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5. Organization of thought and period. Pauses, shifts, foreshortened and long fields of view: translation as the logic of interior perspective


a) The three doors of expressive representation

During this course we have dwelled upon the phenomenon whereby every language represents the construction of an interior world. The time-space curve, the opening, like windows in a building, of ‘other’ perspectives inside the syntactical building, the definition of chromatic or perceptive ‘qualities’: all this changes from language to language, along a curve whose function is represented on the one hand by the culture of a people and its historical evolution, and on the other by the transgressive factor inherent in that critical attitude towards models without which literature cannot be conveyed. The biggest obstacle for a literary translator is precisely the ‘genetic’ incompatibility of his own code of representation with respect to that of the author in question.
This code is defined by three parameters: elision, amalgamation and assimilation.

1) Elision is the process of cultural filtering and selection that has always accompanied every process of consolidating and ‘formalizing’ a culture. In the last two centuries, elision particularly affected the contributions of popular culture. The following can be given as a general rule: democracies embracing the capitalist culture produce an upward levelling, eliminating oral and material cultures; whereas regimes based on totalitarian ideologies level out every intellectual expression completely eradicated of the ‘actual’ time-space schemes of a certain culture. The criticism of ‘serial’ music in Stalin’s USSR represents an eloquent case. However, it must be said that a capitalist consumer culture like that of America produces a censure of the same type, although based on different methods; in fact, on an academic level, models that are not spendable in a consumerist area are upheld as ‘high’; and as such, these are given an at times dubious cultural label.

2) Amalgamation is a ‘translation’ according to supplementary codes of foreign cultural elements. The Italian Scapigliatura movement, from Praga to Aleardi, reveals a juxtaposition of typical German Romantic Gothic elements, from Hoffmann to Kleist, unresolved in assimilation. To identify an amalgamation, just observe field of the new culture in which the elements of the ‘other’ culture are introduced: if the introduction occurs by aesthetic methods, and does not collide with the metaphysical, it concerns an amalgamation. Use of the macabre, by Tarchetti or Boito, as a touch of colour and not as a nihilistic vision of the world, leaves no doubt in this respect. Tragic cases of amalgamation are represented by the novels of Pavese, whose work as a translator of Steinbeck, Faulkner and Dos Passos ‘translated’, at an unconscious creative level, into a ‘mannerist’ juxtaposition of the terse language and obsessive and unaccommodating point of view typical of the American New Deal. Pavese’s case illustrates the danger, for a translator and writer, of ending up like those conductors who persist in also wanting to be composers.

3) Assimilation is the first purpose of every translation: it concerns a regeneration or a ‘cloning’ of the characters of others in one’s own culture, by the same procedures whereby in a living organism the vital nutriments become muscle, fat and bone without it being possible to identify their original differentiation. In order to speak of assimilation, a translation must recast and regenerate all the semantic and expressive characteristics of the source culture. We shall now see what these are.