Monday, August 22, 2011

The Art of the Translation

Italo Svevo

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-


Laurent said...

Weaver is the great translator of Verdi's lyrics for EMI, the author of the superlative post-war memoir "A Tent in this World," and it is entirely like this blog to wish to do justice to such a man, and carry it off through the humility of that intention. A wonderful posting.

Nick Heywood said...

Completely unrelated, but I've just gotten back from some time in Europe and taken the pleasure of catching up with your posts. When you return to the continent, at all costs visit the Hussein Chalayan show at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris -- I know you share my adulation of Swinton, and she figures in more than a few pieces. Utterly mesmerizing -- his pieces speak in a way I never anticipated from his print representation. Tried, in vain! to visit Villa Necchi Campiglio last week, and was rudely rebuffed by the Milanese habit of abandoning ship for all of August (I finally found the Milanese, but all of them were sunning on Lake Como, something I would gladly do all summer). Similarly, the much touted new mens Dries store in Paris was shuttered, however, Margaret Howell was open, which was a great pleasure. There was a particularly beautiful Welsh blanket-tweed sport coat that I would have bought (with a matching one for you, too) if I wasn't quite so poor.

Lovely posts, as always.

Anonymous said...


DM said...

Wow, Laurent, thank you so much! But I'm sure you're just being nice. I'm so intrigued by Weaver, what a wonderful professor he'd be!

Geesh, Nick...we're just weeks apart from crossing each others paths, I go back the 27th of September. Oh wait, we live 20 minutes from each other! So exciting to think of you taking a train to Como, and probably passing right past my apartment which sits empty but waving to you nonetheless. I really want to go to Paris this fall, I hope to make it before the Hussain show closes! SO glad you're back!

Sarah- AGREED! :)

Paul Gervais de Bédée said...

I've enjoyed this wonderful tribute to Bill Weaver and his talents. I knew him very well and often went to his country house in Sansovino, I think it was, for lunches with his wonderful friends who lived around him then. Then we were neighbors in NYC and could look across 7th avenue into each others apartments—I pointed this out to him from my window after which he never raised his blinds again. Great man, I was very fond of him.