Following the CNN report about the top Nobel judge's unfavorable comment on American literature and the reactions it stirred up, there is heated discussion on a writer's online forum I frequent. It's understandable that many American writers are angered by Engdahl's words, and they return fire by bombasting the Nobel committee's ignorance, which is quite effective.
Personally, however, I'm more interested in how much truth is contained in this particular statement:
"The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature," Engdahl said. "That ignorance is restraining." (AP)
In the discussion on the aforementioned online forum, at least one writer agrees that most American publishers shun translations due to the assumption that Americans don't like to read stories set outside the US, not even stories written in English set elsewhere.
As I noted in a book review earlier, Howard Goldblatt, America's foremost translator of Chinese literature, says in a March interview with China's Southern Weekly that Americans don't read much literary translation. I wonder why. It is a bit difficult for an immigrant like me to comprehend this mentality, because in my youth I read far more literary translations from Europe (France, England, Russia, etc.) and America (such as Hemingway, Mark Twain and Jack London) than Chinese novels. My older sister, who doesn't even have a college education, loves to read translations too. The only literary magazine she subscribes to is Translation Forest (<译林>). We are hardly exceptions among our generation.
I hope some of you will offer insights into this: is it true that Americans are much less interested in literary translation than works written by Americans about America? If so, why? It seems to me "too isolated, too insular" is a bit too simplified, too trite a conclusion.