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In, on and through Translation

Tabucchi’s Travelling Texts

by Liz Wren-Owens (Author)
Monographs XII, 284 Pages
Series: Transnational Cultures, Volume 1

Summary

This study focuses on Antonio Tabucchi’s texts in, on and through translation. It combines an analysis of the ways his texts have been translated into other languages with an examination of the way his translations, critical essays and fictions reflect on the value and possibilities of translation.
The book suggests that using translation as a means through which to approach Tabucchi’s works enables us to both develop new perspectives on Tabucchi’s texts and to reflect on some key issues in translation studies. These include the way we think about the intersections between translation and other forms of writing, between translation and space, between translation and memory, between translation as process and product. This study combines a broad mapping of Tabucchi’s travelling texts with more detailed textual analysis of selected works themselves.
One of the study’s major innovations is the analysis of a new body of interviews with Tabucchi’s translators from across Europe, Asia and America. The interviews, conducted as part of the study, offer fascinating new perspectives on the transnational movement of the same (often Eurocentric) texts between and across languages as well as revealing the possibilities and challenges the translation process offers in different linguistic and cultural spaces worldwide.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Tables
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Travelling texts: Mapping global translations of Tabucchi
  • Chapter 2. Tabucchi in the English and French canons
  • Chapter 3. Translation in Tabucchi’s works
  • Chapter 4. Translation as process and as mediation: A comparative study of translating fascist memory in Lisbon, in Tabucchi’s Pereira and in Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon
  • Chapter 5. The translator’s perspective
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

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Tables

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Acknowledgements

I am grateful to friends, family, and colleagues for all their support during this project.

I would like to thank Kate Griffiths, Claire Gorrara, Cristina Marinetti, Rachael Langford, Loredana Polezzi, and Hanna Diamond for encouraging me and inspiring me in my research, and in this project in particular. Thank you for taking the time to read my work and to give such insightful feedback.

I am grateful to Maria Vardopoulou, whose work as part of the Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme was vital in updating my spreadsheets of translations. Thank you for your enthusiasm and excellent work.

At Peter Lang, I would like to thank the series editors for backing the project, and Laurel Plapp for her patience and care in the editing process.

I am grateful to the anonymous readers who provided such thorough and constructive feedback, and whose suggestions strengthened the work. All errors are, of course, my own.

Above all I am deeply in debt to my family for their support over the duration of the research and writing. Without the help of my husband and parents in managing a large family, this book could never have happened. ← xi | xii →

← xii | 1 →

Introduction

This study focuses on Antonio Tabucchi’s texts in, on, and through translation. It combines an analysis of the ways his texts have been translated into other languages with an examination of the way his translations, critical essays, and fictions reflect on the value and possibilities of translation. Working across disciplines, this original approach to the study of the international re-writings of a canonical Italian writer suggests that using translation as a means through which to approach Tabucchi’s works provides a new framework for approaching debates in translation and cultural studies. These include the way we think about the intersections between translation and other forms of writing, between translation and space, between translation and memory, between translation as process and product. It also includes the way we think about practices of domestication and refraction. The study explores literal as well as cultural translation, assessing the ways in which texts travel linguistically, culturally, economically, and physically, across borders both cultural and temporal. This study combines broad mapping of Tabucchi’s travelling texts with more detailed textual analysis of selected works themselves. One of its major innovations is the analysis of a new body of interviews with Tabucchi’s translators, from across Europe, Asia, and America. The interviews, conducted as part of the study, offer fascinating new perspectives on the way the same texts move between different languages, and the possibilities and challenges the translation process offers in different linguistic and cultural spaces. The views from inside and outside Europe offer a new perspective on the significance of shared European linguistic and cultural heritage in the texts.

The works of Antonio Tabucchi (1943–2012) offer a unique insight into translation and the means by which translated texts may offer a site of exchange between different languages and cultures. He is a writer who is innately translative, who lives between and beyond cultures, in linguistic movement, and his texts (and the way he has been translated) communicate powerful messages about source, nation and textual transit – notions ← 1 | 2 → key to translational debates. His works are inscribed with fluid movement between national boundaries even before the issue of translation is raised. He is recognised across Europe for his contribution to literature: international honours include the Premio Viareggio-Rèpaci, Premio Campiello and Premio Scanno awards in Italy, the Prix Européen Jean Monnet, the Prix Médicis Etranger and Prix Européen de la Littérature in France, the Aristeion in Greece, the Nossack Prize from the Leibnitz Academy in Germany, the Europäischer Staatpreis in Austria, the Hidalgo Award in Spain. In 2000 Tabucchi was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. As Tabucchi’s works move, through translation, not just beyond Italy into Europe but beyond Europe into the wider world, it is an excellent opportunity to explore how translation helps us to read Tabucchi, and how Tabucchi helps us to understand translation.

This study engages with translation and Tabucchi’s work from three diverse but complementary perspectives. The first considers the translation of Tabucchi’s literary works from Italian into thirty-nine languages across the globe, and their reception into systems where Italian as a language enjoys differing status and prestige. Where do the texts travel to? Which texts travel most widely (and most quickly)? How do the translations speak back to the source texts? How are the texts positioned in the new cultures? Are they positioned as Italian texts in translation, or as works which can be deracinated from their Italian context and brought to speak to discourses in the national host culture? Are they appropriated into a wider international canon of ‘world literature’ which transcends national borders? From the translator’s perspective, what do the new interviews tell us about the ways in which the (often Eurocentric) texts travel within and beyond Europe? In a global context, how important is the extent to which the target culture shares common linguistic, historical, and cultural roots with Italy in shaping the possibilities and challenges that the texts offer translators? How do the translators respond to the linguistic and cultural specificities of the texts to produce translations for readers who have shared, or totally different, cultural histories and reference points as the target readers of the source texts? What happens when a source text embraces more than one culture? In thinking about Tabucchi’s travelling texts, we need to think not just about texts which move from Italian, but also about the tensions and ← 2 | 3 → dynamics between Tabucchi’s texts which were written in other languages (French and Portuguese) and speak both to the culture they face, and also back to the Italian canon.

The second perspective from which to consider the question of Tabucchi and translation focuses on Tabucchi’s role as a translator of Portuguese literature into Italian. A key area to investigate is the significance of the ways in which such translation activity combines with the other ways in which he interprets and refracts Portuguese culture for the Italian reader, through the production of anthologies and critical essays. (How) does the act of translating inform the other writing practices? What are the intersections between these different types of writing? Can Tabucchi’s writing offer a new model for thinking about textual interactions and multiple refractions?

The third perspective investigates discourses within Tabucchi’s fictional works on the value, status and potential of translation. How do we understand concepts of originality and creativity, and their interplay with re-writing? Is re-writing significantly different when it involves a change of form, through intersemiotic translation? Which texts can (and cannot) be translated, and under what conditions? To what extent can translation, understood in its broadest sense, promote communication? Tabucchi’s fiction also explores the ways in which translation can be a transformative process. It examines the way in which acts of producing and consuming translations can be especially powerful in key locations, where translation can empower personal change, and offer a means of engaging with the way that memory is mediated. Chapter 4 of the study explores the way in which Lisbon is figured as such a privileged site of translation in Tabucchi’s works through a comparative analysis with the works of the Swiss writer Pascal Mercier. Mercier’s works offer a particularly useful case for comparison as they also explore the value of translation, its impact on the individual, and the way that the different geographical spaces in which translation is performed (including Lisbon) informs the protagonist’s experience of translating. The comparative case study enables us to go beyond Tabucchi’s noted love of Lisbon to tease out the way in which the city is conceptualised and constructed as a space in which translation can promote communication across languages and cultures, and also, through the transmission of ← 3 | 4 → memory, across time. In reading Tabucchi’s work comparatively, we can investigate the way his figuring of the city draws on broader readings of the significance of Lisbon, and question what that means for the intersection of translation and space more widely.

Scholarship on Tabucchi’s writing has explored Tabucchi in conjunction with other Italian writers, and has also looked at the way in which his texts explore intercultural dialogue (especially in terms of his relationship with the Portuguese writer Pessoa).1 This study seeks to take a different approach, by taking translation, and linguistic and textual travel, as a starting point. It offers a new perspective by focusing not just on Tabucchi’s texts as Italian artefacts which dialogue with other cultures, but as texts which evolve and transform as they cross borders. This is important because as the texts enter the new cultural and linguistic landscapes, the translations become the originals to their readers (Lefevere ‘Mother Courage’s Cucumbers’ 252), imbued with new significance and value in the new contexts. This study shows the extent to which Tabucchi’s texts have travelled through translation, and the way in which Italian is no longer the lingua franca of Tabucchi’s readers, as the texts become part of a broader world literature.

Damrosch defines world literature as encompassing all literary works that circulate beyond their culture of origin, either in translation or in their own language (Damrosch 4). It is a ‘mode of circulation and of reading that is as applicable to individual works as to bodies of material’ (Damrosch 5). To understand world literature, Damrosch emphasises the need to focus on ‘issues of circulation and translation’ (Damrosch 6) and to recognise that as ‘works of world literature take on a new life as they move into the world at large’ (Damrosch 24). In doing so, it is important to ‘look closely at the ways the work becomes reframed in its translations and its new cultural contexts’ (Damrosch 24). Damrosch opens his study by setting out some important questions about the notion of world literature: ← 4 | 5 →

What does it really mean to speak of ‘world literature’? Which literature, whose world? What relationship to the national literatures whose production continued unabated even after Goethe announced their obsolescence? What new relations between Western Europe and the rest of the globe, between antiquity and modernity, between mass culture and elite cultures? (Damrosch 1)

An examination of Tabucchi’s travelling texts, and the ways that they circulate through translation, is useful as it engages with these key issues of the relationship between the national and the global, between elite and popular cultures, the importance of hierarchies in the construction of world literature, and the relationship between Western Europe and the rest of the globe.

Biographical notes

Liz Wren-Owens (Author)

Liz Wren-Owens is Reader in Italian Studies and Translation Studies at the School of Modern Languages at Cardiff University. She previously taught at the Universities of Warwick, Bath and Bristol. She has published on impegno and the engaged intellectual, migration to and from Italy, the Italian diaspora in Wales and Scotland, Italian empire and Italian detective fiction.

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