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3. The staging of characters in different literatures


a) The theory of the four views

The theatre of life is also the theatre of literature. Many points of view, the secret of happiness in life, is also the most rewarding strategy in literary terms. Four different points of view can be identified, according to the distance between the subject of the narration and the narrating subject:

Allotropic view. This is what Dostoevsky uses in Demons, where a series of ‘polyphonic’ events gathers around a lack of ethical meaning: the great desire to change the world. When one wants to suggest the loss of any synthetic view the best solution is to resort to a peripheral, disinformed narrating first person, whose view conveys a constant feeling of surprise. The alternative is supernatural horror: a risky game that only Poe, the author of The Fall of the House of Usher, succeeded in. A paradoxical case of an allotropic view is that of Thomas Mann’s novel Lotte in Weimar, where, although being an eternal recollection of youth for the old poet, the central character remains unaware of his own symbolic experience. In Mann, the allotropic view takes on a Platonic meaning. In fact, in The Symposium, Plato introduces Alcibiades, an eternal adolescent that Socrates is in love with. The desire Alcibiades arouses in the philosopher is the cause of sublime words, of which Alcibiades remains completely unaware. An extreme case of this particular meaning of the allotropic view can be found in Queneau’s novel The Private Diary of Sally Mara, whose main character is an adolescent with vicious guardians who make every erotic play seem like a lesson in linguistics. Sally’s naivety creates a comical effect generated by the constant misunderstandings in which the protagonist - allotropic par excellence, in being blind to the practical consequences of the actions – is involved. For the translator, the allotropic view, in its orthodox and unorthodox variant, remains the biggest challenge: in fact, every ‘pathetic’ acceptance of the drama’s emotional content would in this case be deviating. In a certain sense, in the face of this ‘foreshortened view’, every translator risks behaving like Sally.

Diaristic view. This occurs each time the writer chooses to recount the story when everything is all over. Therefore the point of view will be the protagonist’s consciousness. Everything lying outside it – for cultural or ethical reasons – will not be the subject of the ‘drama’. The diaristic view has a father: Montaigne, who, in his Essais, declares that "he himself" will be the subject of his narration, thus bringing about a revolution in the narrative point of view and whose consequence we are still experiencing. In ancient times, on the other hand, the point of view of the Ego had an unrestrainable symbolic value. Apuleius’s Metamorphosis has the semblance of a diaristic narration but is really the report of an initiation story. Lucius is transformed into an ass for the secret aims of Isis, to whose cult he will finally be admitted. However, an illuminated heresy of this model in old literature consists of the Confessions of St. Augustine, where the diaristic view and symbolic distinguishing features merge in an already twentieth-century psychoanalytical definition. For a translator, the question in this case is that of not superimposing his own point of view on that of the protagonist: a temptation which, given the literary strategy, would be entirely instinctive.

Documentary view. Every narrative that proceeds through a turmoil of points of view lacking a centrality, and where the story is the indictment of an imaginary Public Prosecutor resembling the public, bears the marks of bourgeois culture. The nineteenth-century bourgeois novel is always a documentary novel. One of the first examples is Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, where the meetings, dialogues and experiences of an ordinary man living in an uncommon period become a space open to the comments and considerations of the reader, who in this way becomes a real protagonist of the narrative. The advantage in dramaturgical terms is the feeling of surprise conveyed by the story, due to the disproportion between the protagonist’s ingenuousness and the complexity of the situations he has to face from time to time. The apotheosis of the documentary view is represented by Joyce’s Ulysses, always dismissed off-hand as a modernist expression of the ‘stream of consciousness’ – the narrative technique invented by Dejardin - whereas Leopold Bloom is the linguistic material from which the settings gradually explored in his stroll through Dublin gain substance. In actual fact, Ulysses is the parody of the stream of consciousness. Bloom is the looking-glass beyond which Alice ventures out in order to discover if words ‘signify’ states of mind or not. For a translator, the documentary view beckons schizophrenia: a releasing catharsis, but also of great responsibility.

Theological view. In it, the writer knows everything and prepares the scene of its story with the almightiness of a god. An interesting aesthetic paradox occurs in the theological view: the more the narrative seems based on a criterion of referential objectivity, the more every detail of it takes on symbolic connotations. An extreme case is Flaubert’s Sentimental Education which on the surface would appear to be a Bildungsroman – an educational novel – but whose nature is gradually revealed as a symbolic j'accuse against the bourgeois culture of ethical materialism, with its reducing of adolescent enthusiasms to carriers of social progress. Here, the difficulty for a translator lies in rendering the irony implied in every ‘material’ nuance; in other words, the convergence of the ethical view with the aesthetic view, inside this particular perspective.