Tim Parks is the author of many novels, translations, and works of nonfiction, most recently Life and Work: Writers, Readers, and the Conversations Between Them and the novel In Extremis. (November 2017)
The Transferred Life of George Eliot: The Biography of a Novelist
by Philip Davis
A sonnet sequence is traditionally addressed to a lover and recounts a turbulent, romantic love. Mary Anne Evans, writing under the pseudonym George Eliot, is perhaps unique in having dedicated such a sequence to her brother, Isaac Evans. Published in 1869, when the novelist turned fifty, the poems focus on …
The “Mito Americano” and Italian Literary Culture Under Fascism
by Jane Dunnett, with a foreword by Massimo Bacigalupo
What was America to Italy and Italy to America during the twenty years of Fascist rule? Arriving in Italy to live in 1981, and learning Italian very largely by reading the works of writers who had come through Fascism, I soon became familiar with the accepted view of literary life …
by Ramon Saizarbitoria, translated from the Basque by Aritz Branton, and edited by Cecilia Ross
A middle-aged married mother flying from Heathrow to Bilbao becomes fascinated by a bearded man boarding the same plane. When a bag he’s holding breaks, spilling books into the aisle, she gives him a good strong Harrods bag and helps gather the books up. Grateful, and despite the crowd of …
Remarking on a painter he had hired to decorate his house, a man whose habit was to fill in the empty spaces around his central painting with “odd fantastic figures without any grace but what they derive from their variety,” Montaigne draws a comparison with his own writing. “And in …
Often, when we argue about books, it’s as well to ask ourselves if there isn’t an issue of competence that divides us. Time and again, I’ve realized I’d better shut my mouth when someone points out something of which I was simply ignorant, something that shifts the whole picture. As an Englishman living in Italy, discussing Italian literature with Italians, this is perhaps inevitable. In this regard, arguing about books can have the function, however mortifying, of reminding you that for a book to happen more fully and satisfyingly, you will have to change.
A translation can indeed be creative and “important,” but it is the creativity of astute accommodation and damage limitation, the “importance” of allowing as much as possible of that original to happen in the translator’s culture. To imagine, however, that Henry James could ever be to the Italians what he is to us, or Giovanni Verga to us what he is to Italians, is nonsense.
Is writing worth it? Does it make any sense at all to pursue literary glory? Are the writers we praise really the best anyway? In 1824, the Italian poet and philosopher Giacomo Leopardi decided to take on the subject in a thirty-page essay, of kinds. In fact, he puts his reflections somewhat playfully in the mouth of Giuseppe Parini, perhaps the finest Italian poet of the eighteenth century, a man from a poor family who spent all his life seeking financial and political protection in the homes of the aristocracy. What follows here is nothing more than a brief summary of what he says. Judge for yourself how much of this rings true today.
The desire for unanimity and solidarity among translators is understandable, and no doubt, at a deep level, we do all share a passion for literary translation and a wish that the practice thrive. This is why we invest so much time in learning our languages and working on our writing—so that our translations will be better. It is the logic behind every course that teaches translation: that one can improve. If someone is not happy with the hymn sheet, or with hymn sheets in general, let’s hear them.