A Second Translation: Translating V.S. Naipaul into Italian

Article excerpt

Translating the works of V.S. Naipaul poses a great challenge for the Italian translator on both a linguistic and a cultural level. The translator must deal with a multifaceted universe, which Naipaul's prose--with its terse detachment--renders even more nuanced.

Antoine Berman locates various "deforming tendencies" (208) whereby the translator is inclined to reduce the linguistic variety present in the source text and restrict the text's linguistic and cultural space. In his 1985 study, "Translation and the Trials of the Foreign," Berman analyzes twelve such tendencies. The translator who is unaware of these tendencies risks denaturing the source text. It is as if the translation, far from being the place that receives the foreign, becomes its negation, its "naturalization." To avoid this, Berman invites translators to reflect on what he calls "the properly ethical aim of the translating act: receiving the Foreign as Foreign" (277).

Of the twelve deforming tendencies identified by Berman, some prove to be particularly insidious for the translator of Naipaul. They are in particular, and in the following order:

* no. 4: ennoblement

* no. 12: effacement of superimposition of languages

* no. 10: destruction of vernacular networks or their exoticization

Naipaul's essayist writing style is characterized by its extraordinary limpidness. His writing is plane. Plane, not plain. Simple, not easy. When translating his works, one must be mindful not to strip it of its vitality. To keep from flattening his writing style, the translator must maintain a watchful eye on lexical choices and the syntactic structure of sentences and periods. Naipaul's attention to his writing is evident in many ways. His words are crafted with extreme care and are often chosen for their strong evocative and expressive power. A word is important not only in terms of its semantic substance, its ability to reveal multiple connotations, but also purely in terms of its graphic significance. It is from the delicate balance between lexical choices, mostly middle-register language interspersed with the occasional high-register word, and a scrupulous and linear syntactic structure rooted in the great journalistic tradition of eighteenth century England, that the style of Naipaul's travel books is born.

Eighteenth century English prose is distinguished by its transparency, in particular the transparency of its syntax, even when this is complex. The lexis is bare, used very sparingly. In Naipaul's travel books his prose is particularly terse. One naturally hears the lesson of the great English journalistic tradition, but above all, one hears the lesson of an American journalist turned great writer, Ernest Hemingway. A writer who strips away all excess, all trace of redundancy from his writing. A writer who relies on the unsaid to best express what is in fact said. In his novels, especially his first ones set in the Caribbean--Miguel Street, The Suffrage of Elvira, The Mystic Masseur, and A House for Mr. Biswas--Naipaul chooses to employ this same limpid prose also for his narrators and, in doing so, he creates a dramatic stylistic contrast with the language used by his characters. Indeed, in many of Naipaul's earlier novels, the narrator tells the story using standard literary English. His prose is measured, plane, and sounds much like the style Naipaul reserves for his travel books.

To avoid flattening Naipaul's writing style the translator might be tempted to flex his or her muscles and considerably elevate the register of language in an attempt to make it sound literary. In other words, the translator's modest, opaque prose, that in all likelihood characterizes the first draft, becomes an elegant, rewritten version of the translated text. This is one of the worst wrongs you can do to the author. Of the deforming tendencies identified by Berman, the fourth, ennoblement, poses a constant threat during the translation process. …