Lad Evian Come Mad Ya

What does it mean to translate? The first and consoling reply would be: it means to say the same thing in another language. But the question is in actual fact a good deal more complicated than that, as Umberto Eco has explained very well in his latest book, recently published in Italy. Its title is: Dire quasi la stessa cosa (Saying Almost the Same Thing), where the almost expresses all the complexity of the argument. If the literal translation of a passage may produce unexpected, and sometimes hilarious, results (it’s enough to try out any automatic translator contained in word-processing programs), indiscriminate interpretation risks depriving the text not only of its meaning but also of its musicality, its dramatic charge. So what’s the solution? What is the degree of arbitrariness permitted so that a text may be said to have been respected in translation? In the passage from one language to another, from one culture to another, what part of the original meaning, of the original emotion is it possible to communicate? Of the many aspects to be borne in mind in translation, Debora Hirsch has decided to privilege what it is that seems least essential and to transpose into English Canto I of the Divine Comedy, preserving only the sound of Dante’s verses, their phonetic structure. She empties the text of meaning and leaves only assonance, the sensorial dimension of sound. And, what is more, that dimension is frozen in the metallic diction of the digital image which scans the words on the screen, a simulacrum of a woman who recites a simulacrum of poetry, a perfect image for our age in which, as Bukowsky said, there’s no longer any space for verse to re-echo, unless in the intimacy of someone who reads in silence.