I was disappointed to read that Martin Rilker, Associate Director of Dalkey Archive Press, at a recent Literary Translation Conference in London informed delegates of a ‘cultural crisis’ in reference to the small amount of foreign literature being translated and published in English. The reason, explained Martin, based on his research, was due to ‘perceptions’. It was also interesting to note that the respondents of the research, who were selected from the various fields of expertise involved in Literary Translation (translators, publishers, media, academics and booksellers), suggested the bias against foreign literature emerged from a field different to their own. A lack of financial support for translated foreign literature was put forward as a reason, along with the failings of the academic sector to allocate suitable standing to Literary Translation as an academic subject (ITI Bulletin Issue November-December 2010 P8).
As an avid reader of translated literature I value its availability very highly. When I read that a ‘startlingly small’ amount of works are being published, it makes me question just how highly we value our cultural development. A quote from Mahatma Ghandi comes to mind: “No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.” If we are to flourish as a culture and nation in a world which is fast becoming smaller as technology develops, I think it’s essential we have access to all important modern works of literature and not just the texts originally written in English. Furthermore, the US has often been criticised internationally as inward looking; could this be a criticism levelled at us in the future? With fewer children opting to take languages at GCSE level, this criticism becomes all the more possible. Martin Rilker concludes in his research that there is a ‘lack of dialogue between sectors of the translation community in general; each sector tending to act according to its needs only – be they commercial, non-profit, educational, etc.’ The sooner they rectify this problem the better!