The authors treated here are not a cross-section of World Literature. They came to me through my teaching, mostly overseas, and in the process of trying to explain to students how literature travels. They test hypotheses about gatekeeping, translation, reception, and they particularly demonstrate the evolution of the gatekeeping process from i960 to 2010. They also raise questions about gender: what I have done, hopefully in provocative fashion, is to finish each chapter with a coda that troubles that issue.
Chapter 1: I frame the career of Gabriel Garcia Marquez by examining it in synchrony with Bourdieu’s reading of Flaubert’s A Sentimental Education. The components of Gabo’s field were all present, but as Flaubert noted, one writes what one’s position in the field allows. Garcia Marquez was in a unique position to synthesize his costeno background, Castro-ism, cinema, and literary influences. But it took gatekeepers who could nudge him, who recognized not just the potential of his work, but how to spread it abroad. This chapter thus develops the key roles of (1) the first reader, (2) the salon, (3) the older writer or patron, and (4) the agent. It then moves to the interesting but lesser role of (5) hegemonic governments and closes with the key functions of the (6) translator and (7) reviewers, who in the United States/British markets domesticated Garcia Marquez through parallels to the Bible and to the “family of man.” Most of these gatekeeping roles are examined in every chapter, just as each concludes with a contrapuntal coda: here, the case of Rigoberta Menchu.
Chapter 2: Charles Bukowski exhibited no sense of prise de position and had scant cultural capital; in fact he wasn’t taken as a “serious” author in his home country, especially at the moment he was discovered by John Martin and Carl Weissner. That is the point: his gatekeepers made him into an international figure. In this generation Ginsberg or Ferlinghetti might seem more obvious figures to study (they worked tirelessly for other writers), but they don’t show as compellingly how gatekeepers can create a writer of World Literature. In the cultural debates of the 1960s, Weissner and Martin discovered that Bukowski’s gruff “NO” to politics was a formidable aesthetic, a refusal of authority that, in its creation of a rhetorical void, aggregated enough power to itself to constitute a kind of position, especially in Germany. Bukowski also conducted scandalous reading tours and received an unusual boost from his performance on a French television network. These are emergent processes of gatekeeping. He also had a fascinating interface with the gay poet Harold Norse, a first reader who illustrated a different aesthetic. This chapter’s coda on Diane di Prima raises important questions about gender, political involvement, and the lack of a strong agent.
The second half of this book examines a pair of younger writers, Paul Auster and Haruki Murakami, who were students during the political upheavals of the 1960s. The modern face of World Literature was evolving quickly, and they incorporated the decade’s conflicts in their fiction. College educated, they could see also the advantages conferred by certain professors, patrons, and small presses. They deliberately acquired expertise in foreign cultures, in languages and translation, becoming gatekeepers of those cultures and literatures back home. Gatekeeping was part of the field that they inherited.
Chapter 3: As an undergraduate at Columbia University, Paul Auster substituted student publications for salons and tried to negotiate an aesthetic path between the violent campus demonstrations and the anti-community, pro-war policy of the administration. His first reader was usually his girlfriend (and later wife) Lydia Davis. He found his initial position through the French poetry of Francis Ponge, which led him to discover the avant-garde French journal Tel Quel. He developed greater symbolic capital by “going into exile” in France with Davis. When he returned, he was selected to edit the Random House Anthology of 20th Century French Poetry: that made him arguably the most important US interpreter of French poetry and hence someone whose writing was of interest. Auster became the most important US writer of World Literature in France, where gatekeepers such as his translator Christine Le Breuf were crucial. In this way Auster guaranteed himself the refracted reputation that came accidentally to Bukowski. But why, I will ask in the coda, did not Lydia Davis become as famous?
Chapter 4: Haruki Murakami also lived through the protests of 1968, an experience he would later turn to profit in Norwegian Wood. But before he had that opportunity, he too had to establish himself as an expert on a foreign literature. Under the guidance of his Waseda University professor, he translated Raymond Carver, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Irving, and J. D. Salinger for smaller Japanese journals, which later published his post-modern stories and awarded him prizes, a new kind of gatekeeping. Like Auster, Murakami also understood the centrality of translation. He befriended Raymond Carver, John Irving, and other writers that he translated. He even developed gatekeeping as a theme in his fiction, a post-modernist gesture that drew devotees, such as the young translator Alfred Birnbaum. After examining these, I turn to Norwegian Wood and the novel 1Q84, which unpack and grouse about the process and production that World Literature has become by 2012. In the coda, I ask why Banana Yoshimoto hasn’t become as famous.
Conclusion: Not only does World Literature from the 1960s onward begin to align itself with contests, prizes, and popular media: above all, it becomes Anglophone, as studies by Thompson and Greco reveal. Writers apprentice in it, as Mark McGurl’s The Program Era (2011) argues. Also collaborating with Big Publishing is the reviewing apparatus, typified by Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times and John Updike in the New Yorker, who are scrutinized here. These critics typify a preference for literature in translation that was masculine, apolitical, and based on modernism. This particular kind of translation became an international commodity, under the label “magic realism,” which could be applied to John Fowles, Angela Carter, or Ben Okri.29 By 2010 “World Literature,” born in the communal and technological stew of the 1960s, had become simply a category of the Anglo-American publishing juggernaut.