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Translation and the InternationalCirculation of LiteratureEsperana Bielsaaa Universitat Autnoma de Barcelona, SpainPublished online: 21 Feb 2014.
To cite this article: Esperana Bielsa (2013) Translation and the International Circulation ofLiterature, The Translator, 19:2, 157-181, DOI: 10.1080/13556509.2013.10799540
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ISSN 1355-6509 St Jerome Publishing Manchester
The Translator. Volume 19, Number 2 (2013), 157-81
Translation and the International Circulation of LiteratureA Comparative Analysis of the Reception of Roberto Bolaos Work in Spanish and English
EspEraNa BiElsaUniversitat Autnoma de Barcelona, Spain
Abstract. This article analyzes the reception of Roberto Bolaos novels in Spanish and English from a comparative perspective, in the context of debates about the role of translation in a highly unequal global literary field. Departing from Casanovas theoriza-tion of the world republic of letters and tracing the main factors that have shaped the translation of Latin America into English, it focuses on Bolaos case through an analysis of newspaper reviews published in Spain, Britain and the US. Issues discussed include the periodization of the reception of Bolaos literature, the prolif-eration of divergent biographical narratives around Bolao, and the degree of interconnection between the literary and journalistic fields at the transnational level. Bolaos case illustrates the im-portance of translation in the universal consecration of his work and the central role played by the US in this process. It also points to the USs increasingly significant role in the global consecration of autonomous works and not just, as Casanova would claim, of commercial culture, and identifies some key limitations of theories that understand cultural globalization in terms of homogenization or Americanization.
Keywords. Cultural consecration, latin american literature, Newspaper reviews, reception, roberto Bolao, literary translation, international cir-culation of literature, sociology of translation.
in his early forties, roberto Bolao (1953-2003) used to think that he would die invisible and unknown. at the time of his death, when he was only 50, he was a respected writer in the spanish-speaking world. His work had won the most prestigious spanish and latin american literary prizes (the Herralde prize in 1998 and the rmulo Gallegos prize in 1999) and was increasingly well known within a significant circle of the literary reading public. He was also becoming the object of a level of international recognition rarely accorded to Third World authors who do not write in English, as evident in the critical ac-claim received by the first French translations of his works and the appearance
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of the English version of one of his novels, By Night in Chile, in 2003. a few years later, the sudden international success of his books would be approached in terms of the construction of a myth and a special term would be coined to name the furore created by his literature among thousands of avid followers: bolaomania. Bolaos case is remarkable not only because of the speed of developments and the short span of his visible literary career, but also because of the sheer extremes upon which his fame is built. literary histories written around 2000 do not even mention Bolao in the space they dedicate to the newest generation of latin american writers, among which Bolaos con-temporaries such as Juan Villoro, Edmundo paz soldn and rodrigo Fresn appear (Williams 2003). a decade later, the reach and impact of his major novels seems only comparable to the extraordinary reception once granted to Garca Mrquezs One Hundred Years of Solitude.
sociological approaches that engage with the nature of international literary exchanges have called attention to translation as an important factor that cannot be adequately described through a predominantly national and/or comparatist perspective. Johan Heilbron drew on world systems theory to provide a structural analysis of the international flows of translated books, approaching translation as a measure of centrality: the more central a language is in the international translation system, the more books are translated from this language; conversely, the most central languages tend to have the lowest proportion of translations in their own book production (1999:438-39). pascale Casanova explored the fundamental importance of transnational exchanges in a literary field that she characterized as global from the start (2004). she showed how literatures are constituted relationally in a highly unequal international field, which she called the world republic of letters. according to Casanova, paris dominates the literary world, is the measure of literary modernity and consecrates the texts arriving from the peripheries. in this context, translation becomes an important element of the valorization of texts and diffusion of literary modernity. in the movement from centre to periphery, translation serves a basic function of capital accumu-lation: for poorer languages, it is a means of acquiring capital and prestige, of enriching their domestic repertoire. at the same time, it facilitates the interna-tional diffusion of literary capital produced in the centre and extends the power of its language and literature. But Casanova is especially interested in the way translation functions when the transfer proceeds in the opposite direction: from the periphery to the centre of the literary space. in this case, she describes the function of translation as one of consecration or literarization: translation gives writers in dominated languages literary recognition, international existence, and also allows and reinforces the existence of an autonomous international posi-tion within their national field, while for the dominant languages it is a way of appropriating works from the peripheries.
Following Casanovas model, while English is crucial in the first type of translations, from the centre to the periphery, the low number of translations that are published as a percentage of total book production in English means
Esperana Bielsa 159
that it has played a much more marginal role in consecrating peripheral texts, a fact which ultimately undermines its centrality in the international literary field. in this context, Casanova explains the growing weight of the English-speaking (geographical) capitals in terms of the generalization of the commercial model and the growing power of the economic pole. in a chapter appropriately entitled From literary internationalism to Commercial Globalization?, she maintains that the autonomy of the whole literary space is currently challenged by the ever more powerful transnational circulation of american or americanized commercial culture, which has acquired literary legitimacy through the imita-tion of autonomous culture (Casanova 2004).
However, Casanova might have underestimated the degree of cultural di-versity that is present in small-scale production in the Us, as Gisle sapiros comparative examination of literary translations in the Us and France dem-onstrates (2010). Further, it can be argued that by equating the commercial with the national pole, Casanova finally fails to account adequately for key structural transformations in the transnational circulation of literary works. The existence of new novels that a