Tim Parks is translating “a selection of entries from Giacomo Leopardi’s Zibaldone […] a book all Italians know from school and almost nobody has read in its entirety,” and he’s written a post about it at NYRBlog. He asks “do I write in modern prose, or in an early nineteenth-century pastiche?” (the former, of course) and “Do I tidy up the very personal and unedited aspect of the text, or do preserve those qualities, if I can?” The latter question leads to a very interesting discussion, with alternate possible translations of the same passage; he also has to deal with “the first unabridged and fully annotated English edition of the Zibaldone,” which “will not be published until July (by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in the United States) but I have a proof copy. Do I look at it? Before I start? Or only after I finish, to check that at least semantically we have understood the same thing?” Of course he looks at it, and “after reading a few paragraphs of the translation itself I’m reassured that my work will not merely be a duplication of theirs, because I hear the text quite differently”:

What I’d rather like to stress is my intense awareness, as I read their translation, of the uniqueness of each reading response, which is the inevitable result, I suppose, of the individual background we bring to a book, all the reading and writing and listening and talking we’ve done in the past, our particular interests, beliefs, obsessions. I hear Leopardi in an English that has a completely different tone and feel than the one my colleagues have used. I just hear a different man speaking to me—a different voice—though what I hear is no more valid than what they hear.

A good response, and the whole thing is worth your while.


  1. narrowmargin says:

    Now that’s a man with common sense (and a high level of tolerance for opinions different from his own).

  2. Here’s something more about Tim Parks and then there’s this amusing little interchange on his facebook page:

    Lindsay Russell
    I just read the article in the Independent, and, I hope you don’t mind me saying, have never knowingly read anything written by you! I will be now…so exciting!!
    Friday at 14:32
    Lindsay Russell
    Any suggestions on where I should start?
    Friday at 14:31
    Tim Parks
    Well, Lindsay, there are a lot of books of various kinds. Maybe check out the website and see what looks most inviting. Destiny is ok. Cara Massimina was fun. Teach Us to Sit Still unusual if nothing else… Really hard for the writer to do the recommending!
    Friday at 17:27
    Christel Bedner
    Lindsay Lohan: After “Destiny” I had to read all his books…
    Friday at 23:38
    Lindsay Russell
    Destiny on it’s way courtesy of Amazon!
    Yesterday at 05:59
    Tim Parks
    Thanks Christel. I hope the book pleases. It’s not everyone’s cup of poison

  3. In the comments: “You seem too complicated to perform an appropriate translation, sorry.” At the NYRB, even the EFL trolls are highbrow. (And polite!)

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