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This item is taken from PN Review 81, Volume 18 Number 1, September - October 1991.

With the single market almost upon us, the arts bureaucracies of Europe are working late into the night on strategies for a single culture. In November of this year, in Weston-super-Mare, another conference of Arts Administrators will meet to discuss how best to integrate European culture into their programmes.

It is too late, perhaps, to question the desirability of deliberate 'cultural integration'. If War is diplomacy conducted by other means, Culture - and it begs to be spelled with a K, Pound's prognoses being painfully borne out - is another aspect of diplomacy. The generous funding of translation by Germany through the agency of Inter Nationes, a policy followed by other European countries over the years, acknowledges that literature, on the face of it the least exportable of commodities, is a valuable calling-card. If the State supports the dissemination of the work of its own writers, even (or especially) those critical of its past and of its present, it proves a kind of bona fides. It would be churlish to regret the dissemination of literature in translation; but it is worth remembering that our familiarity with a wide range of German writers is due not only to the excellence of their work or the commitment of British publishers to it. Something is owed to the diplomatic initiative of Bonn. There is a line to be drawn between literature and cultural diplomacy, what was once less generously called propaganda and what, when individuals practice it, is called vanity publishing.

European literature has never been a closed book to British writers, from Chaucer to the present day. But for writers (and readers) of the past, and for many today, an interest in Continental writers is generally an interest in their writing, not in their Nation or their Europeanness, and is pursued through a knowledge of the original language and a sense of specific context.

One might feel less ambivalent about the deliberate development of a European dimension in 'cultural policy' - and Britain exports as much as it imports - if it were not so frequently couched in the language of commerce, if it were not assumed that economic convergence inevitably entails cultural convergence. Working towards a convergence between languages irreducibly different is good news for translators, but it may prove in the long term impoverishing to readers and writers who will catch at best glimpses of the otherness of the literature included on the select cartel, the great simplifications which, last decade, made the literatures of Eastern Europe so polemically attractive, even when the translations and some of the originals were not up to much.

Cultural convergence also seems to entail neglect of our first cousins, the writers of the Commonwealth, at a time when they have much to offer us.

Whatever one may feel about 1992 and the single market, readers and writers will do well to remain wary of orchestrated cultural convergence and to remain insistently attentive to the other English-language literatures which have, and will continue to have, much more to teach about our language and our culture than translation can do. Mr Heath is wrong: Beethoven and Dante and Goethe were not Europeans, at least not in his sense.

This item is taken from PN Review 81, Volume 18 Number 1, September - October 1991.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to
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