Monday, September 29, 2008
Immigrant Fiction--European Style
A recent post in the Guardian by blogger Andrew Gallix (that can't be his real name: sounds more like a cross between Gallic and Asterix) about the new immigrant and ethnic fiction of France raises questions of the supposed globalization of experience as literary lode. Working class immigrant and ethnic fiction played a large role in America's twentieth century, focused to a great extent on assimilation to both the ethos of America and the middle class. By the early 1980s, thanks in large part to the work of Maxine Hong Kingston and others, immigrant fiction turned from assimilationist to work of cultural exploration, "exploring the hyphen" it was sometimes called. Think now of Jhumpa Lahiri and Junot Diaz and how different their work is from say, that of Louis Chu and Ed Rivera. I wonder, however, if the specific minority group fiction in foreign languages--say, Paris's banlieue--will appeal to the American sensibility, as did Zadie Smith with White Teeth or Hanif Kureishi with My Beautiful Laundrette (which came to America through the movies). It poses intriguing problems for the translator who must take English-laced French and develop a new code to convey the pervasiveness of American popular sensibility without losing the sense of foreign-language creep in French. The future of translation--both language and experience--becomes increasingly interesting as argot digs deeper into the literary realm.