Category Archives: Italy, Italian, Italians (in that order)

The Translator & the Literary Agent: An English-Language Capriccio

Setting: An Italian literary agent contacts a translator regarding the translation of a boflag4ok. The agent represents an author who wants to sell his work in the U.S. Long discussions ensue about the contract, but the agent refuses to sign any agreement that doesn’t give him and the author the power to modify the translation in any way they want before publishing it, “in case you make a mistake.” The translator isn’t having it.

Yes, the translator says. I can’t exclude the possibility that I might make a mistake. But if I did, I would obviously want to fix it. It’s in my own self-interest not to have mistakes in a translation with my name on it. Still, I’m the author of the translation, and I need to make sure that my work isn’t changed without my consent.

Agent: Budownloadt what if we don’t agree with your interpretation of something?

Translator: Well, a translation is an interpretation, and reasonable people might disagree about interpretation. A difference of opinion, though, doesn’t necessarily mean that the translator has warped the meaning. But if you mean what would happen if I completely misinterpreted a sentence or missed a double entendre, then of course I would want to know that. For reasons that are obvious, I would never want to publish a translation that contained those kinds of mistakes. In the end, it’s got my name on it. But, no, I’m not inclined to grant you the right to change the translation without my permission just because you, who are not a native English speaker, would write it differently. Translations should always be revised, but by professionals who are native in the language of the translation.

Agent: Both the author and I are fluent English speakers.

Translator: Yes, but neither of you is either a native English speaker or an Italian-to-English translator. Still, if you think your English is that good, shouldn’t you probably just translate the book yourselves?

Agent: I appreciate your passionate defense of your profession, and I understand the idea that the “translator is an author,” but you have to admit that my client is more of an author than you are.

Translator: Let me ask you this. Suppose I read your client’s book, and I find that he’s been unclear or excessively verbose, or he’s botched a description, or there’s an inconsistency in the story line, or I just don’t like his interpretation of some social or historical event, and I insist that he fix it before I translate, will he do it?

Agent: I’m shocked. I’ve never encountered an attitude like this in all my years of dealing with translators.

Translator: I’m not surprised. A lot of my colleagues are incurable idiots.

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Il Traduttore & l’Agente Letterario: Un Capriccio in Inglese

Ambientazione: Un agente letterario italiano contatta un traduttore per parlare della traduzione di un libro. L’agente rappresenta l’autore, uno scrittore che vorrebbe vendere la sua opeuncle sam hatra negli Stati Uniti. Seguono lunghe trattative sull’accordo, ma l’agente rifiuta di firmare qualsiasi contratto che non conceda a lui e al suo cliente il potere di modificare la traduzione prima della pubblicazione in qualsiasi modo pare loro appropriato, “nel caso in cui Lei dovesse prendere una cantonata.” Ma il traduttore non si fa battere così facilmente.

Sì, dice il traduttore, non posso escludere la possibilità di commetere qualche errore. Ma se lo facessi, è ovvio che vorrei poter subito rimediare il problema. Anche se agisco solo per interesse, non mi conviene pubblicare una traduzione, firmata con il mio nome, che contenga degli errori. Ma essendo io l’autore della traduzione, ho bisogno di essere sicuro che la mia opera non venga modificata senza il mio perdownloadmesso.

Agente: Ma cosa succede se non siamo d’accordo sulla sua interpretazione di una frase?

Traduttore: Bene, una traduzione è un’inter
pretazione, e persone di buona volontà possono anche dissentire su questioni di interpretazione. Ma differenze di opinione non necessariamente equivalgono a forzature da parte del traduttore. Se invece intende dire, cosa succederebbe se dovessi fraintendere completamente il senso di una frase o di un doppio senso, allora naturalmente ci terrei a saperlo. Per ovvi motivi, non vorrei mai pubblicare una traduzione che contenesse questo tipo di errori. Alla fine, c’è il mio nome sulla traduzione. Detto ciò, però, no, non sono comunque disposto a concedere il diritto di modificare la traduzione senza il mio permesso solo perché voi, che non siete di madrelingua inglese, l’avreste scritto in modo diverso. Sono d’accordo che le traduzioni editoriali debbano essere sempre revisionate, ma da professionisti per cui la lingua della traduzione corrisponda alla loro lingua madre.

Agente: Ma qui c’è di mezzo l’autore che conosce bene l’inglese così come me.

Traduttore: D’accordo, ma nessuno dei due è di madrelingua inglese, e non siete nemmeno traduttori dall’italiano all’inglese. D’altronde, se pensate che il vostro inglese sia di così alto livello, non avrebbe forse più senso che siate voi a tradurre direttamente il libro?

Agente: Ammiro la difesa della sua categoria, e capisco perfettamente il concetto che “il traduttore è autore,” ma si deve ammettere che il mio cliente lo è un po’ di più.

Traduttore: Le faccio una domanda. Poniamo che io legga il libro del suo cliente, e trovi che non sia stato chiaro, o che sia ecessivamente prolisso, o che abbia storpiato una descrizione, o che nella trama stessa ci sia un’ incongruenza, o semplicemente non mi aggrada il suo modo di interpretare un evento storico o una realtà sociale, e quindi insista che l’autore modifichi il testo prima che io possa accettare di tradurre il libro, lui lo farà?

Agente: Sono allibito. Mai in tutti i miei anni di trattare con traduttori ho incontrato un atteggiamento simile.

Traduttore: Non mi sorprende affatto. Spesso i miei colleghi sono inguaribili idioti.

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Stay Woke, Roberto Saviano: Gay and Brave Are No Contradiction in Terms

I have enormous respect for Roberto Saviano, the Italian writer and journalist, author of the best-selling exposé of the Italian Camorra, Gomorrah (which became a 2008 film of the same name), and tireless enemy of the mafia and of government corruption. For his trouble, Saviano, whom Umberto Eco called a “national hero,” has lived under permanent police escort for a decade.

In his recent Facebook post regarding the murder of Giulio Regeni in Cairo, Egypt, however, Saviano puts his foot firmly into his own mouth and makes a move that he ought to have had the sense to realize was both embarrassing and offensive.

Regeni, as many readers will know, was a 28-year-old Italian student pursuing a PhD in Cambridge, England. He had been working and writing in Cairo, from which he disappeared on 25 January. His corpse was found on a desert road nine days later.

Saviano’s Facebook comment and my translation follow.


Giulio Regeni è morto per aver scritto. È morto (è stato sequestrato e torturato) in circostanze che si fanno sempre meno chiare. Su Giulio si è provato a fare ciò che accade sempre: dopo la morte la diffamazione. Hanno lasciato intendere che fosse gay e che il delitto avesse un movente sessuale. Nulla di tutto questo. Condivido qui l’articolo di Silvia Savi, anticipato in parte oggi dal Messaggero Veneto, che scrive: “Nemmeno l’assassinio della giornalista del Corriere della Sera Maria Grazia Cutuli, uccisa in Afghanistan nel 2001, o l’esecuzione nel 2004 in Iraq del reporter Enzo Baldoni o della guardia privata Fabrizio Quattrocchi sono state spinte verso il silenzio in così pochi giorni.” Giulio ha pagato, per aver raccontato, il prezzo più alto. Che la terra ti sia lieve.

Giulio Regeni died for what he wrote. He died (he’d been kidnapped and tortured) under circumstances that become less clear with each passing day. Yet there have been attempts to do to Giulio what is always done: After death comes defamation. They’ve hinted that he was gay and that the crime was sexually motivated. But none of that is the case. I’m sharing here Silvia Savi’s article from the Messaggero Veneto, which appears in preview today. She writes, “Neither the assassination of Corriere della Sera journalist, Maria Grazia Cutuli, in Afghanistan in 2001, nor the execution in Iraq in 2004 of reporter Enzo Baldoni [kidnapped and killed by a Muslim fundamentalist organization allegedly linked with Al-Qaeda], nor the death of [Italian Security officer], Fabrizio Quattrocchi [taken hostage by Islamist militants in Iraq and killed by them in 2004], was pushed toward silence in so few days.” For telling what he saw, Giulio paid the highest price. Sit tibi terra levis (may the earth rest upon him lightly).


First, saying that Regeni might have been gay and that he might have been targeted in part for that reason is not defamation. Saying that someone is or might be gay is not calumny unless you believe being gay is shameful.

In fact, anyone with the slightest degree of sensitivity to the reality of homophobic violence in the world would immediately have asked the same thing, after reading reports that Regeni’s corpse was found nude from the waist down. Was someone sending a message? Was Regeni gay?

Saviano asserts that “they” (who “they” is remains unclear) are attempting to smear Regeni by implying that the crime was sexually motivated.

Wait. What?

Even supposing Regeni was murdered solely for being gay, which I do not actually presume (and, in fact, I have read no such claim anywhere), in what way is that a smear? Even to go so far as to suggest that he was out cruising and got killed by someone who hated queers constitutes no effort to besmirch him—unless one already believes that the sex lives of gay men are despicable.

If Saviano were as progressive as he says he is, he’d have understood that the exposition of a nude or partially nude corpse is common when gay and trans people are murdered. He’d also have understood that being murdered because of “sexual motives” is no less a crime, is no less horrendous, and demands no less outraged a response. “They” may be attempting to imply that being tortured and murdered while looking for sex is “asking for it,” but I feel confident in asserting that few gay people thought anything of the kind.

What is most galling is Saviano’s attempt to place two potential interpretations into opposition with one another: the assertion that Regeni was killed because he was gay and the assertion that he was killed because he was a journalist and truth-teller, that he was murdered “for what he wrote.”

In fact, no one yet knows why Regeni was killed, and Saviano’s attempt to fold the young man into the ranks of martyrs for the cause of journalist freedom—which is, after all, Saviano’s cause—is premature, as are most beatifications.

Yes, numerous reports have suggested that Regeni was killed by Egyptian police for his anti-Egyptian-government journalism. The Guardian, for example, reported on 4 February 2016 that Regeni had written about Egyptian labor unions for Il Manifesto, an Italian communist newspaper, going into further detail in its 8 February story, “Thousands of Academics Demand Inquiry into Cairo Death of Giulio Regeni.”

Regeni’s criticisms of “authoritarianism and repression” in Egypt and of the El-Sisi government appeared in Italy under a pseudonym, according to The Guardian, “because [Regeni] was allegedly concerned for his safety.” The International Business Times reported on 12 February that Regeni had ties to “independent trade union and local dissidents.”

No one need deny those ties, however, and no one need deny that Regeni’s journalism threatened the El-Sisi regime’s stranglehold on democracy, in order to wonder whether Regeni might also have chosen as an easy target precisely because he was—or might be seen to be—gay.

Fascist and totalitarian regimes have long recognized the utility of gay victims because they know how easily crimes can be hidden behind public homophobia. It’s easy to kill a queer, who also happens to be an “inconvenient” person, because there are always those who will believe that queerness mitigates the crime.

Saviano, unfortunately, does the same thing. He implies that Regeni’s possible gayness mitigates his bravery as a journalist or his political commitment as a leftist. He accepts the argument that we should not say (or ask) whether Regeni was targeted for being gay (or ALSO for being gay)—“none of that is the case,” Saviano asserts, with absolutely no proof—because that would compromise his utility as a sacrifice to the cause of silenced journalists.

That kind of malevolence, of ignorance, is to be expected from El-Sisi’s security forces (which have lied from the beginning about the circumstances of Regeni’s death). Roberto Saviano ought to know better.

I don’t know why Regeni was killed, but neither does Saviano. I don’t know whether he was gay, but neither does Saviano.

In the end, I have the same information he has. All I want is for Saviano to stop implying that being gay and telling the truth about “what one sees” are a contradiction in terms.

“Partisans” by Primo Levi – on the Anniversary of the “Partisans Uprising” in Italy, 25 April 1945

Where have you gone, you the partisans of every valley,
Tarzan, Riccio, Sparviero, Saetta, Ulisse?

Many sleep now in seemly graves.
The hair of those who remain has gone white,
and they tell their children’s children
stories of how, in that far-off time of utter certainty,
they stood firm against the German assault.
There, yes, where the chairlift has gone in.

Some are sellers and buyers of land,
others nibble away at their old-age pensions
or draw together like purse strings in the local bars.
On your feet, old timers: there is no end to our service.

Let us meet again. Let us return to the mountains,
slow and gasping for breath, our knees unforgiving,
feeling each of our winters in our backs.
The path will be steep and arduous for us,
our cots will be hard, and no less so the bread we eat.

We will gaze upon one another, no recognition in our faces
suspicious, petulant, and full of shadow.
As we once did, we will stand sentinel
to ensure no enemy can surprise us at dawn.

But what enemy? We are each the enemy of the other.
Each of us is riven by internal borders.
The right hand is the enemy of the left.
On your feet, old timers, enemies of your very selves:
For us, the war goes on.

The Little Miss Litigious Contest

*************UPDATE*************
*********13 January 2015**********

In response to a private message sent to the Milan-based IAP (Istituto dell’Autodisciplina Pubblicitaria – or Institute for Self-Regulation in Advertising – and, in shaky English, here) regarding the SIRI Professional Training Institute’s “I’m going to be an Esthetician” campaign,” the IAP responded on 13 January 2015 as follows:

We would like to inform you that this matter has already been brought before IAP’s Monitoring Board and investigated. On 30 November 2012, the Board asked the advertiser to reconsider the publicity message in question and to remove the elements we considered to be in violation of Art.11 of our “Code of Self-Regulation in Business Communications,” with specific reference to the section which states: “Representations of behavior or concepts aimed at the sexualization of children are prohibited.”

The advertiser does not fall within the requirements of IAP’s self-regulatory Code because its publicity was limited to local dissemination only and, therefore, was not required to comply with IAP’s Code. In any case, the advertiser failed to respond to our request and, as a result, IAP had no authority to take further action and the matter could not be pursued.

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Wouldn’t it be lovely to be able to say that the nonsense libel suit filed against journalist Marina Morpurgo by Maria Laura Sica, owner of the Foggia, Italy-based SIRI beauty school (or “professional training institute,” as SIRI would prefer it), had simply faded away, as it so richly deserves to?

Why, yes, it would.

Unfortunately, the Foggia prosecutor, Anna Landi, has decided to keep this frivolous, dangerous lawsuit on life support for at least the next six months, and has issued an order that moves the case along to its next phase: a hearing set for May 15, 2015.

You may recall, from reading “Little Fascists Grow Up (Another Blow to Freedom of Speech in the World’s Fastest Crumbling Democracy),” published on Una Vita Vagabonda in November 2013, that SIRI and Ms. Landi are suing Morpurgo, a long-time correspondent for L’Unità and editor of the weekly newsmagazine Diario, for “offending SIRI’s honor” by “denigrating its publicity campaign” in a pair of Facebook posts.

Now, it should first be said that, if ever a publicity campaign deserved to be denigrated, that one did: The school’s recruiting poster depicted a young girl, professionally made up like a higher-class Honey Boo Boo in a National American Miss pageant and pouting voluptuously while she applied lipstick (pink, naturally). “I’m going to be an esthetician,” the legend read. “I’ve always known what I wanted.”SIRI Jan 2015

For her part, Morpurgo commented on Facebook, “I know what I want, too: for whoever thought up an advertisement like this to be tarred and feathered. These posters and slogans are nothing short of appalling. Congratulations on your depiction of women. Did someone put you into hibernation during the 1950s and just wake you up now?”

Getting sued for what you write on Facebook isn’t limited to Italy and isn’t new—but it is still rare. Meanwhile, the people who bring such suits typically lose – unless the poster wrote something that was deliberately false or misleading.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a chilling effect on public discourse and, indeed, on one’s ability to say snarky things within a semi-private group of friends. (In Morpurgo’ s case, her original comments were visible to and intended only for her Facebook contacts. They were not public, and it isn’t clear how her comments expanded beyond that group to become known to Ms. Sica but, as we are all aware, Facebook is to privacy as the Outback’s “Blooming’ Onion” is to dieting.)

Suits like the one against Morpurgo deserve to be dismissed simply for their obvious attempt to intimidate, censor, or bankrupt defendants. In that sense, they are much like so-called SLAPP suits (strategic lawsuits against public participation)—litigation brought not because the plaintiff has any expectation of winning, but because he knows the suit will make the defendant’s life a living hell.

In the context of Italy’s antiquated, Fascist-era defamation laws and glacially slow legal system, the situation is even more complex and the outcome is far from clear. If found guilty, Morpurgo could face a four-year prison sentence.

Even if she wins, she’ll be on the hook for her legal fees. There’s virtually no chance under Italian law to recover legal costs if the party that sued you loses.

Of course, anyone can understand that Maria Laura Sica might have been dismayed to hear that someone considered her publicity poster a sexist throwback. One fails to understand how she could have been surprised to hear that, but one understands that she could have been offended.

But of course no one ever objects to inoffensive speech, and inoffensive speech has no need of laws or institutions to protect it.

Given the nightmare that has just unfolded in Paris, this is a good time to remember that it is speech which offends that must most vigorously be defended. Defended from people who resort to violence and bloodshed to be sure, but defended as well from people like Ms. Sica who are much more common.

What they share is the conviction that their sense of personal umbrage  justifies an act of vengeance.