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Tim Parks On McNovels and the Globalization of Literature

. 1 min read

Last month the British novelist and translator Tim Parks delivered a lecture at the Writers Unlimited / Winternachten festival in my hometown The Hague. I didn't attend the lecture, but it was reprinted in my newspaper and I found a link to the lecture on the organisation's website.

Parks argues that today a writer is only truly successful if his or her work is translated into multiple languages and if he or she is internationally acclaimed. According to Parks this has led to a situation in which writers around the world adjust the content of their work in order to reach an international audience. They either write in an abstract space, devoid of culture-specific elements or emphasize national stereotypes. Even though he doesn't say so and leaves it to the audience to fill in names, I think his prime target is Haruki Murakami.

I'm not sure how much of what Parks observes is due to publishers and how much to writers. I'm not sure whether artists create with the audience in mind. I tend to agree with the philosopher Nick Zangwill who argued that artists primarily try to endow a work with the aesthetic properties they want it to have. There is a difference between music, dance, visual art and literature though and I think Tim Parks has a point. Unlike a composer or a visual artist a writer has to make sure his writings make sense, although not necessarily in a logical way. In judging whether what he has just written makes sense a writer needs to imagine a reader to whom it makes sense. This is also where editors and publishers come into play who may ask for clarifications and point out errors.

It's a thought provoking essay. Parks draws attention to the fact that literature is not immune to the forces of globalization. However, wherever there are currents there are also counter currents. You just have to find them.

Your English is Showing. An article by Tim Parks from the New York Review of Books blog on the same topic.

Nick Zangwill (1999). Art and Audience. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 57 (3).