Taste, Without Distinction: Foreign Lists in Postwar America

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The phenomenon of the unprecedented sales success of Latin American and South Asian authors from García Márquez and Allende to Rushdie and Roy has had a disproportionate impact on models of the circulation of the literatures from the periphery in core markets. Yet what if these models err in extrapolating from the Latin American and South Asian booms the assumption of a single world market, perhaps even a single international literary field? This essay questions the evenness and general applicability of Bourdieu’s theory of taste to international publishing. Casanova, Moretti and Walkowitz describe a global publishing market, but how even is it? What is the impact of more national and local dynamics? Can publishers of foreign fiction really translate symbolic capital into commercial capital in the form of sales? The archival collection of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, registering the lack of demand for vernacular fiction from Latin America and South Asia well into the 1950s and 1960s, provides a counterfactual history. In postwar American foreign lists, the pressure to domesticate was not to an international literary field, but to the very specific fissures and pressures of an American market. An author did not write for translation per se, but for translation into American English and the New York market, or into Parisian French with its attendant editorial practices. Each literary field requires its own description. We need counterintuitive literary histories where it is not the unprecedented success of García Márquez or Rushdie that needs to be explained, but rather, how they and their precursors came to be published at all. We need accounts of the production, not merely the reception, of these works. Scholars must ask which foreign market an “international” author and supporting coterie of agents, translators and publishers is writing for.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)416-432
Number of pages17
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 17 2019


  • Bourdieu
  • Desani
  • distinction
  • editing
  • foreign list
  • Fuentes
  • identity
  • Machado de Assis
  • market
  • minority
  • mixed-race
  • postcolonial
  • postwar
  • prejudice
  • publishing
  • taste
  • translation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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