Comp Lit

April 16, 2007 § Leave a comment

The NY Times has slipped some figures on translated literature into this week’s book review supplement. Jascha Hoffman’s Comparative Literature cites the following (excerpted):

Out of the approximately 1.5 million new books published last year….

30% were published in English (approx.) – approximately 6 % of the world’s population speaks English as a first language.

In 2004, 29% of the books published in the Czech Republic were translations, while in the U.S., a meager 2.62% of published books were translations. Spain and Italy come in at 25% and 22%, respectively.

A combined total of 92 Persian, Turkish, and Arabic titles were published in the U.S. last year (my own note here: though there is no indication of as much in the figures themselves, and though modern Persian is still spoken in Iran, parts of Afghanistan, etc, it is possible that “Persian” refers here to translations of older texts as well).

By contrast, of the 35,854 books published in Iran in 2002, 23% were translations.

Some secondary observations and oddities: Under the category of “International Fiction Best Sellers of 2006,” Dan Brown (author of the Da Vinci Code) comes in at #1, just behind Daniel Kehlmann of Germany. Yet, it’s not the Da Vinci Code but Digital Fortress in that slot – a tale about an NSA supercomputer called TRANSLTR, an invincible code buster that guards against electronic terrorism, under new threat from a former NSA employee who has written an unbreakable code.

A not unrelated ‘coded’ statistic to my mind: Croatian poet, Dubravka Oraic-Tolic’s Palindrome, “Palindromska Apokalipsa” was translated into English last year by an academic, apprentice press. “What is America”: “what is born from our dreams without our knowing.” The statistics in this NY Times document point to many forces at work in our “giving birth” across the globe (“democracy”; globalization; and so on), but with damn few codes beyond our own encryptions (English). Even in translation.


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