Going Global

Going Global

David Damrosch

Over the centuries, writers have usually written for audiences at home, even if they sent their characters around the world. Jonathan Swift located Lilliput off the coast of Sumatra, but his satire was squarely aimed at the British Isles. Even a French or German readership was beyond his immediate concern, and he would no more have expected to be read by actual Indonesians than by Lilliputians or Houyhnhnms. Yet literary relations have long been incipiently global. Already in antiquity, writers and their works readily circulated around the Roman Empire’s far-flung domains. Apuleius of Madauros grew up speaking a local North African language, Punic, but was sent as a boy to study in Greece. He wrote his Metamorphoses or Golden Ass in Latin, so as to entertain Roman readers with his asinine hero’s adventures in Thessaly and Egypt. Comically apologizing at the outset for his unconventional Latin style, Apuleius compares himself to a circus rider who jumps from one galloping horse to another. He asserts that his linguistic metamorphosis mirrors his hero’s physical transformation, and promises his readers delight if they will attend to “a Greekish tale” written “with the sharpness of a reed from the Nile” (Apuleius 3-5). 

Looser cultural configurations have outlasted empires and have extended past the boundaries of any one region. The classical Arabic poet Abu Nuwas was read across a wide swath of Islamic cultures from Morocco and Egypt to Persia and North India. In the late nineteenth century, a century after the American colonies had achieved their independence from England, a brisk transatlantic trade gave Mark Twain a market in England and brought Oscar Wilde to America on a lecture tour. While still in his twenties, Rudyard Kipling - “the infant monster,” as an envious Henry James called him - was being read on five continents. 

The ongoing acceleration of economic and cultural globalization has brought the scope of world literature to a new level today. In the older imperial networks, literature usually flowed outward from the metropolitan center to the colonial periphery, with Dickens assigned as required reading in India as was Cervantes in Argentina. Colonial writers would rarely if ever see their works assigned in turn in London or Madrid, though older texts such as the Mahabharata and The Thousand and One Nights might be taken up abroad as representing the changeless societies of “the timeless East" Dramatic imbalances persist today in translation between more and less powerful countries, but literature now circulates in multiple directions, and writers even in very small countries can aspire to reach a global readership. 

Paris, London, and New York remain key centers of publication, and as Pascale Casanova has argued in The World Republic of Letters, writers from peripheral regions typically need to be embraced by publishers and opinion makers in such centers if they are to reach an international audience. Yet many works find multiple publishers at the Frankfurt Book Fair, an annual event not tied to any former imperial capital, a venue where publishers and agents from around the world look for exciting new work wherever it can be found. In the late 1980s, several foreign publishers bought up translation rights for Milorad Pavic’s Dictionary of the Khazars while it was still in manuscript, though this was a first novel by a little- known Serbian poet. Pavic’s novel was published in 1988 not only in the original Serbo-Croatian but also in French, English, German, Italian, and Swedish. The next year it came out in Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Danish, Bulgarian, and Dutch, and within a few years it began to appear in nonEuropean languages as well, including Hebrew, Turkish, Japanese, and Chinese. Pavic’s international readership by now may exceed the entire adult population of his native Serbia. 

Such successes represent a fundamentally new situation, affecting every aspect of literary production, from the outlook of writers to the selections publishers make and the choices available to readers. The new global literary market offers writers great opportunities, but it poses dangers as well. The meteoric rise of an internationally acclaimed writer like Salman Rushdie can set off a stampede of agents and publishers seeking more works in a similar vein. Milorad Pavic’s sudden success was remarkable, but it wasn’t exactly random. His Dictionary of the Khazars was aided by a confluence of two market forces: a vogue in the 1980s for Eastern European writing, plus the broad popularity of the “magical realism" associated with writers like Gabriel García Márquez. Rushdie had been the next García Marquez, and now publishers were looking for the next Rushdie. If Pavic’s book had come on the market a decade or two earlier, it would have been regarded as an eccentric work from an obscure country, lucky to get even one or two translations in small print runs. 

The Dictionary of the Khazars benefited from the vagaries of the international market, but not every trend-fitting book proves to have any lasting interest. Second-rate knock-offs will be touted as masterpieces, while much better books can be ignored if they don’t sound enough like last year’s literary darling. Writers themselves may find it hard to resist going with the global flow, producing work that fits foreign stereotypes of what an “authentic” Indian or Czech novel should be. Alternatively, watered-down versions of trendy approaches can proliferate, written in a superficial international style divorced from any vital cultural grounding. As the novelist and cultural critic Tariq Ali has gloomily observed, “From New York to Beijing, via Moscow and Vladivostok, you can eat the same junk food, watch the same junk on television, and, increasingly, read the same junk novels. ... Instead of ‘socialist realism’ we have ‘market realism’” (Ali 140-4). 

Real though these dangers are, they are surely no greater internationally than in national literatures. Publishers look to build on the latest successes in their home markets, whether these concern arctic explorers, plucky racehorses, or quirky Belgian detectives. J. J. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings spawned an entire industry of fantasy books set in imaginary worlds, complete with maps showing the way to the obligatory wizard’s retreat. British publishers today are trawling Edinburgh’s cafés for the next J. K. Rowling, whose own Albus Dumbledore owes much to Tolkien’s Gandalf the Grey. Whether they address a national or an international audience, the writers who prove to be of real importance are those who negotiate most creatively the tensions as well as the possibilities of their cultural situation. This chapter will explore a variety of strategies writers have developed for reaching audiences in a globalizing world.

The Glocal and the Delocalized

Writers in metropolitan centers do not necessarily need to adapt their methods in order to be accessible to readers beyond their home country, since many of their literary assumptions and cultural references will be understood abroad on the basis of readers’ past familiarity with earlier classics in their tradition. Balzac and Victor Hugo have already introduced Paris for most new readers of Proust, who paves the way in turn for the Parisian scenes of Djuna Barnes and Georges Perec. Audiences around the worldwill have definite images of Manhattan and Los Angeles, thanks to the global reach of American film and television, however selective and stylized those images may be. Writers in Jakarta or Sao Paulo cannot assume any such general familiarity with their cities, and internationally inclined writers there and elsewhere have had to devise strategies to overcome the problem of cultural distance. 

One method has been to write in a delocalized mode, free of any direct reference to the home country’s customs, places, people, or events. A Renaissance writer could do this almost as a matter of course, adopting international norms of form and content. A Polish poet writing sonnets to his beloved Agneszka and a Dutch poet writing in praise of his Anneke could draw on a common set of Petrarchan rhyme schemes and metaphors. If they encountered their lovers’ poems in French translation, even Anneke and Agneszka might have found it hard to guess which sonnet had been written for whom, particularly if both poets referred to them simply as “Cynthia.” 

The rise of novelistic realism in the nineteenth century led to a more pervasive emphasis on local detail and national concerns, making demands on readers to acquire a growing degree of local cultural literacy, an implicit barrier to reading new works from an unfamiliar region. In the twentieth century, however, a variety of writers broke with the norms of realism and began to set their stories in mysterious, emblematic locales. Franz Kafka’s Castle and penal colony, Jorge Luis Borges’s circular ruins, and the stark landscapes of Samuel Beckett’s plays could really be set anywhere, or at least in any country peopled with arbitrary authorities (Kafka), melancholy linguists (Borges), and senior citizens in garbage cans (Beckett). Authors anywhere might choose this approach, but it is notable that the three writers just named were all born in peripheral cities (Prague, Buenos Aires, Dublin) traditionally overshadowed by the imperial powers that had long dominated their countries. All three chose to move beyond a provincialism they found stultifying. 

To take the example of Borges, he began by writing realistic stories set in Buenos Aires, but he found this localism to be a dead end. In a 1951 essay on “The Argentine Writer and Tradition,” Borges writes, “For many years, in books now fortunately forgotten, I tried to compose the flavor, the essence, of the outskirts of Buenos Aires; naturally I abounded in local words such as cuchilleros, milonga, tapia, and others, and in such a manner I wrote those forgettable and forgotten books” (Selected Non-Fictions 424). He came into his own as a writer when he realized that for Argentines, “our tradition is the whole of Western culture.... we must believe that the universe is our birthright” (426-7). 

Far from feeling disadvantaged by his distance from metropolitan Europe, Borges asserted that Argentine writers benefit from this distance, gaining a special freedom and originality in using European forms and motifs. Interestingly, he supports this claim by comparing Argentines to European Jews, who “are prominent in Western culture because they act within that culture and at the same time do not feel bound to it by any special devotion.” He argues that “Argentines, and South Americans in general, are in an analogous situation; we can take on all the European subjects, take them on without superstition and with an irreverence that can have, and already has had, fortunate consequences” (426). Imbued with this sovereign irreverence, Borges set his mature stories wherever it suited him, and collectively they span the globe. 

A very different strategy can be described as “glocal.” This term first became popular in the early 1990s among non-governmental groups seeking to “think globally, act locally.” In literature, glocalism takes two primary forms: writers can treat local matters for a global audience - working outward from their particular location - or they can emphasize a movement from the outside world in, presenting their locality as a microcosm of global exchange. Some works display a movement in both directions, well expressed in Omeros when Derek Walcott’s father assigns him his poetic life’s work: 

Measure the days you have left. Do just that labour which marries your heart to your right hand: simplify your life to one emblem, a sail leaving harbour 
and a sail coming in. (72) 

To write for a global audience involves a conscious effort of cultural translation, and often entails direct linguistic translation as well. Unlike the early Borges, who expected his Argentine readers to beware of troublemakers while doing the tango to the syncopated beat of a milonga, Walcott writes largely for non-Caribbean readers who will not come to his poems with any knowledge of his island’s environment, customs, or history. Walcott nevertheless embraces St. Lucia’s history and the local features of its landscape, but does so in such a way as to teach his readers what they need to know to understand his lines. The opening pages of Omerosare dotted with italicized Creole terms for local trees (laurier-cannelles, bois-campeche, bois-flot), but these terms are unobtrusively explained or contextualized for non-Creole speakers, and the poem gradually teaches us a good deal about the island’s history. 

Walcott’s linguistic and cultural self-translations build on a century’s worth of experiments in glocalized writing, often refining techniques that were most influentially developed by Rudyard Kipling. Perhaps the first global writer in a modern sense, Kipling made a rapid transition from writing for a purely local audience to addressing a readership that spanned the globe. Born in India in 1865, as a child he became fluent in Hindi as well as English. He was sent when he was six to England for schooling, then returned to India at age sixteen. He soon found work as a newspaper reporter for the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore. His first poems and stories - published to fill empty column space - were written for the Anglo-Indian community. They often leave place names and Hindi terms unexplained, and in general, assume a good deal of local knowledge. 

Yet Kipling was already writing as both an insider and an outsider. On his return to India in 1881 he had quickly recovered his fluency in Hindi, but he now saw his boyhood haunts with an “England-returned” perspective. As his works caught on abroad, it was only a further step for Kipling to translate his local knowledge for distant readers. He became adept at folding explanations and outright translations into his narrative, particularly after he left India for good in 1889, living first in London, then in Vermont, then finally settling in England again. His 1901 novel Kim, for instance, begins with a lively scene that sets the stage politically and linguistically for foreign readers: 

He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam-Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib-Gher - the Wonder House, as the natives call the Lahore Museum. Who hold Zam-Zammah, that “firebreathing dragon,” hold the Punjab; for the great green-bronze piece is always first of the conqueror’s loot. 
There was some justification for Kim, - he had kicked Lala Dinanath’s boy off the trunnions, - since the English held the Punjab and Kim was English. 
(Kim 5)

Within a few pages, Kipling goes on to give a number of Hindi terms (jadoo, faquirs, ghi, parhari, and more), sometimes translating them in parentheses, sometimes defining them in a following paraphrase, sometimes shaping the context to suggest the meaning. 

Kim is filled with colorful local details which Kim is constantly asking about or assessing for himself, very much to the reader’s benefit. Thus when he encounters an old woman riding in “a gaily ornamented ruth or family bullock-cart," accompanied by eight servants, Kim observes them with almost the eye of a professional ethnographer: 

Kim looked over the retinue critically. Half of them were thin-legged, gray-bearded Ooryas from down country. The other half were duffle-clad, felt-hatted hillmen of the North; and that mixture told its own tale, even if he had not overheard the incessant sparring between the two divisions. The old lady was going south on a visit - probably to a rich relative, most probably a son-in-law, who had sent up an escort as a mark of respect. The hillmen would be of her own people - Kulu or Kangra folk. It was quite clear that she was not taking her daughter down to be wedded, or the curtains would have been laced home and the guard would have allowed no one near the car. A merry and a high-spirited dame, thought Kim, balancing the dung-cake in one hand.... (68) 

Kipling multiplies opportunities to explain local customs to his readers. Kim is alternately a knowledgeable Indian-raised insider and an Anglo-Irish outsider. On the cusp of adolescence, he is both a child of his country and a neophyte in the adult world who needs to be taught the ins and outs of political intrigue. For much of the book he accompanies an aged Tibetan lama, who is adept at explaining ancient Oriental ideas but is also a foreigner in his own right, frequently clueless concerning Indian customs, which Kim can then explain. Still more clueless are many of the Europeans who appear in the story, not only Englishmen but also rival French and Russian agents, all jockeying for power in “the Great Game” to control the Indian subcontinent and surrounding lands. 

The most interesting player of the game in Kipling’s novel is Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, a “Babu” or Indian employee of the colonial British government. Kipling had used the name in “What Happened,” a jokey early poem about the unwisdom of allowing trusted natives to put on airs and European weapons: 

Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, pride of Bow Bazaar, 
Owner of a native press, “Barrishter-at-Lar,” 
Waited on the Government with a claim to wear Sabres by the bucketful, rifles by the pair. 
(Departmental Ditties 8)

Hurree falls victim in a scuffle with less savory natives who have also been granted too ready access to European guns. A decade and a half later, the Hurree Babu of Kim is an altogether more complex character. If Kim is a virtual ethnographer of Indian society, Hurree actually makes ethnographic observations at every opportunity. He pursues this hobby with scientific zeal, his highest ambition being to become a Fellow of the British Royal Society. Given his colonial position, this dream is unrealizable, even absurd. Yet instead of mocking Hurree for his pretensions as he had done in his earlier poem, Kipling makes this unlikely dream a bond between him and the British Colonel Creighton, for “deep in his heart also lay the ambition to write ‘F.R.S.’ after his name.... So Creighton smiled, and thought the better of Hurree Babu, moved by the like desire” (175-6). 

Hurree Babu’s ethnographical skill aids him in his work as a government agent, giving him insight into the manners and motives of Indians and Europeans alike. He is particularly adept at disguising his own motives from Europeans by playing the role of the hapless, excitable Oriental. In a key episode, he gets the better of a pair of foreign agents who are completely taken in by his act:  

“Decidedly this fellow is an original,” said the taller of the two foreigners. 
“He is like a nightmare of a Viennese courier.” 
“He represents in petto India in transition - the monstrous hybridism of 
East and West,” the Russian replied. “It is we who can deal with Orientals.” 

Too often regarded simply as the poet of the “White Man’s Burden,” Kipling here stands firmly on the side of cultural hybridism, which appears monstrous only to the smug Russian agent who is falling victim to his own stereotypes. 

*  * *

Whereas Kipling wrote of the local for a global audience, other writers have chosen an opposite mode of glocalism: to bring the global home. Coming of age in Turkey in the 1960s, Orhan Pamuk found in this mode of glocalism a way to address modern Turkey’s ambiguous situation in the world. Long the center of a great empire dominating much of the Middle East and Eastern Europe, by the later nineteenth century Turkey had lost its colonial possessions, and Turkish political leaders and intellectuals began to rethink Turkey’s situation. In a process of Westernization that culminated under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the 1920s, Turkey adopted Western-style military, governmental, and educational systems, even shifting its writing system from Arabic script to a modified Roman alphabet. Literary changes accompanied these cultural revolutions, among them the introduction of the Western novel as a newly prominent form. An increasing number of Turkish writers began writing novels, adapting European modes of modernism and of socialist realism to explore Turkish society and the nation’s engagement with the wider world. 

No Turkish writer has been more centrally concerned with the ambiguities of this engagement than Orhan Pamuk, a novelist who is thoroughly international in outlook and literary reference and yet resolutely local in his choice of material. Pamuk found in his native Istanbul - physically divided between a European half on one side of the Bosporus and an Asian half on the other - the perfect emblem for Turkey’s double identity. In a series of novels and in his memoir Istanbul, he has probed what he describes as the Turkish desire to be someone else, often embodying this theme in characters who shift, merge, or lose identities. 

In his 1990 novel The Black Book, a journalist named Celal has disappeared; he may have been murdered by someone angry at his writing - his essays ironically probe Istanbul’s traditions and its troubled modernity - or he may have run off with the elusive Rüya, wife of his cousin Galip. Seeking clues to the disappearances, Galip pores over Celal’s newspaper columns, one of which concerns a visit to a basement filled with uncanny mannequins. Their maker is a master craftsman named Bedi Usta, whose son shows the mannequins to Celal, remarking that “‘the special thing that makes us what we are’ was buried inside these strange and dusty creatures” (The Black Book 61). No ordinary mannequins, Bedi Usta’s creations portray gangsters, seamstresses, scholars, beggars, and pregnant women, but what truly makes them stand out are their gestures. Bedi Usta had spent long hours in cafés memorizing all the small gestures of Istanbul’s daily life, and he infused his characters with them: the mannequins are posed nodding, coughing, putting on their coats, or scratching their noses in precisely rendered Turkish ways. 

Bedi Usta’s trompe-l’oeil masterpieces gather dust in the basement workshop because no department store would have them: “For his mannequins did not look like the European models to which we were to aspire; they looked like us” (61). One window dresser admires Bedi Usta’s mastery, but is firm in his refusal:

the reason, he said, was that Turks no longer wanted to be Turks, they wanted to be something else altogether. This was why they’d gone along with the “dress revolution,” shaved their beards, reformed their language and their alphabet. Another, less garrulous shopkeeper explained that his customers didn’t buy dresses but dreams. What brought them into his store was the dream of becoming “the others” who’d worn that dress. (61) 

Even at Harrods or Macy’s, of course, window dressers might balk at displaying coughing beggars and depressed housewives weighed down with string bags; Western consumers too respond to dreams of elegance. What makes the mannequins truly uncanny to Celal is something much more specific: the people he knows no longer use the gestures preserved years earlier by Bedi Usta. In the intervening time, a flood of imported Western films so captivated Istanbul’s residents that they abandoned their old gestures and adopted the ones shown on film. Now, “each and every thing they did was an imitation,” as a nation of moviegoers practiced “all the new laughs our people had first seen on celluloid, not to mention the way they opened windows, kicked doors, held tea glasses, and put on their coats” (63-4). Shocked by this realization, Celal comes to see the dusty mannequins as “deities mourning their lost innocence . . . ascetics in torment, longing but failing to be someone else, hapless lovers who’d never made love, never shared a bed, who’d ended up killing each other instead” (64). 

Pamuk expands on the theme of Turkish identity in an essay entitled “What Is Europe?”: “For people like me, who live uncertainly on the edge of Europe with only our books to keep us company, Europe has figured always as a dream, a vision of what is to come; an apparition at times desired and at times feared; a goal to achieve or a danger. A future - but never a memory” (Other Colors 190). Pamuk’s books explore the challenges to identity and cultural memory brought about by Westernization, most eloquently in My Name Is Red (1998). Set in the 1590s, this novel centers on struggles between miniaturists loyal to the stylized traditions of Persian art and those who seek to adopt a Western mode of perspective-based realism. Constantinople is tensely balanced - like Calvino’s city suspended from a web - between Asia and Europe. People sit on carpets from India, drinking tea in Chinese cups imported via Portugal, poised between a Middle Eastern past and a Western future. 

In this swirling matrix of competing cultures, Italian-style painting is starting to supplant the great traditions of Islamic art, as people are captivated by the idea that portraits can convey their individuality (a new, Western-style value) instead of more general qualities of character and status. Traditionalists object - one local storyteller has a painted tree declare its satisfaction that it has escaped being shown in the new realistic style: “I thank Allah that I, the humble tree before you, have not been drawn with such intent. And not because I fear that if I’d been thus depicted all the dogs in Istanbul would assume I was a real tree and piss on me: I don’t want to be a tree, I want to be its meaning” (My Name Is Red 51). 

History is on the side of the Westernizing realists, and yet they will never succeed if they simply try to be more Italian than the Italian painters they admire. My Name Is Red involves a search for a murderer among the Sultan’s miniaturists, who proves to be a Westernizer who kills rivals opposed to the new style. Yet at the book’s end, he realizes that his secret masterpiece - an Italian-style self-portrait of himself as the Sultan - is a failure, a clumsy imitation of a poorly grasped technique. “I feel like the Devil,” he confesses, “not because I’ve murdered two men, but because my portrait has been made in this fashion. I suspect that I did away with them so that I could make this picture. But now the isolation I feel terrifies me. Imitating the Frankish masters without having attained their expertise makes a miniaturist even more of a slave” (399). 

Like the mannequins of The Black Book, the would-be Westerner has ended up an outcast, torn between two worlds he can never fully join. Yet My Name Is Red is an exuberant book, filled with high and low comedy amid the aching loneliness of unfilled romantic and cultural desires. Pamuk’s novel is, in fact, the best answer to the problem it so trenchantly poses: it is a vibrant hybrid that re-creates a vanished Ottoman past using all the techniques of the Western novel. Pamuk uses them and also transforms them in new ways; his book is divided into fifty-nine short chapters, each titled to announce its speaker: “I am Black,” “I am Shekure,” “I am a Tree,” “I will be called a murderer.” These miniature self-portraits link together to form a sweeping historical novel. 

Like Borges, Pamuk approaches Western culture and his own nation alike with a sovereign freedom. An essay on “Mario Vargas Llosa and Third World Literature” reads like a portrait of Pamuk himself: “If there is anything that distinguishes Third World literature, it is ... the writer’s awareness that his work is somehow remote from the centers where the history of his art - the art of the novel - is described, and he reflects this distance in his work.” Yet far from being a disadvantage for the writer,

this sense of being an outsider frees him from anxiety about originality. 
He need not enter into obsessive contest with fathers or forerunners to find his own voice. For he is exploring new terrain, touching on subjects that have never been discussed in his culture, and often addressing distant and emergent readerships, never seen before in his country - this gives his writing its own sort of originality, its authenticity. (Other Colors 168-9) 

Pamuk’s emphasis here is on the local use to which the writer can put the techniques he imports from outside, opening new paths not forged by the national writers before him. In this way, a localized globalism informs the shape of the work as well as the themes within it. 

In the process, Pamuk transcends the either/or choices perceived by the Westernizing murderer and the traditionalist tree. He lives at once in the Ottoman past and in the postmodern present, just as he lives both within Istanbul and beyond it, within and outside the pages of his fiction. In a direct expression of this doubled identity, Pamuk includes in the novel a young boy named Orhan, son of the book’s heroine, Shekure, which is also the name of Pamuk’s mother. In the novel’s closing lines, Shekure bequeaths her story to her son, hoping that he will make it into an illustrated tale, but she warns us not to take the result too literally: “For the sake of a delightful and convincing story, there isn’t a lie Orhan wouldn’t deign to tell” (413).

The Binational and the Multinational

The global is often contrasted to the local, paralleling the dichotomy of life at home and life abroad. A major effect of contemporary globalization, however, has been to complicate the very idea of “home.” Increasingly, migrant individuals and groups maintain active ties in two widely separated communities, keeping in close touch via cell phones, the internet, and jet travel. There are still writers who emigrate permanently, as did James Joyce, Marguerite Yourcenar, and Vladimir Nabokov before them, making a permanent home far from their homeland. Yet a growing number of writers divide their time between two or more locations, actively participating in widely separated communities and often writing for and about both of them.

For many years, Derek Walcott has maintained residences both in the United States and in the Caribbean, and by now should probably be considered an African-American as well as Caribbean writer. In key scenes of Omeros set in Massachusetts and on St. Lucia, the poet finds himself both at home and out of place in his birthplace and in his new country alike - a common theme in what can be called binational world literature. On his regular visits to St. Lucia he often feels like a tourist, his native island looking “like the print / of a postcard” (Walcott 69). Even as the ghost of his father gives him his life’s mission to write about his island’s people and history, an ocean liner looms ahead of them in the harbor. The cruise ship not only brings wealthy strangers who see the local residents simply as servants or as local color; it is also a troubling image of the poet’s own escape into international fame and fortune, “its hull bright as paper, preening with privilege. /... Fame is that white liner / at the end of your street” (72). Living much of the year in Boston, the poet is ambiguously absorbed into the local scene there: leaving the Museum of Fine Arts at dusk, he cannot get a cab, as the cabbies take him for an inner-city African-American and refuse to stop for him (184). 

Though this binational life is a constant source of uncertainly and unease for Walcott (or the character of that name in Omeros), it is ultimately a source of poetic strength, as he gains a breadth of experience and vision that his father never had. Though Warwick Walcott was a talented amateur painter and poet, his provincial life in colonial St. Lucia cut him off from the wider world, and his literary experience was largely confined to the old set of The World’s Great Classics in the local barbershop (71). Living half the year in Boston, by contrast, his son can develop his poetic vocation far more fully, and when visiting Ireland he even has the ghost of James Joyce for his tour guide (201). Warwick Walcott himself makes this point later in the poem: appearing unexpectedly to his son on a Massachusetts beach, Warwick declines his son’s offer that “We could go to a warmer place” (187). He can return home in due course, Warwick replies; but first, “you must enter cities / that open like The World’s Classics ... / Once you have seen everything and gone everywhere, / cherish our island for its green simplicities” (187). 

A binational perspective is expressed in the very structure of Julio Cortazar’s pathbreaking novel Rayuela (Hopscotch, 1963). First is a section entitled “Del lado de alla” (From the other side), set in Paris, where Cortazar lived for many years; this is followed by the second section, “Del lado de aca” (From this side), set in Buenos Aires, where Cortazar grew up. A final section is entitled “De otros lados” (From other sides), a set of “expendable chapters” of uncertain status in the narrative. This divided structure is crisscrossed by a second, alternative structure. While the book’s 155 untitled, numbered chapters can be read sequentially, a prefatory note also invites the reader to skip around in the text, reading in a very different order outlined at the start, one that reveals the progress of Cortazar’s migratory characters in a different way. 

Three decades later, Salman Rushdie adopted an equally binational structure for his story collection East, West (1994). The volume is also divided into three sections: three stories under the heading “East” are set in India; three stories under the heading “West” are set in Europe; and three stories under the heading “East, West” involve movements back and forth between continents. The central story of this final section, for example, “Chekov and Zulu,” implies dual nationality in its very title. Yet the story does not treat of Russians and South Africans at all. Rather, the title characters are two Indian employees of the British secret service - modern versions of Kipling’s Hurree Babu - who like to imagine themselves as enacting roles from Star Trek, though they have modified the name of the Japanese Mr. Sulu: “Zulu is a better name for... a suspected savage. For a putative traitor,” as Chekov remarks (Rushdie 153). He and Zulu regularly translate their experiences into Star Trek terms. When Zulu gets into a tight spot with a group of Sikh separatists he has infiltrated, he sends Chekov an urgent message: “Beam me up” (166). 

Prior to this point, Zulu had disappeared during undercover work in Birmingham. As the story opens, India House has sent Chekov to Zulu’s house in suburban London to make an inquiry. Chekov’s conversation with “Mrs. Zulu” is a comic masterpiece of Indian-English dialogue, but it also reveals a suspicion that her husband has been involved in some shady dealings with his fellow Sikhs: 

“Fixed the place up damn fine, Mrs Zulu, wah-wah. Tasteful decor, in spades, 
I must say. So much cut-glass! That bounder Zulu must be getting too much pay, more than yours truly, clever dog.” 
“No, how is possible? Acting Dipty’s tankha must be far in excess of Security Chief.” 
“No suspicion intended, ji. Only to say what a bargain-hunter you must be.” 
“Some problem but there is, na?” (149) 

The free intermixture of English and Hindi syntax and vocabulary - no longer italicized or translated as Kipling would have done - plunges the reader into the characters’ bicultural life. As the conversation unfolds, we learn that the two men had adopted their nicknames as schoolboys in India, closely identifying with the multinational Star Trek crew as interglobal explorers: “Intrepid diplonauts. Our umpteen-year mission to explore new worlds and new civilizations.... Not the leaders, as you’ll appreciate, but the ultimate professional servants” (151). In their adult lives, the two shuttle back and forth between England and India, engaged in political work and espionage. By the story’s end, Chekov has been fatally caught up in repressive complicity between the British and Indian governments, while Zulu - outraged at the Indian government’s use of terror threats as an excuse to oppress Sikhs - has resigned from governmental service, settling in Bombay as head of a pair of private security companies. These he calls Zulu Shield and Zulu Spear, now directly honoring the Zulus who had resisted the expansion of Dutch settlement in South Africa in the late eighteenth century. Thus futuristic fantasy and imperial history - Star Trek and the Boer Trekkers - come together in Mr. Zulu’s bicultural Bombay.

* * * 

Binational fictions often reach outward toward a multinational scope. In “Chekov and Zulu,” American science fiction helps characters come to terms with their Indian/English world; in Walcott’s Omeros, experiences on St. Lucia and in the United States are mediated by memories and dreams of Africa and England. Other writers construct fully multinational works. The action may cross many borders, or a single locale can be imbued with a multitude of ethnicities or else be inundated with the consumer products marketed worldwide by multinational corporations. Older national and imperial rivalries reverberate in these new global relations; understanding their dynamics can help us orient ourselves in the often disorienting worlds of global fiction. 

The formerly military and now economic rivalry of Japan and the United States shadows Ryu Murakami’s 1997 novel In the Miso Soup, whose lead character is an interpreter and guide for an international clientele of sex tourists, mostly Americans. In contrast to Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul, Murakami’s Tokyo is a city whose inhabitants have no desire at all to become someone else; indeed, “Japan is fundamentally uninterested in foreigners” (10). The narrator, Kenji, notes that this isolationism may be regrettable, but it provides the basis for his living: the thriving Japanese sex industry is geared toward local consumption, and foreigners who don’t speak Japanese need help in finding their way around. Kenji provides this service, for a hefty fee. 

Though the Japanese may pay little attention to foreigners, Japan is awash in global consumerism, in both the production and the consumption of goods. America is a predominant focus of emulation and exchange; the Japanese media report every game the Japanese baseball star Hideo Nomo plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and even provide up-to-the-minute reporting on Michael Jordan’s recreational golf outings (Murakami 13). In the novel, Japanese consumers think of America as the shopping mall of their dreams, as a prostitute tells a visiting American who compliments her on her English: 

“No! I want to speak better, but difficult. I want to get money and go America.” “Oh really? You want to go to school there?” 
“No school! I am stupid! No, I want to go Niketown.... One big building, many Nike shops! ... My friend said to me. She go to shopping Niketown and buy five, ano ... ten shoes! Oh! It’s my dream, go to shopping Niketown!” (20) 

The pervasive presence of American culture is announced as early as the title of the novel, which is given in Japanese phonetic script in the original; transliterated, it reads In za miso supu - a colloquial Japanese rendering of an English expression (“in the soup”) which has already been given a Japanese inflection in the naming of the soup as miso. Tokyo abounds with American and French names, plastered on stores regardless of the names’ original meaning or context. The only person in the novel who finds this odd is Kenji’s American client, Frank, who is puzzled that a department store is named “Times Square.” He protests, “But Times Square is Times Square because the old Times Tower was there. The New York Times doesn’t have a building in Shinjuku, does it?... Japan may have lost the war, but that was a long time ago now. Why keep imitating America?” (28). Kenji is baffled by this question and changes the subject. 

In contrast to Orhan Pamuk’s theme of Turkish ambivalence toward a culturally and politically dominant West, Ryu Murakami sees Japan and the United States as parallel societies. Japanese consumers may be trying fruitlessly to imitate Hollywood stars, as Pamuk’s Turks do, but so do the Americans themselves. Arranging to meet Kenji for the first time, Frank says that he can be recognized by his close resemblance to the actor Ed Harris, but when they meet up at a hotel bar, Kenji finds that Frank doesn’t look like Ed Harris at all - “he looked more like a stockbroker or something.... I just mean he struck me as sort of drab and nondescript” (6). 

Murakami’s multinational world is a culturally and emotionally flattened space in which Japan and America, former imperial rivals, have come to resemble one another. The apolitical Kenji learns this lesson from Frank, who recounts an analysis that a Lebanese journalist had told to a Peruvian streetwalker, who told him in turn - an aptly transnational circulation of information. The gist is that “the Japanese had never experienced having their land taken over by another ethnic group or being slaughtered or driven out as refugees,” whereas “a history of being invaded and assimilated is the one thing most countries in Europe and the New World have in common, so it’s like a basis for international understanding.... According to the Lebanese man, Japan’s just about the only country in the world that’s been untouched, except for the U.S.” (171). Their once separate histories converging, Japan and the United States have become prime players in the new Great Game of the multinational corporations, turning people into consumers with comparable results of isolation, loneliness, and lurking madness. Frank is the book’s prime case in point: he pretends to be a businessman who imports Toyota radiators to the United States from Southeast Asia, but he is in fact a murderous drifter who preys on prostitutes, modeling his actions partly on the movie The Silence of the Lambs

Over the course of the novel - an edgy mixture of noir thriller and social satire - Murakami prods his Japanese readers to rethink their place in a global world. Frank appears at first to be a particularly ugly American, but as the story unfolds he comes to represent the bleak truth about a dehumanized modernity at large: “with all this social surveillance and manipulation going on,” Frank remarks near the book’s end, “I think you’ll see an increase in people like me” (204). As he observes Frank with fascinated horror - a Marlow to his client’s Kurtz - Kenji shifts roles from guide to the one being guided. “I can’t deny that my body and mind were being dragged into unfamiliar territory,” he admits late in the novel; “I felt like I was listening to the tales of a guide in some unexplored country” (202). The foreign visitor reveals the heart of darkness hidden beneath the bright neon lights of metropolitan Tokyo. 

Set entirely within a few Tokyo neighborhoods, In the Miso Soup is a multinational narrative in a “glocalized” mode. It is equally possible, however, for a multinational work to take a delocalized approach, multiplying border crossings to the vanishing point - a perspective comically expressed in the title of a 1969 film, If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. A striking fictional treatment of multinational blurring is Christine Brooke-Rose’s novel Between. Its unnamed heroine works as a simultaneous translator, and she spends much of her time in the air, flying from one conference to another. She is always between countries, relationships, and identities, a fact the novel embodies linguistically: the verb “to be” never appears in the book in any form, and the heroine never uses the pronoun “I.” 

In contrast to a purely delocalized work by Kafka or Beckett, Between includes scenes in specific countries, including England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Poland, Slovenia, Greece, Turkey, and the United States. Yet the pace of the heroine’s multinational life is such that actions repeat themselves again and again, and one hotel room merges into another: 

At any minute now some bright or elderly or sour no young and buxom chambermaid in black and white will come in with a breakfast-tray, put it down on the table in the dark and draw back the curtains unless open the shutters and say Buenos días, Morgen or kalimera who knows, it all depends where the sleeping has occurred out of what dream shaken up with non merci nein danke no thank you in a long-lost terror of someone offering etwas anderes, not ordered. (Brooke-Rose 396)

Christine Brooke-Rose goes far beyond Kipling or even Rushdie in her use of foreign languages. Instead of an admixture of a single foreign language such as Hindi, her text presents a kaleidoscope of phrases and snatches of conversation in more than a dozen languages. Often, as above, a string of terms all reflect a single archetypal situation and so can serve as mutual translations. At other times, though, the heroine recalls snatches of conversation in other languages, most often French or German. When she began working as an interpreter just after the end of the Second World War, her first boss (and soon lover) was a German - ironically named Siegfried - working with the victorious Allies on denazification and the resettlement of refugees, and from then on she moved in multilingual circles. 

The blizzard of languages brings the heroine’s disorientation home to the reader, but the novel has a firm linguistic base in English, and gradually we become acclimated to this vertiginous world. We begin to take pleasure in the often hilarious slippage from one language to another - in Spain la leche turns lecherous, while an absent lover’s loins are loin in France - as our heroine proceeds from the Congress of Acupuncturists to the Conference of Gnostics. As she dozes during her incessant airplane flights, multilingual memories swirl around in her consciousness, as when a Slovenian foreign minister’s speech in French merges into a Dutch airline’s instructions for inflating a life vest, and then morphs into a remembered elevator ride in Germany - or France? Italy? - in search of a toilet: 

— Mesdames messieurs. Aujourd’hui nous allons discuter la problème de la communication, du point de vue which reveals een bewusteloos persoon blowing hot air into the mouthpiece all enclosed in a glass booth going down, after having pulled red toggle.... But R turns out to mean Restaurant in studded black plastic cushioned walls not Rez-de-chaussée at all. 
Kein Eintritt. Privat. Que cherchez-vous madame? Ah, au fond à gauche, in fondo a sinistra geradeaus dann links according to the theme the time the place with a flared-skirted figurine on the door. Or a high-heeled shoe perhaps as opposed to a flat foot. (409-10) 

Brooke-Rose’s heroine struggles to locate herself within a consumerist world. An ad for an Italian detergent prompts her to a skeptical reflection: “Lava ancora più bianco! Gut-gut. Più bianco than what? We live in an age of transition, perpetually between white and whiter than white. Very tiring. Zoom” (419). As her travels continue, gradually she sorts out her memories of growing up caught between combatant nations in war-torn Europe, and she finally disentangles herself from a series of problematic men. Her continually in-between state is often confusing, but it enables her to escape the fixed female roles (office girl, wife, mistress) that the men in her life keep expecting her to play, even as she transcends the limitations of any single national identity.

Contemporary novels treat globalization as a powerful force with ambiguous effects. Globalization blurs national borders and unsettles moral codes, even as repressed conflicts continue to well up in uncanny ways. Yet it fosters freedom and self-invention, dissolving provincialisms and shaking up all routines. In the closing pages of Between, Brooke-Rose’s heroine has achieved a new contentment as a self-sufficient or “alleinstehende Frau” (565) - literally, a “free-standing woman,” in contrast to her unstable previous mixture of dependency and free-floating anxiety. Abandoning the constant life of mass transit by air, she buys a compact French car for journeys on her own. She makes sure to pack her British passport and a Turkish phrasebook, for her first destination will be Istanbul, here as often an emblem of life in-between (564). As she leaves the book’s final conference, she hears the global babble fading away behind her, “as the members of the Congress on Tradition and Innovation unless perhaps The Role of the Writer in the Modern World burble on” (574). 

Contemporary novels treat globalization as a powerful force with ambiguous effects. Globalization blurs national borders and unsettles moral codes, even as repressed conflicts continue to well up in uncanny ways. Yet it fosters freedom and self-invention, dissolving provincialisms and shaking up all routines. In the closing pages of Between, Brooke-Rose’s heroine has achieved a new contentment as a self-sufficient or “alleinstehende Frau” (565) - literally, a “free-standing woman,” in contrast to her unstable previous mixture of dependency and free-floating anxiety. Abandoning the constant life of mass transit by air, she buys a compact French car for journeys on her own. She makes sure to pack her British passport and a Turkish phrasebook, for her first destination will be Istanbul, here as often an emblem of life in-between (564). As she leaves the book’s final conference, she hears the global babble fading away behind her, “as the members of the Congress on Tradition and Innovation unless perhaps The Role of the Writer in the Modern World burble on” (574). 

*  * *

Christine Brooke-Rose’s resilient heroine can model for us the adaptive process of coming to terms with the expansive landscape of the world’s languages, literatures, and cultures. In writing this book, I have sought to create a road map for explorations into our ever-widening literary world. The Epilogue will offer some initial directions for routes to consider, but whatever your choice of pathways - courses, anthologies, clusters of writers in whichever periods and regions most attract you - the issues raised in the preceding chapters can help you get your bearings and make sense of your discoveries. I will have succeeded in my endeavor if you are now well launched on your way, ready to carry on with the endless challenge and pleasure of world literature: to read, and read, and read still more.

David Damrosch, How to Read World Literature. John Wiley &Sons, 2009.