Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Bookplanet: why do some writers make it?

'The World Republic of Letters considers literary reputation and success on a global scale, looking at what accounts for some writers finding acceptance internationally, while others don't (or remain only regionally successful), as well as the influence these writers have. Casanova describes an "international literary space", formed in the 16th century, with literature travelling across borders--and competing for success. The resulting world republic of letters isn't one where every book of any origin has an equal chance: dominant languages and cultures strive to maintain their position, while authors from smaller languages and less established literary traditions compete for attention (often infiltrating the dominant tradition in order to piggy-back onto success that way). Influential arbiters of quality emerge--not merely individuals or specific publications, but geographic centres (Paris, in particular, Casanova argues): if you can make it there (i.e. find success and approval), you've made it everywhere.
Casanova's focus is on what can be called 'serious' literature, i.e. she doesn't treat the case of the airport bestseller (of which Dan Brown's international hit, The Da Vinci Code is the current prime example). In part this is because her interest is in demonstrating the effect of critical-intellectual approval: the embrace of an author, style, school, or type by an intellectual establishment (generally: that in Paris) as seal of approval leading to global success (and imitation). This (slight) limitation to the book is understandable--Dan Brown and writers of his ilk look to have little lasting effect on literature, and their books little staying power (over the long term)--but it's a shame that these sorts of titles aren't addressed, as this interesting phenomenon on the periphery of the world republic of letters also has an (arguably growing) effect on it.
Casanova shows the historic development of literature across borders, making a good case for Paris establishing itself quickly--and lastingly ("at least until the 1960s", she suggests)--as the focal point: the place where literatures converge, where success is ordained. Writers from the provinces gravitate to cities, writers from small cultures gravitate to larger ones--and Paris was, especially for much of the 20th century, the ultimate destination. As she notes, many authors actually moved to Paris (from Strindberg, Stein, and Joyce to Kundera and Handke), though equally significant is the role of Paris (and the French publishers and literary establishment) in 'crowning' writers: from Borges to Danilo Kiš, it was acceptance in Paris that led to the international breakthrough.' Click for full review here.


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