Essays Fiction 2009

Border Crossings

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In our age of globalization, when immigration and the Internet and multinational conglomerates have made cultural transmission across borders easier than ever, does the idea of a national literature still have meaning? Where, in a civilization divided between cultural nativism and cosmopolitan mélange, does such a literature belong? The Atlantic, in conjunction with the Luminato Festival of Arts and Creativity, asked four novelists with international followings to consider these questions.

The Beetle and the Teacup
by Margaret Atwood
“The adjective national won’t go away, because despite the shiftiness of such categories, every author was born somewhere, and where the infant scribe’s growth to writing age took place is not irrelevant.”

The Relevance of Cosmopolitanism
by Joseph O’Neill
“Most novelists can choose to occupy territory complicated by merely a single hyphen (African-American, Korean-American) and settle there. I haven’t had this option: there are few Irish-Francophone-Turkish-Dutch-Londoner-American lots out there.”

Did I Know Enough to Be British?
by Monica Ali
“In our modern, multicultural world, one that has become geographically unbound, perhaps literature too has become unanchored. It can only add a sense of rootlessness, as writers and books traverse the globe.”

Reading Faust in Korean
by Anne Michaels
“When the dead cannot be laid to rest in ground that remembers them, sometimes literature is the only grave we have. And that grave is one way a migrant claims a place in his adopted country.”

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