Pakistan: Confronting cultural hegemony: Literature from the peripheries elbowed out in global mass market


“Now, writers have to conform to market rules to ensure their works can be sold and read globally. This global influence can be so cruel that non-native English writers may consider writing in their mother languages inferior and may prefer writing in English instead,” says Brazilian author Bernando Carvalho

bernardo-carvalhoAccording to Carvalho, the hegemony of English language has created an atmosphere where non-native speakers are accepted mostly only if they write in English incorporating some of their local slang or ethnic experience. At the same time, the Anglo-Saxon world uses this multiculturalism as an excuse to not translate works from other languages to English, he said.

Carvalho gave examples of 19th century writer Machado de Assis, arguably the best Brazilian writer ever, and the 20th century Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges during his talk. He said these writers used the Western literary canon but transformed it with their own local sensibility to create a new and exceptional body of writing that was reflective and relevant domestically. They were able to use their peripheral status as an asset, Carvalho said.

Contemporary writers in Brazil, or South Asia for that matter, may not have that luxury anymore because “things change when literature goes global and becomes a mass-market product,” he added

“Now, writers have to conform to market rules to ensure their works can be sold and read globally. This global influence can be so cruel that non-native English writers may consider writing in their mother languages inferior and may prefer writing in English instead.” So-called demand-driven “excellence,” not exceptional creativity, drives the production of literature. “[The global market] causes a shift in the peripheral writer,” Carvalho said. “He must cease to value exception and pursue excellence.” He said he is not fundamentally against non-native English speakers writing in English but he is against it being enforced on foreign writers by the market.

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