No Nobel, but “the Arab World” is the guest of honor at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair

Every October, old publishing/editing types shack up at the Frankfurter Hoff for a week and deal in foreign book rights, taking the first step in the decisive process of what foreign literature we get to see over here in culturally isolated America. These are people for whom cross-cultural communication is paramount, people who believe in a kind of utopian global culture of writing and reading (and selling books). How strange, then that the Fair has bizarrely decided to cite “the Arab World” as their guest of honor at this year’s fair. And has then decided to implement greatly increased security measures over those of the last few years. Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt’s nobel-laureate literary ambassador to the Western world, offered an anemic challenge to the idea of lumping some 20 countries and their distinct literatures under the same name while previous “guests of honor” have traditionally been single nations. “Did the West need to feel its security threatened so that it would engage in a rediscovery of Islamic civilization and Arab culture?” he asked. Probably. And as Edward Wyatt in his NY Times piece implies, the rediscovery of such non-specific, nebulous “culture” looks a lot more like an enlightened “fuck you” from a European nation to the US than it does a genuine literary nod.

More here.