Saturday, January 15, 2005

A (literary) trade deficit the Left can embrace

The NY Times asked contemporary young authors to talk about the writers who influenced them. One writer saw the interview as an opportunity to show how worldly and multicultural he is, despite being a white male American peddling his works for money. Here's how Jonathan Safran Foer responded (an excerpt):

Shamefully, fewer than 3 percent of literary books published each year in the United States are translated from foreign languages, compared with vastly higher percentages (25-45 percent) in virtually every other country. And much of our 3 percent consists of retranslations of classics, so the real number for new foreign voices is quite a bit lower. We focus virtually all of our political and military attention on the Middle East, but how many of us could claim to have read a single work of Arabic literature in translation? For a citizen, it's scary to contemplate a future in which relations with those we need to relate to are diplomatic, and not humane. It's with art, after all, that a culture best expresses its humanity.

So Foer wants us to start importing books -- particularly from cultures that breed international terrorism, sexism and religious intolerance. Anyone who reads American books is just navel-gazing. Will J.S. Foer volunteer to be the first American writer to remove his books from the shelves?

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I actually found his book, Everything is Illuminated, quite good, but i suppose he is right; my time would have been better spent reading some foreign book.

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