As I finished reading Zeno's Conscience the other night, I couldn't help but think, how does one take a piece of literature and transform it into something of another language? All while keeping it's true flow and feeling? As someone who has a hard time reading a language I can speak fairly, the task seems overwhelming, but William Weaver was the translator for La Conscienza di Zeno, and he did a brilliant job. I actually had the Italian version next to my English and at times would cross over to see how he would do something. It takes a brilliant brain to accomplish the task he did. You already may be blessed with his translations. Do you have Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino or Alberto Moravia in your library? Take a look, most are translated by William Weaver.
I found a fascinating interview with him in the Paris Review. His friendship with Frank O'Hara, the experience of moving to Rome before all the Americans and living with a literary crowd there left me breathless and entralled. But his description of how he translates blew my mind. So much goes into it, and how he relates it to performance art is nothing less than brilliant.
Might you say that your interest in performance is related to your work in translation? After all, translating is staging a written performance, an interpretation of a text.
At Bard College, when you give a course the head of the department or the division always says, Now, how can this be crosslisted? And they said, What about your translation workshop? And as a joke I said, Performing Arts. But you’re right. It is a performing art. In fact, when I’m translating sometimes I literally act out words. I was once alone in my study in the country, and I got to this word, sgomento, and I thought, Well, how do we say that in English? There is a word. I know the word exists, but I can’t think of it! And I started acting sgomento, sort of putting my hands in my hair and widening my eyes. Signor Bassi, the postman, who was also the bass drum player in the village band, came in with a special delivery letter and saw me with a weird expression on my face. And I looked up, and I thought, Oh, Signor Bassi’s aghast. And I thought, Sgomento—aghast! I quickly wrote it down, and I never bothered to explain to him what I was doing. This simply confirmed the local opinion that I was nuts.
If you get a chance take a look at the whole interview -HERE-