Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Basking in World Light: In Praise of International Literature

Despite the hoity-toity title there, I really just wanted to express a few thoughts regarding international or world literature. I touched on this in thoughts expressed while reading Rushdie's 'Midnight's Children', but wanted to run with the idea a bit since I more or less subconsciously moved right onto another foreign country (for a guy from Jersey) with my next read, Gunter Grass' 'The Meeting at Telgte'. This is my first foray into Grass' wide body of work, for which he was rewarded with the Nobel Prize immediately after Jose Saramago in 1999. It seems well deserved. Even the first 50 pages of 'The Meeting' have been vastly interesting and rewarding.

In making the transition from Rushdie to Grass, I decided to look back on my reading catalogue so far in 2005, and discovered that world literature has unconsciously dominated my choices. If my reading can be thought of as my travels - and at present, until I start picking up literary prizes (just kidding), that's as close as I'm gonna get - then this year I have already traveled to Australia (with Patrick White, 1973 Nobel Prize), North Korea (Ha Jin), Japan (Haruki Murakami), Iceland (Halldor Laxness, 1955 Nobel Prize), Norway (Tarjei Vesaas), Portugal (Saramago), India (Rushdie) and now small-town Germany (Grass). The point is not to say look at all the books I have read. The point is that I never realized how diversely my tastes have been spreading around the globe, and have not thought, or at least written about, why that might be and what i think that does for me and for those who read other nations' writers.

First of all, it's the only way I'm going to get to most of those places. I do consider reading literature from other countries a kind of journeying of the mind. Why not? You recreate these places in your own thoughts, assisted by the descriptive and narrative powers of the writer. It's a hell of a lot of fun, I think, to make these trips. I think most people, no matter what your interests are, in books, or sports, or decorating, or baking cookies, or whatever, still can agree that traveling is fun, interesting and enlightening. This is a way to do it, especially for the underfunded of the world, like me, heh heh.

Secondly, it helps me from a literary point of view, it makes me a better reader and writer. People from other nations aren't like people from America. They have different traditions, myths, beliefs, rituals, daily modes of existence. It's boring and limiting to a person's creativitiy and intelligence to only know how people live their lives in your own home state or town. Imagine if the whole world was a great big New Jersey suburb with 11,000,000 strip malls. Oh wait, there are already that number in Jersey alone. Well, you know what I mean. It wouldn't be the vast, incredible, extraordinary planet that God created and populated with amazing races and cultures. Reading all these works opens up treasure chests galore. What's not to love?

Third, on a broader scale, but perhaps my own personal reason, I find I can appreciate the broad reach and appeal of the Christian message and influence, and even the scope and majesty of the Church to which I belong, the Roman Catholic one. Even the atheist/a-religious writers I have read recently like Saramago or Haruki Murakami touch on the power of God, either in their nonbelief or commentaries on what those who do believe in God have done in the world. It's all grist and it's all interesting. The Catholic Church has a presence in Halldor Laxness' World Light, Grass' Meeting at Telgte, Rushdie's Midnight's Children, and Patrick White's Riders in the Chariot. But it looks different in all of these places - not the message, but it's multifaceted appearance, and it helps me look upon the Church's universality with wonder. Furthermore, for non-Catholic Christians, Jesus is an unescapable figure in all of these books, and again, you wind up appreciating the breadth of His great influence and the pervasive power of the parables He told and and the purpose for His life and his death.

These are just rambles, and when I go back and read them in a minute here, I'd be surprised if they made any sense. But hopefully anyone who sees this post will grasp the main thrust. Get into world literature. Step into the world light of great writers and great books. Or, as Delmar puts it in the Coen brothers' superb 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?': 'Come on in, boys [girls] - the water is fine!'


Glen Stevens said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Duke Altum said...

The fact that we get this kind of crappy spam on our own blog is just absurd... I'm going to have to talk to the blog service and see if there's anything that can be done to block crap like the above...

Anyway, another great post from Mutt, who's rackin' 'em up and knocking them down like ten pins. (???) Not that you'll be at al surprised at this Mutt, but I had been thinking of posting something sort of similar to this in the last few weeks... finding time is the thing... but I'm sure I wouldn't have made half of the good points you made here! Regardless, I would like to ring in with my own thoughts on this soon, prompted by what you wrote, if I can swing it. Great conversation starter here... and those are some amazing reading selections you've taken on this year too!

Another interesting topic in itself is American literature, but that is another conversation...