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The Curious Absence of Asia…

By Anne Ishii

Anne Ishii is a writer, consultant and blogger ( specializing in pop culture and publishing. She has written for The Village Voice, BUST, Giant Robot and various other print and online outfits, on top of translating for outlets such as WNET/Thirteen and Pantheon. Previously she was Director of Marketing and Publicity for the New York-based press Vertical, Inc. after a truncated M.A. program at Columbia University.—Editors

The Columbia Grad Student Translation Conference started out auspiciously on the Translation Conference's official website. On it is a "report on translation and globalization" offered for download for a while now. The paper included an admittedly unscientific chart noting the number of translated works of literature published in the US between 2000-2006. The chart was no doubt made to prove the dearth (a word you heard uttered a lot around the conference halls) of foreign writing introduced to a notoriously monolingual America. That the chart opted to focus on loosely defined "high literature" at the expense of at least one book market rife with translations (read: comics/graphic novels) was no real surprise, since the survey was published in Context, hosted by one of the most intellectually challenging and artistically progressive publishing houses in the US—Dalkey Archive. No, the real kicker of the survey was the curious absence of statistics on Chinese, Japanese, Korean, South Asian, Thai and Vietnamese translations. Here I'd thought Asian literature in English was practically defining the foreign lit market (read: Haruki Murakami), but apparently not for Context. [There is no explanation as to why Asia was passed over in the survey at Context's website either.] Mind you, the paper itself, written with aplomb by Esther Allen, covered just about every language market under the sun. But my typically AIM-jargon-addled attention deficient brain couldn't see the forest for the trees. The chart left an indelible impression. In this case, I couldn't appreciate the brave assertion that the US is embarrassingly inimical to foreign literature in translation, when the assertion ignores most of an entire continent.

Not that those American statistics on translated fiction would benefit much from the five or six books Asia would add to this chart. The point is well taken, but c'mon! No Asia? What gives?

Published Apr 1, 2008   Copyright 2008 Anne Ishii

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