Gatekeepers: The Emergence of World Literature and the 1960s

Gatekeepers: The Emergence of World Literature and the 1960s

Gatekeepers: The Emergence of World Literature and the 1960s

Gatekeepers: The Emergence of World Literature and the 1960s

Synopsis

The romantic idea of the writer as an isolated genius has been discredited, but there are few empirical studies documenting the role of "gatekeeping" in the literary process. How do friends, agents, editors, translators, small publishers, and reviewers-not to mention the changes in technology and the publishing industry-shape the literary process? This matrix is further complicated when books cross cultural and language barriers, that is, when they become part of World Literature. Gatekeepers builds on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, Randall Collins, James English, and Mark McGurl, describing the multi-layered gatekeeping process in the context of World Literature after the 1960s. It focuses on four case studies: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Charles Bukowski, Paul Auster and Haruki Murakami. The two American authors achieved remarkable success overseas owing to canny gatekeepers; the two international authors benefited tremendously from well-curated translation into English. Rich in archival materials (correspondence between authors, editors, and translators, and publishing industry analyses), interviews with publishers and translators, and close readings of translations, this study shows how the process and production of literature depends on the larger social forces of a given historical moment. William Marling also documents the ever-increasing Anglo-centric dictate on the gatekeeping process. World Literature, the book argues, is not so much a "republic of letters" as a field of chance on which the conversation is partly bracketed by historic events and technological opportunities.

Excerpt

Writers do not get published without help—often a great deal of help—from other people. The older, romantic notion of authorship, of isolated genius, has been chipped away by studies showing that collaboration, copyright law, and changes in media have contributed much to literary invention. Friends, family, editors, agents, lawyers, bookstore owners, other artists, patrons, partners, and publishers play an important role in the creative process. Even rivals may help by pushing writers toward new aesthetic paths or by re-dimensioning the creative field or its rules, the doxa as Pierre Bourdieu termed them. We see the value of such aid when we look at writers around us, who are helped by numerous people, not to mention tenure and grants, prizes, and sinecures.

But we have yet to extend this understanding to World Literature, where publication and success are much more difficult. Outside of the United States there are few tenured positions for MFAs (Masters of Fine Arts), fewer foundations, agents, or patrons, and small reading circuits. In order to reach foreign readers, it is essential for writers of World Literature to be discovered, translated, promoted, and reviewed. How does one become a writer of World Literature? Do writers even conceive of such a thing? One might reply that writers have to achieve success in a home culture or language before this possibility even arises and that commerce then takes care of the rest. But as I will show in the following chapters, local failure is not limiting and local success guarantees little. Success in World Literature is about gatekeeping.

To judge from the poverty of scholarship about the gatekeepers, one might think they were beneath notice, as if their practices were too obvious, or simply small favors to authors, sometimes even self-interested. But if we now understand that creativity occurs in concentric circles of nurture, then nowhere is this flowering more intriguing, I will argue, than in writing . . .

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