Languages and influence on literature

Christian Garcin of France
Val McDermid of the UK

Central Park: Writers of three countries came together on the opening day of the Kolkata Literature Festival, in association with The Telegraph, to discuss cross-cultural influences of contemporary literature.

Moderator Anjum Katyal put a common question to each of the participants. "In a globalised world how deep are the influences of one country's literature on another?"

Scottish crime writer Val McDermid denied the effect of British detective fiction on her. "I grew up in a mining village where there were no spinsters with herbaceous borders or India-returned retired army men. Rather, I connected with American crime fiction where women had brains, had agency and the murders were not random but rooted in the politics of the place."

British writers, she admitted, were privileged and underprivileged at the same time. "Little from elsewhere reaches us in translation. Everyone reads our books but we cannot read theirs." The situation is changing, she pointed out, with the global success of Swedish Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

French writer Christian Garcin is not convinced by the concept of "national literature". "When I read Faulkner in French, it slowly became my literature." He has translated Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Jorge Luis Borges etc in French. "I started with Poe because he had not been translated for 170 years. The French language has hardly remained the same. Translations should be done every 30 years."

Chinmoy Guha recalled how Buddhadeb Basu's translation of Charles Baudelaire in 1961 transformed poetry in Bengal, opening up new perspectives in sexuality and morality. He also spoke about up Edgar Allan Poe's short stories, translated by Charles Baudelaire, igniting the symbolist movement in French poetry.

Philippe Forest of France. Pictures by Sanat Kr Sinha

Philippe Forest who has tried to write "a Japanese novel in French" said: "The Japanese have been writing a form of autobiographical novel they call watakushishosetuever since they got exposed to European literature. For the last 20-30 years, a similar of trend is being seen in France called auto fiction."

Abhijnan Roychowdhury, who stays in London and writes in Bengali, crosses boundaries. "When we read Around the World in 80 Days we never thought of the country of the story's origin. The same holds for Satyajit Ray, Anish Deb, Ray Bradbury or Isaac Asimov," he said.

Can one be transnational? "You suppress culture if you suppress its literature," McDermid said.


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