Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Peephole

It is a common observation that Americans are proudly, even arrogantly monolingual, insisting that others learn English, even in their home countries, while finding the persistence of other languages in America offensive or politically threatening. Our cultural solipsism goes beyond that, however. To judge by what sells, even educated people tend to limit their reading to works written for them in a uniform, patronizing idiom as devoid of challenge and surprise as Adventure Land is devoid of adventure. They are also apparently reluctant to read anything that was written more than a hundred years ago, which explains the commercial rationale of P. J. O’Rourke recently published premasticated summary of the Wealth of Nations—I guess late 18th Century prose is now as linguistically challenging as Chaucer. I’ve got absolutely nothing against children’s books. It’s the ubiquity of children’s books written for adults that bothers me, if only because it is in listening to a real diversity of voices we find our own. As it is, most of us feed from a cultural buffet, which looks sumptuous enough from a distance but, like the menu at Taco Bell, actually consists of a lot of variations on greasy ground beef and processed cheese.