Europe's lost stories.
[Why don't the British know more of this carnival of locality? There are problems of remoteness, obscurity, language - of translation. There is a thick domestic fog of media and publicity; thousands of books claiming readers' attention. Should readers really be demanding a constant redistribution of literary priorities? An ongoing complaint, to be heard at translators' conferences and European publishers' lunches, is that British publishers are not interested in fiction in translation. Of the 100,000 books published annually in Britain, the complainers charge, only a miserable 3-4 per cent are translated. This criticism has its origins in a nostalgia for those pre-1970 glory days of European (French, German, Spanish and Italian) translation, and the bizarre assumption that publishers have some kind of high duty to bring translated fiction to British readers.]
[When continental European critics and publishers complain that their British counterparts are uninterested in translation, they usually avoid a more difficult task - that of interrogating the fiction to discover whether it is worth translating. During the 1970s and 1980s, the British who, to some extent, had reason to be proud of their fictional record, were none the less frequently asking, "Why are the Americans so much better than us?" Elsewhere in western Europe, and France in particular, such self-criticism was non-existent. A recent book by a professor at the University of Grenoble, Pierre Jourde, has at last attacked this cycle of self-adulation. In La Littérature sans Estomac ("literature without guts"), an assault on the promotion of literary mediocrity, Jourde singles out cliques like that of Le Monde des Livres, presided over by Philippe Sollers, guru of the literary left. "In the precious world of contemporary literary life, writers - a weird species of mammal - graze calmly beneath the gaze of gawping onlookers in their cultural enclosures," Jourde writes. "In their dreams, they 'disturb,' they anger those in power and upset the established order... In fact, no one is attacking them, and they are not hurting anybody."]
[There are, too, the accusations against British readers: that they are useless at other languages, that Anglophone culture is dumbly Americocentric. But shouldn't we rather be pitied? The English-speaking world is large and multi-continental. And, even at home, the world looms large. London contains the largest collection of linguistic groups on the planet. Of course, many Britons do speak another language; just not necessarily a European one. The charge that the British are uninterested in what is going on beyond our tidal waters is an odd fantasy.]
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