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Publishers: The Rise of International Re-sales

Publishers are the watershed between the gatekeeping of creation and the gatekeeping of reception. Putting literature into print, they are the most obvious gatekeepers of domestic literatures. But why would they be interested in World Literature, especially in a time when the windows of marketability were shrinking? Don’t translation and marketing in different cultures add to their difficulties? The Spanish firm of Seix-Barral gives us a number of insights, even as it lost out initially on Garcia Marquez. Carlos Barral and Victor Seix, the heirs of the founders, decided that the time was right to modernize their firm, especially in Latin America, where it had been a major presence in the 1930s. They were in a hurry to acquire foreign rights. Why? Because Spain’s domestic market was relatively small and filled with competing publishers. As Barral explained, “it was a matter of building up a backlist with recent and important authors or else those who were exotic to the French and Italian channels of Argentinean publishers.”84

In other words, Barral was explicitly looking for writers outside the supply chain of his major rivals, the Argentine publishers: these translations he could resell in Argentine publishers’ traditional secondary markets of France and Italy. His discrepant awareness focused on the exotic, by which he meant texts for parallel receiving cultures, not necessarily Spanish speakers but like them in cultural tastes. He assayed texts for their translation/export potential. At the moment of purchase of a text, Barral had to imagine its possible redimensioning in another, parallel market. When we try to imagine acquiring a text for two or more readerships, we can see the problems. Beyond its initial common literary attractiveness, the text has to appeal to particular local tastes, which may be different, perhaps even contradictory. This is the local/ global conundrum that Casanova and other scholars have discussed. Another way to see the situation is with economist Israel Kirzner. He would say that Barral is a good example of entrepreneurial “alertness to possibly newly worthwhile goals and to possibly newly available resources.”85 In Chapter 2 we will see the power of this “discrepant awareness” in Karl Weissner.

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