The Murakami Effect
On the Homogenizing Dangers of Easily Translated Literature
January 4, 2017
The growing dominance of English has come to mean that European, African, Asian, and Latin American writers are considered to have “failed” if they are unable to reach an international audience.
The works of Murakami and Mizumura operate suggestively in the larger debate about the state of global fiction as well. The terms of this debate have, I think, been particularly well framed by Tim Parks in a brief but often quoted New York Review of Books essay entitled “The Dull New Global Novel.” In the essay, Parks laments what he sees as the beginning of a sea change away from the national literatures that arose from the 14th to the 16th centuries in Europe as writers abandoned Latin and wrote in vernacular languages. He notes that now, in contrast to that moment of pluralizing democratization, in our rapidly globalizing and homogenizing world and in an environment of instant electronic textual dissemination, a writer must be recognized as an international, rather than simply a national, phenomenon in order to be considered “great.” Similarly, Parks notes, the growing dominance of English has come to mean that European, African, Asian, and Latin American writers are considered to have “failed” if they are unable to reach an international audience.
Stephen Snyder is Dean of Language Schools and Kawashima Professor of Japanese Studies at Middlebury College. He is the author of Fictions of Desire: Narrative Form in the Novels of Nagai Kafū (University of Hawai’i Press, 2000) and has translated works by Yōko Ogawa and Kenzaburō Ōe, among others. His translation of Ogawa’s Hotel Iris (Picador, 2010) was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2011, and his translation of Ogawa’s Revenge (Picador, 2013) was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction prize in 2014.