Translating the 'Zibaldone' of Giacomo Leopardi
June 27, 2013 7:44 AM   Subscribe

“Fifteen years of diary entries. From 1817 to 1832. Some just a couple of lines. Some maybe a thousand words. At a rhythm ranging from two or three a day to one a month, or even less frequent. Suddenly, translating Giacomo Leopardi’s Zibaldone it occurs to me that if it were written today, it would most likely be a blog.”—Tim Parks writes of the challenges of translating from this “collection of personal impressions, aphorisms, profound philosophical observations, philological analyses, literary criticism and notes” written by “the finest Italian poet after Dante.” Meanwhile, a team based at the University of Birmingham have prepared the first-ever complete translation of the Zibaldone into English, which is due for publication next month.

The Birmingham Zibaldone project was in large part funded by an eminent Italian, who, one hopes, will soon have the time to read it. Previously on MetaFilter, Leopardi’s “Infinity.”
posted by misteraitch (7 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Great post. I love Leopardi, and have recently been digesting Jonathan Galassi's new translation of the Canti that Parks mentions. I look to the translations of the Zibaldone with some anticipation (and dread: the FSG translation is some 2592 pages in length).
posted by hydatius at 8:45 AM on June 27, 2013

The Birmingham Zibaldone project was in large part funded by an eminent Italian, who, one hopes, will soon have the time to read it.

Sly dig of the week!
posted by Iridic at 8:50 AM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Great post. Good news about this publication.
posted by OmieWise at 9:24 AM on June 27, 2013

Oh, this is interesting. I'm a fan of Tim Parks (need to pick up his most recent book) and may have missed this. I'm trying to pick back up some of the rudimentary Italian I knew and have mostly forgotten, so the delicate dance of negotiation he has to do between these two texts is fascinating me.
posted by PussKillian at 9:54 AM on June 27, 2013

I remember liking that NYRB piece when it was published; here's a nice bit on his reaction to the team translation:
...after reading a few paragraphs of the translation itself I’m reassured that my work will not merely be a duplication of theirs, because I hear the text quite differently.

Here the reader will want me to characterize this difference, perhaps with a couple of quotations. And the temptation would be for me to show something I could criticize and to draw the reader onto my side to support some supposedly more attractive approach. But I don’t want to do that. I’m frankly in awe of the hugeness of this team’s accomplishment and aware that they have done things the only way things could have been done to offer a complete translation of the whole text.

What I’d rather like to stress is my intense awareness, as I read their translation, of the uniqueness of each reading response, which is the inevitable result, I suppose, of the individual background we bring to a book, all the reading and writing and listening and talking we’ve done in the past, our particular interests, beliefs, obsessions. I hear Leopardi in an English that has a completely different tone and feel than the one my colleagues have used. I just hear a different man speaking to me—a different voice—though what I hear is no more valid than what they hear.
posted by languagehat at 11:06 AM on June 27, 2013

Love this post. I've been my way through Galassi's "Canti", too, and now this. Hoo hoo hoo.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 12:20 PM on June 27, 2013

I'm very happy about that Birmingham translation because I'm afraid I hear the text quite differently from Tim Parks, judging by his remarks. And by those trials at translating that bit. Anyway, hooray! (*goes and orders book*). Although I must say for those who can read French, I have a (very impulsive, biased, Southern European, tired of anglocentrism) hunch that the translation by the very interesting Bertrand Schefer is a better choice. I'm just very sorry he didn't translate the title as "Méli-Mélo". I jest. And now there's a potential summer project: reading the zibaldone in as many languages as possible.

(Also, the original is online .)
posted by Marauding Ennui at 2:54 AM on June 28, 2013

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