The Western/non-Western binary problem is making it hard for me to comment. I’m writing Caribbean SF, Anglophone Commonwealth. How should my work be categorised?
Yes, I think I’d revise my previous formulation, thinking on what several folks like you and Lily have said: what I think we are talking about (or at least me, in this case) is not so much “Western,” but the specifically Anglo-American/British SF tradition, and its narrative dominance in the current English-speaking/reading marketplace?
I think it’s okay for things to exist in multiple categories at once.
My work is Western. I was born in California; I’ve lived in CA, NY, WV and IA. I only speak English.
I read anthropology because it’s awesome, but I’m still fundamentally, culturally Western; even if I write about other cultural spaces, my cultural identity will inevitably infuse it on some level.
People whose identities are complicated, or whose experiences are complicated, etc, will produce complicated work.
Western is a slippery, not well-defined term, but I’m not sure how to replace it, especially as identities and geographical politics are so complicated that they probably won’t ever be served well by a term that claims to clearly delineate them. Maybe coming from a culture that held colonial power, literally or by direct, contemporary cultural heritage.
The term “metropole” comes to mind, as in “international/(imperial) cultural center.” When we’re talking about publishing, it seems fair to acknowledge that a book printed by a large publishing house in New York has a larger potential global reach and a larger marketing budget than a book published in Lagos. The Lagos book may have a large impact locally, of course, but when it comes to international distribution I’d think the book published in a metropole has the advantage. (Maybe in a flat world this will prove different?)
Anyway, for me, the geographical idea of writing from the periphery has value. The further you are from the metropole, the less likely you are to have your storytelling shaped exclusively by its culture, the harder it is to tell your stories in the metropole, the more likely it is that you and your stories will be received as “exotic.”
The discussion of Western vs. non-Western narratives here has brought up a number of great points but it seems to me that it’s a pretty clear distinction, but it is cultural / social rather than geographic. SF in non-translated English is a product of and exists within a Western cultural context which incorporates a whole slew of underlying concepts, values, myths, and so on. Even if the author comes from a vastly different culture, merely by being capable of writing in English the author is aware and affected (infected?) by that cultural context through the mechanism of learning the language thoroughly enough to write in it.
Whether the author shares common “Western” attitudes about (just to pick a few biggies) — religion (should be subject to the state), sex (is associated with marriage), and politics (the rulers have obligations to the ruled) — is beside the point. The writing is done in with the awareness of those attitudes. And so the work is informed by them.
Which is the reason that work by authors outside that set of values and assumptions is valuable. They tell stories that a more “Western” writer wouldn’t imagine and which can both add richness to the field as well as giving readers new insights into their own cultures and pre-conceptions.
The problems with getting that sort of work to an English speaking audience are the two addressed already — translation is important and expensive to do well plus some of the stories will be unappealing to the audience. But it’s still worth trying.
Even if the author comes from a vastly different culture, merely by being capable of writing in English the author is aware and affected (infected?) by that cultural context through the mechanism of learning the language thoroughly enough to write in it.
I’m not convinced of that.
I am. There are things you can say in English you can’t say in Russian, and vice versa.
If it comes to that, there are things you can say in Caribbean Standard English that you can’t say in US/UK Standard English.
I think Alan just gave away the plot of Embassytown…
Haha! I was thinking the same thing.