Jordan's association of literary critics added that the small upturn in translation, media attention and international funding for Arabic novels stems from a political motivation:
The Arab novel offers Westerners an 'anthropological' tool to understand the Arab world, which has been accused of terrorism since the September 11 attacks.

Yet this 'anthropological' depth of understanding is exactly what Reuters argue that translations from contemporary Chinese literature could offer to Western readers, rather than the equally 'anthropological' titillations of sexual explicitness. NewBooks is right: world literature is a conundrum. Where all the articles agree is that translation is of paramount importance for increasing access internationally, and that the motivations of literature's gatekeepers (both state and corporate) have to be scrutinised, as they have power over what we read and how.

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