Robert McCrumb In Denial

This is how Robert McCrumb sounds when he's in a tizzy:

Which brings us to the larger question: whatever happened to that "Anglo-American dialogue" that Granta "in good conscience" no longer has time for?

The short answer is that it actually went global about 20 years ago. Under the new management, readers of Granta will be missing this bigger picture, but here it is, anyway. Like it or loathe it, the engine of the contemporary global literary dialogue is Anglo-American. At the risk of stating the obvious, the intermarriage of English and American culture in its broadest expression sponsors the really dominant cultural fusions. Four out of the last 10 Nobel laureates write in English. Barack Obama reads Joseph O'Neill's Netherland and Derek Walcott's poems, and quotes from the King James Bible. The multi-Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire was based on Vikas Swarup's Q & A. Bestseller culture, you sneer, unworthy of a literary magazine?

There's more: the recent Orange prize shortlisted three Americans, and then awarded the big one to Marilynne Robinson, who teaches at the Iowa writing school. Jacob Weisberg, Chicago-born editor of Slate, chaired the Samuel Johnson prize, won by Philip Hoare's Leviathan, a brilliant book inspired by Herman Melville. Michael Chabon's essay on childhood in the current New York Review of Books, a journal that understands the "Anglo-American dialogue", makes eloquent reference to CS Lewis, Philip Pullman, Matt Groening and Lawrence of Arabia. If this isn't "dialogue", I'm a Trappist.

Incoherence like this is difficult to argue against, since I've read this a number of times and still can't quite say what McCrumb is trying to prove here. It's supposed to be a surprise that prizes chaired and sponsored by British and Americans are awarded to . . . British and Americans? Or that Hollywood's biggest movie was based on a book written in English?

If anything, that's proving John Freeman's point that there's a lot of room for Granta to expand into fiction being written elsewhere. Whether it's being written in English or another language, there's a significant body of work not being served by a dialog that holds Marilynne Robinson, Jacob Weisberg, and Michael Chabon as its standard bearers. McCrumb can stick to his narrow view of literature. I'll gladly take the new Granta and leave him to thrill to authors that were doing interesting work 20 years ago.



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