From the moment an author perceives his ultimate audience as international rather than national, the nature of his writing is bound to change. In particular one notes a tendency to remove obstacles to international comprehension. Writing in the 1960’s, intensely engaged with his own culture and its complex politics, Hugo Claus apparently did not care that his novels would require a special effort on the reader’s and above all the translator’s part if they were to be understood outside his native Belgium. In sharp contrast, contemporary authors like the Norwegian Per Petterson, the Dutch Gerhard Baaker, or the Italian Alessandro Baricco, offer us works that require no such knowledge or effort, nor offer the rewards that such effort will bring.Parks sees a massive culture shift underway in the world of European literature similar to the switch from Latin to vernacular; European writers are beginning to look at success in their own language and their own countries as insufficient, and their gazes are set abroad. "Certainly, in Italy where I live, an author is only thought to have arrived when he is published in New York. To appreciate how much things have changed one only need reflect how little it would have dented the reputations of Zola or Verga had they not achieved immediate publication in London."
In addition to the lack of culturally specific detail, Parks sees a likely trend toward simpler, less idiomatic language that presents fewer problems for translators, and a greater reliance on what might be called the best practices of already internationally established stars:
the deployment of highly visible tropes immediately recognizable as “literary” and “imaginative,” analogous to the wearisome lingua franca of special effects in contemporary cinema, and the foregrounding of a political sensibility that places the author among those “working for world peace.” So the overstated fantasy devices of a Rushdie or a Pamuk always go hand in hand with a certain liberal position since, as Borges once remarked, most people have so little aesthetic sense they rely on other criteria to judge the works they read.I agree with Borges, and I agree that the fewer the Rushdie impersonators, the better, but I'm beginning to wonder which babies are being ejected with the bathwater. Even among the writers he's listed as among the vanguard of the new global novel (Petterson, Barrico, Baaker, Ishiguro) I have trouble recognizing this limp liberalism as all that pervasive, or a uniformity that is all that constrictive. There is a certain taciturnity in common between Petterson and Ishiguro (I don't know Barrico or Baaker) but I'm at a loss to attribute it solely to the desire to have international success; surely there is something very specific about both writers' sense of their characters' voices and the types of narratives they're interested in that is more personal (even idiosyncratic) than it is commercial or ambitious.
Secondly, I am left to wonder how Parks differentiates this "new global novel" from slightly older global novels: it would be very easy to read a work like Saramago's Blindness into this program of international pandering: it certainly seemed like it was written to facilitate fluid cultural translation. And aren't we told so frequently that the great modernist masterworks are among the most international of the century? Parks has written just a short blog post, so it may be unfair to expect a consideration of these larger contexts, but I wonder how much he is critiquing a specific marketing and compositional practice and how much he is complaining that he hasn't found many new novels he's liked recently. (Honestly, I'm inclined to believe that most general theories of literature derive from this quotidian problem. And when I hear "death of the novel," I think, "this guy's just fed up with his job," whether it's writing, editing, or composing 800-word reviews.)
Parks notes that his awareness of this shift comes from living in Europe, and I think it would be only fair to recognize that he's talking at most about a fraction (maybe a substantial fraction) of European writers. I suppose there are a number of Latin American and some African writers who could be read into this shift, but there are also a number of novels from these and other places which are fighting against this current, which do in fact attempt to render a sense of location or which at the very least are trying to engage a broad audience's ignorance. Junot Díaz's celebrated educational footnote to the second page of Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is only perhaps the most direct example, but there are a number of contemporary writers who at the very least begrudgingly accept the role of native informant and do their best to equip the reader with the necessary historical, political, and intellectual background for understanding the action. They are still very intent on writing novels deeply invested in local politics, history, and culture.
Lastly, I think it's hard to underestimate the extent to which genre fiction—mystery and science fiction in particular—has effected a change in the way writers around the world think about imaginatively coming to terms with local or national problems; while I don't want to write either genre off as allegory, the way that science fiction or detective novels might facilitate cultural translation because of their "highly visible tropes" is clearly one of their strengths and not a lack or a flaw. I haven't read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which I kept expecting to come up in Parks's argument), but it's my understanding that there isn't so much a suppression of detail about contemporary Swedish society as it is made available to a global audience through the plot and through the internationalized conventions of the genre. Surely Stieg Larsson's wild success is more exemplary of a "new global novel" than Per Petterson or Alessandro Barrico.
I'm very skeptical that any desire to court international (and particularly American) success will ever be quite so unremittingly distortive and destructive to the novel—even to the European novel. And I am still more skeptical that it will ever become complete; while there may be a shift away from the pursuit of national prestige and toward international honors and sales, it is unlikely that national markets will wholly collapse, and some writers, unsuccessful on an international market, will inevitably turn back (or will never abandon) the local.