Daniela Caselli and Daniela La Penna, eds.: Twentieth-Century Poetic Translation: Literary Cultures in Italian and English.
Inspired by the international conference "Value and Visibility: Poetic Translations Across Italy and Britain in the Twentieth Century," held at the University of London in 2004, this volume features a number of essays focusing on translations of poetry, from and into Italian, with particular attention to "the function of translating conventions and the role played by retranslations of poetic texts in the relationship between value-formation processes and the idea of a 'poetic tradition' in Italy, Britain and the US" (5). The book posits translation as a fundamental activity in the dissemination of culture, and every essay contained in it highlights the manifold ways in which translation can not only create a space for new or previously silenced poetic voices, but also suggest new perspectives in the interpretation of "canonical" texts.
The book, prefaced by a wide-ranging essay by Daniela La Penna on poetic canons in translation, is divided into four sections: 1) Contexts of Translation: Twentieth-Century Transactions; 2) Reading Communities and the Politics of Translation: Value and Visibility in Three Case Studies; 3) Translation, Identity and Authority; and 4) Theories of Translation: Ethics and Genre. La Penna's overview provides a fascinating insight into the "complex linguistic negotiations that go beyond the single agency of the translator" (4). She discusses marketing strategies, such as choosing a renowned poet to translate a lesser-known author, or entrusting the preface of an emerging poet's collection to a scholar who is already well established in the target culture. In examining the translation of English and American poetry into Italian during the first half of the twentieth century, La Penna underscores the importance of this practice for poets such as Ungaretti and Quasimodo, both of whom published translation notebooks and acknowledged the influence of the texts they translated in their own writing. La Penna also shows the extent to which the choice of translating specific texts is often a reflection of the politics of the time period and can serve either to reassert those politics, or to counter them from a literary standpoint. La Penna concludes her essay by lamenting the paucity, in Italy, of innovative studies dedicated to translation theory, which she ascribes to the "strong traditions of historical linguistics and stylistics" (21) and to the long-lasting influence of Benedetto Croce, who regarded translation as mere approximation.
While far-reaching and stimulating, this introductory essay already reveals one of the risks of this broad and demanding project: the attempt to explore multiple paths, and especially the choice to discuss the contexts of literary translation both from and into Italian, are at times overly ambitious, since both undertakings need to take into account vastly different linguistic challenges, traditions, cultures and readerships and can only do so in passing. This desire to bring innumerable elements into the discussion also marks Pier Vincenzo Mengaldo's essay, "An Enquiry into Linguistic and Stylistic Features of Modern Translation into Italian," where the author even ventures outside the realm of literature and draws examples from "seventeenth- and eighteenth-century intellectual debates, cinema, [and] opera libretti" (25) as well as from contemporary poetry "in order to identify central constants in the translation of poetry in recent years" (25). The final product is an unquestionably thought-provoking, if somewhat scattered, collection of reflections on the role played by translation in relation to literary canons, though not an exhaustive investigation of its patterns within specific domains.
As expected, the most engaging section for practicing translators and laymen alike is dedicated to case studies that deal with non-traditional approaches to translation. In particular, Matthew Reynolds's essay on Ciaran Carson's translation of Dante's Inferno brings several key issues to the forefront: first of all, the usefulness, in certain instances, of reading a translation as a translation, without giving in to the illusion of transparency. In doing so, Reynolds shows the "shifting levels and varying focus" (74) that emerge in Carson's combination of archaic and modern terms in his rendition of Dante. In addition, it invites readers to ponder on the presence of the translator in the text: how, for example, does one judge Carson's deliberate use of words that create a connection to his native Belfast? This bold choice is the expression of a translating strategy that reflects on itself and, whether one shares Reynolds's enthusiasm for this refreshing approach or, instead, reacts indignantly at the marginal position to which the source text is relegated by this self-congratulating appropriation, the presence of this essay in the volume effectively touches upon problems of domestication and foreignization, which are central to contemporary debates on translation. Carol O'Sullivan's and Laurence Hooper's examinations of non-standard translations of Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli and Trilussa are also noteworthy reminders of the wealth of inspiration that dialect poetry offers to the theory and practice of translation.
Although the emphasis placed on the translator's active role in the life of a written text is undoubtedly positive, a tendency that characterizes this volume--and many others heavily influenced by postmodernist thought--is a shift of focus from the source to the target text, whereby the translator deploys creative strategies that risk overshadowing the original text, which ends up serving merely as a stepping stone for an experimentation that does not hold loyalty to the source text as its priority. Such a shift finds its justification in what Carla Locatelli, in her essay entitled "From a Morality of Translation to an Ethics of Translation: In Step with the Play of Language," calls an "ethics which respects the multiple discourses in which historical, material, social and cultural 'co(n)texts' affect the contemporary understanding of the world, and different ways of world-making" (166).
Because of its distinct penchant towards this notion of translation, the volume will appeal more to readers who share the same view, though it still has much to offer to professional translators, translation scholars and Italian poetry specialists as well.
Marella Feltrin-Morris, Ithaca College
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2010|
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