Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ilan Stavans

In anticipation of Ilan Stavans' visit here on October 12th at 7 pm, we
sent him a few questions, which he promptly answered, with regard to
the NEW Norton Anthology of Latino Literature of which he is the
editor. If you missed his recent appearance with Tom Ashbrook on On Point, check it out AND be here on October 12 for an encore performance.

What does the creation of a literary canon do for a culture, especially
after there has been so much debate over the last few decades on the
validity of canons at all?

A: A canon is a map. It isn’t a replica of a portion of our cultural landscape but its chart. A canon
is also a portable library, suggesting where to place our reading attention. Itisn ’t prescriptive but descriptive. Loving and hating canons is essential to democracy. To make canons is dangerous but danger is a feature in most of what we do in life. Being an academic, for instance, is dangerous too.

Q: Do you even see this book as a canon?

A: Yes.

Q: What's the best way for a reader to approach literature written by a different culture?

A: A different culture according to whom? Latinos in the United States aren’t a different culture. We shouldn’t be: numbering close to 50 million (the demographic data of the 2010 U.S. Census should be reaching us fairly soon), roughly one of every six people in this country has Hispanic background: William Carlos Williams was Latino. There are Latinos in the Bush family. One of our Supreme Court Justices is Latina and so is Dora the Explorer. In other words, Latinos are part and parcel of the experiment called America. By the way, all literature, no matter where it comes from, is about difference, just as every writer, even those trapped in a monolingual
cell, write in translation.

Q: To put this in another way, how should a white American read the works in this anthology?

A: As any other reader hopefully should: with curiosity. The rest—hypnotizing the reader—is up to the book. Of course, the anthology has a total word count of 1,403,804. It features 201 writers in almost 2,700 pages, accompanied by 3,271 footnotes. It took the team 13 years to complete. Maybe the ideal reader of The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature is the same as that of James Joyce’sFinnegans Wake. When Time magazine asked Joyce, who had spent 17 years I think composing the novel, how much he expected the common reader to invest in the act—and
art—of reading it, he answered: 17 years. I’m equally modest…

Q: Of all the authors this anthology should introduce to the general
public, is there one you think deserves particular attention from the
reading public?

A: Yes, but I’m not telling. Otherwise I would be creating a canon within the canon, which seems to me redundant.

Q: Who would you say is the most accessible?

A: Accessibility is a mirage. A fine piece of writing finds its own reader.

1 comment:

Hello, I'm Tayler said...

Articulately answered questions. Excited to read.

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