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1. Linguistic codes: d) Emphasis



d) Emphasis

Homer'sIliadincludes a catalogue of ships summarizing the composition of the crews that set off for the war against Troy, and since that time, the emphatic characterization of events has been seen regularly in literature, identifiable in two procedures: physical description and dynamic inflation. To demonstrate the difference of expression between the two, we can look at two French writers of different ages and cultures: Flaubert and Rabelais. In Flaubert'sMadame Bovary, the description of the pharmacist Homais culminates in a pair of watery eyes in which the light of intelligence (raison) is replaced by that of notion (information). Here, the concept of 'information' recalls, by assonance, the periodical 'press', the scourge of a city such as Paris at the end of the nineteenth century, where public opinion was the arbiter of fashion and custom. In translation, accordingly, it will be vital in the case of the pharmacist to stress how the importance of 'knowing what to say' prevails over the sense of 'what to say', reflecting that conflict between culture and the convention of keeping up appearances which underlies the whole depiction of this character. So, we need to say 'His watery eyes knew what ought to be said, or 'knew what would be the right thing to say', though not 'knew how to express themselves'. The eyes in this instance emphasize an ambiguity that is the more physical by reason of its being, first and foremost, semantic. In one of the most intense passages of the novel, Madame Bovary, by this time intent on killing herself, goes to make her confession to the village curate who, alarmed by the desperation of the woman, is unable to formulate anything better than faded evangelical platitudes. In this situation, the references to the Psalms must be taken up with philological care and rendered in 'small town' language, a provincial jargon oozing commonplace expressions and proverbs, all disjointed and breathless, and as such quite different to that other lexicon which the author puts into the mouth of his heroine - no less conventional, but borrowed from the worst of second-rate romantic-parnassianists (Gauthier, in particular), and detested by Flaubert so much that he adopts it to solemnize her physical collapse.

Rabelais is in complete contrast to this. HisGargantua and Pantagruel is often punctuated with epithets exchanged by the two protagonists in an obscene counterpoint of infantile comicality: in one instance, the vulgar 'con'('cunt', in the sense of 'idiot', 'berk') is followed by fifty-four qualifying adjectives that draw on all codes of language, from sensory and gastronomic to theological and philosophical. Here, the object of the emphasis is opposite to that of Flaubert: it is to make the reader forget any reference to the contingent situation and become submerged in a world of 'tautology', of material imagery, absorbed gratifyingly at a single glance.

In the case of Flaubert, the translator must rely on an inner ear and an inner vision of the scene to obtain maximum possible effectiveness in rendering the alienation of a seemingly deliberate characterization of language, from the situation of moral obscenity in which the action takes place; in the case of Rabelais, on the other hand, the requirement is for denotative mechanicalness pure and simple, free of any articulation between subject and object: devoid of any 'dramatic action'.

Staying within the sphere of French Literature, an intermediate example of emphasis is the famous 'nose' monologue, in Edmond Rostand'sCyrano de Bergerac. There is a certain Rabelaisian quality about the string of similes attributed by the hero to his 'promontoire', characterized as they are by the combination of human body and inanimate object, but the way the dramatist employs this enumeration to portray Cyrano as something of a braggart, as having a natural theatricality of character that conceals a sense of inferiority crucial to the subsequent events in the drama, suggests that this is a work with its origins in the age of 'bourgeois realism'. The main difficulty for a translator lies in the fact that Rostand makes a good many references to household utensils, from coffee pots to moustache curling irons, or to items of apparel, umbrellas and clothes hooks that have now disappeared, and must be therefore be replaced by implements identifiable with the everyday experience of the reader. Indeed the comic effect of the scene comes from the contrast between the humble nature of the compared objects, typical of a material and still peasant culture, and the epic tone given to them by symbolic dignity, as if parts making up one of those artificial men in the paintings of Arcimboldo, which appear as assemblages of nuts. bolts and spirit levels, and ornamental plants.

One of the most difficult opening passages in all literature is that ofA man without qualitiesby Robert Musil. The action takes place in Vienna, on an unspecified spring day. To ensure that the reader fully perceives the generic nature of the situation and, at the same time, the existential dehumanizing atmosphere in which the characters find themselves making their frenetic and foolish peregrinations around the city streets, Musil describes a complex weather situation, dwelling on the isobars, isotherms, meridians and parallels whose intersections connote the Viennese sky - a sky 'on that day, clear'. This is a magnificent piece of writing, in which denotation of the sharpest and most neutral quality is transformed, paradoxically, into the pathetic connotation of a humanity lost in the pursuit of impossible dreams. Musil's description is articulated in sentences of identical pattern, all composed of a main clause and a subordinate clause; unfortunately, with the particular characteristic of German that allows an absolute distinction between the temporal and the causal, the effect on a reader of the original German is one of a subordinating 'weil'which, from an expected 'and so', gradually takes on the value of 'at the same time'. As a result, the meaning becomes frustrated, replaced by the immanence of time, passing emptily. There could be no clearer narrative expression of the problem, stated during the same nineteen twenties by Heidegger, of the non-convergence ofSein and Zeit: 'Being' and 'Time'. How does one render a game of mirrors like this? To interpret 'weil' as 'thereupon' is no more than a suggestion, but a careful reading of the passage enables us to see a powerful rhetorical effect of emphasis: how the central position of consciousness can become lost in the descriptive process.

At the beginning ofThe Holy Sinner, Thomas Mann describes the obsessive ringing of bells in Rome which greet the elevation to the papal seat of one Gregorius: the incestuous sinner of whose road to redemption the novel is a whimsical account. The description of the sound as being taken up by one church from another is representational, in the manner of Rabelais; here again, therefore, we have a gradual dissociation of human action from its social significance: a progressive dehumanization of the rite, to the point that its meaning becomes inverted. And throughout the entire novel, in effect, the disembodied voices and angelic sonorities that are to guide Gregory on each stage of his sinful journey will be diabolical seductions, in disguise. In short, sound overthrowing the ethical order. So, to translate those opening words as the 'sound of bells' would be a mystification; more suitable rather would be an emphatic 'bells, bells ringing full peal; bells all over Rome.' Needless to say, only when the novel is read in full will the reason for this rhetorical artifice become apparent, since for the translator, emphatic openings are highly untrustworthy, due precisely to their figurative intensity.

Anyone taking even a quick glance at an English translation of Alessandro Manzoni'sPromessi Sposiwill notice how the long, long opening sentence of the first chapter is rendered generally as a series of descriptive clauses recalling the minimalist kind of landscape portrayal used by Jane Austen. Holding up Manzoni forever as a scholastic model of style, there is the risk that the reasons for his work may not properly be understood. The novel begins with the description of a motionless expanse of water: Lake Como, observed in the distant sweep of mountains, valleys and winding tributaries that merge with the blue of the sky. At a certain point, this fluvial, undifferentiated tide of time is interrupted by a date: a date associated with a low wall erected along the ridges of a hill, along which there runs a road, and along the road comes Don Abbondio. Thus: material civilization as history 'and as such, bad, being corruptible' is contrasted with the untroubled non-temporality of nature, not constrained within any limits, untroubled by reason of its being generated anterior to and in the absence of any dialectical debate. The opening sentence is the expression of a uniform continuity - a verbal reference to a pre-verbal truth. In this instance the emphasis rises to a third degree of density (with each change in denotative ambiguity corresponding to an elevation of the level of allusion): a symbolic mysticism arrived at by way of irony using the most direct referential codes. Patently a linguistic short-circuit, this artfully self-complacent jumble of an opening, it will nonetheless be spoiled directly from within when translated, should its lucid weightiness become blunted.

Might there be a 'countertext' similar to this, identifiable as such by an English- speaking public? To judge from the linguistic games indulged in by Chaucer, the answer is yes. Apparently then, only by having recourse to 'strategic' archaisms is it possible to solve the equation inherent in the various ways by which the Italian and English linguistic cultures delineate the relationship between code and 'countertext'. A test of this proposition, taking the opposite route, would be to translate Chaucer'sCanterbury Talesinto Italian: it will be almost impossible not to fall into Boccaccio-esque connotations, and yet, the Breton and Saxon provenance of the tales must necessarily exclude linguistic references deriving, in Mediaeval Italy, from proximity to the Holy Roman Empire and itsemprunté neo-latin expressions.

An example by way of recapitulation to conclude with:Coleridge's Ancient Marinerand the famous line 'Water, water everywhere', an emphatic figure semantic and musical alike. If this is translated'acqua, acqua, ovunque'in Italian, it gives the idea of abundance rather than scarcity. The notion of men surrounded by salt water and dying of thirst triggers a play of emphasis on the ambiguity of the elements, the conflict between fresh and salt water reflecting that between civilization and nature. The emphasis here is more Rabelaisian than Flaubertian. 'Mare, ovunque mare' has melodramatic, almost conclusive connotations.'Il mare ovunque disteso'has neoclassical and elegiac attitudes that are antipathetic. One might try'E il mare, il mare in ogni dove', to suggest a mechanical deadlock evoking at once the craving for water and the fear of drowning. At all events, the solution of the problem must come through the inner perception of the translator, who is required here - and wherever else a level of emphasis can be found - to share in the short-circuit between sense and significance and then render the sensation of antidialectical paradox employing a new strategy, linked with those elements which, within the scope of the national and personal culture pertinent to the target language, are able to create a similar feeling of alienation. The problem will be extreme in the case of works, like Raymond Queneau'sLes fleurs bleues, that are elaborate and relentless progressions toward emphasis of the linguistic code versus bare referential expression of the narrated event. The translation of this work ishic suntleones territory that every linguist ought to dive into, sooner or later, if only to emerge saying 'emphasis, emphasis everywhere'.