It`s nice to be a native speaker of the world`s dominant language, especially since I`ve never bothered to learn any other languages. However, there are problems with an intellectual monoculture. As physicist Freeman Dyson argued in the 1970s, maybe the Tower of Babel was, on the whole, a good thing. Lots of languages leads to lots of different cultures, which leads to different ideas and ways of doing things, some of which will turn out to be better than others, which can be adopted by others later.
It used to be that some Americans were interested in what was being published in foreign languages. But now we live in a world where Thilo Sarrazin or even Alexander Solzhenitsyn can`t get published in America.
Of course, high quality translation is terribly difficult. For example, in the early 1970s, there was much interest in Solzhenitsyn`s books, so there would be a large sale of the American translation. This led to people saying things like, “Well, he`s a great man but he`s not a great writer.” A few years after the American translations, the superior British translations of Solzhenitsyn would appear in America in small editions, and it was pretty obvious that he was a great writer.
Thirty years ago, I knew a UCLA professor named Michael Henry Heim who played a small role in winning the Cold War by doing terrific, sexy translations of the exiled Czech dissident novelist Milan Kundera, such as The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. It certainly didn`t hurt that at the climax of the Cold War in the 1980s perhaps the most fashionable writer in the world was an anti-Communist (which wouldn`t have happened without Heim`s quick, deft translations into English.) The 1988 movie of Unbearable Lightness proved that anti-Communists were as handsome as Daniel Day-Lewis and had Juliet Binoche and Lena Olin fighting over them. The next year, as you`ll recall, the demoralized Communists just plain gave up.
Professor Heim recently pointed out that these days younger academics in the modern languages seldom get publish-or-perish credit with their tenure committees for translations, even though it`s hard to imagine that the original research they do instead is more valuable.
So, what I`m looking for are suggestions for important work from outside the Anglosphere in English (either reasonably well-translated or written in English by somebody from outside the Anglosphere).
For example, I believe there are one or two East Asian economists who have books out in English explaining why the economic theories that seem so indisputable to English-speakers are pretty much laughed at in the booming economies of the East.
Or, here`s a contemporary German philosopher named Peter Sloterdijk. Anybody have an informed opinion on whether he`s worth the effort?