All'ombra dell'altra lingua: Per una poetica della traduzione

May 6, 2012
All'ombra dell'altra lingua. Per una poetica della traduzione book cover

by Antonio Prete
Bollati Boringhieri, 131 pp., € 16.00


Antonio Prete, professor of comparative literature at the University of Siena, begins his book: “To translate is to transmute one language into another language. One text into another text. One voice into another voice.”There is, in this alchemy, something that resembles the experience of love, or at least that same tension.” This motif of tension and love continues throughout the book. A great translation has to exist in the space between the language of origin and the ‘guest’ language. It has to be a conversation between the two languages in which both voices are heard. It has to render the author familiar without obscuring his foreignness. In the first section of the book, Prete discusses features that are, to him, fundamental to translation. He does so with the help of Giacomo Leopardi and his Zibaldone, but without the aid of a firm theory, for, according to both Leopardi and Prete, he who speaks often about translation theory, often translates poorly. Translation theory, it seems, is difficult, because translation exists in the gap between the two languages, in a space that is indefinable. Prete says it is a mise en abyme between the writing and the translator herself. The translator must consider her life experiences and his personal experience of the poetry, for poems are subjectively understood and thus a universal understanding is difficult, or impossible, to achieve. The translator and translation are always in between. He is both the guest and host for his work, both the author and the devotee. The translation is both an original and a derivative, it must be true to the original time and space, and yet it must relate to the contemporary moment and place. For that reason, Prete says, there is never a perfect, definitive translation. Each generation will understand a text in a new way, and each generation will produce a new translation according to that understanding. Prete’s book is peculiar in its development, for it advances no rules for the translator, and it speaks more to the souls of those who would translate than to an ‘academic community’. For Prete, a translation done without love, without patience, without hospitality and understanding, is a work poorly done. “A look at language, at the relationships between languages, tells as a great deal about the human condition.” When translating, one is the other, one is a stranger who is taking liberties with that which is most important to another. Thus, the translator must treat a work with compassion and care. He must love the work as much as its author loved it and respect it as much as he would a guest in his home. You must give it deference as you would a parent, for all that it has to teach you about a life you never lived, for all that it has to teach you about your own life. The more we translate, the more we understand each other, and the less we harm each other. This book is not only about translation, it is about the human condition. We are constantly in a state of subjective definition, of translating that which we see and hear, and retelling experiences through our own lens. The tools of the translator are tools for all humanity. The translator must listen, must be patient, must try to understand, he must speak, he must try to be understood, he must be a thoughtful guest and host, he must be passionate and love the other, and in the end he will exist in a harmonious space tra le lingue, where his translation hangs in a quiet equilibrium, true to the voice of each person who speaks.