Interesting. I think it’s almost impossible to have a complete grasp of our own culture (let’s say it exists for a moment, probably there are more than one in a country and there are the ethnic, socioeconomical and gendet and age variables to consider) and its even harder with other ones.
In my case it’s the reverse, I promise myself to read in original language if possible and to practice the languages I’m learning and it’s haven’t read literature in Spanish for a while. I say literature in Spanish and not Spanish literature because, even if there’s an exact relationship between a language, a country and culture, there aren’t interchangeable. I read little of national literature because most of it isn’t of my interest. Now it’s the national holidays so the questions about identity, alienation and how we prefer and value foreign products and ideas are in the air.
There will always be things lost in translation and context and I think that’s positive because we can learn and find a new interest by watching movies, tv shows, art, books and more. Pride and Prejudice lead me to learn about English history and find new authors.
Besides, I think the magic of fiction it’s to appeal to the universal in particular scenarios. One thing that it’s misunderstood or exaggerated in the communicative approach it’s that you have to start with something of the context because itbwill automatically make it significative, interesting and useful. I can relate more with Little Women, Pride and Prejudice or Frozen because I have sisters than something about the army created by someone who was born in my town.
I can learn about adventure with Salgari and Verne or about terror with Poe and Quiroga. I can read and learn what’s a tale with the brothers Grimm, chinese tales, Andersen, russian tales, greel myths or mexican tales. It’s possible to relate with an alien or dragon in a story.
That’s the beauty of fiction. I’ll never understand everything but I can explore bits and I think it will make my life richer.
The argument you bring forth here about the diversity of national cultures is an important one. Culture and culture conceptions are - like all concepts always - made my humans and society. I think reading all (or a lot) of a nations output in literature wouldn’t really help with the discovery of the culture itself (because, as you rightly say, it can’t be determined), but to learn about and even take part in the discourses, which were present at a certain time in a certain place. This wouldn’t have anything to do with identification; it’s pure observation, pure analysis. Maybe it would lead to a comparison with the system a reader grew up in, it certainly leads to a comparison with parts of a readers own emotional biography; but let’s face it, even our brothers and sister grew up in another cultural context than we did… by choosing different coat hooks for their identities.
Also translation: I personally have no issue with them at all. If the output is of a good literary quality, it can contain hundreds of “mistakes” (from a translator’s point of view) and be a wonderful read all the same. Since we god rid of the author as the only “authority” about his text, we can reinterpret everything without having a feeling of wrongdoing now (by making this decision we’re going back to the middle ages in the best way possible!), so let’s grab a topic, theme, character and create something new with it… hello fanfic authors *waves happily*: You are no thieves, everything you do is always original!!! :D
So, back to the initial question. Trying to read a lot written in ones own language makes absolute sense intellectually. But it’s a choice to make - among many other possible choices.
For the non French speaking, writing Downtonians, just a very shy and gentle reminder: It’s fiancé (male) and fiancée (female)… unless you plan a gay marriage… ;D