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he also has to deal with “the first unabridged and fully annotated English edition of the Zibaldone,” which “will not be published until July (by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in the United States) but I have a proof copy.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!)

  4. Here’s a quote from the Kathleen Baldwin et al. version (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013):

    The idea that the ancients had about the happiness (and therefore the unhappiness) of man in this life, about his glory, his exploits, and the way in which all seemed solid and real to him, [454] can also be inferred from the following: that they believed the Gods themselves envied man’s great happiness and exploits, and they therefore feared their envy, and it was their task in such cases “deprecari” [to avert] divine envy, so that a small harm was deemed good fortune, and they even sought it out themselves (if I remember right) in order to appease the Gods, and mitigate their envy. “Deos immortales precatus est, ut, si quis eorum invideret operibus ac fortunae suae, in ipsum potius saevirent, quam in remp.” [“He prayed to the immortal gods that, if any of them should envy his achievements and his fortune, they should rather vent their rage against himself than against the state”]. Velleius, bk. 1, ch. 10, in relation to Aemilius Paullus. And this is what happened, as two of his sons died, one four days before his triumph and the other three days afterward. And see here the Variorum notes. See also Dionysius of Halicarnassus, bk. 12, chs. 20 and 23, Milan ed., and the note by Mai in ch. 20. See as well these thoughts p. 197, end. Indeed, the ancients regarded the affairs of this world as being so important that they attributed no other motives than our own to the desires or the actions of the Gods, they regarded the Gods as being in communion with our life and our goods, and therefore thought they were jealous of our happiness and our exploits, just like our fellow humans, [455] not doubting themselves to be worthy of the envy of the immortals. (23 Dec. 1820.)

    You can see the original Italian at Michael Gilleland’s post.

  5. David Marjanović says

    Not only would they have worshipped Superman as a god, they’d have been continually astounded by his omnibenevolence.

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