Valerio Ferme – Tradurre è tradire: La traduzione come sovversione culturale sotto il Fascismo – 2002

Valerio Ferme
Ravenna, Longo Editore, pp. 240, euro 18,00
Anno recensoine: 2002

In his first chapter, Ferme notes how, despite his fascist motivations, Gian Dàuli’s translations of Jack London’s novels became favourites for the socialist resistance (p. 18). This is just one example of the unpredictable effects a translation can have in its target-language culture. Part of this unpredictability has to do with the ambivalent status of translation. Despite its fundamental role in cultural history, the position of translation, for various aesthetic, cultural and political reasons connected to the perceived primacy of the concept of the ?original’, has tended to be elided. Paradoxically, as the famous pun which is the basis for this book’s title, traduttore traditore, reminds us, translation is an act of necessary treason and this neglect thus provides the ideal environment within which it can operate as a ?traitor’. As Ferme points out, the radar of Mussolini’s censors, particularly before 1935-6, (p. 177), was considerably less sensitive to translations, and so, through this medium, ideas subversive to the regime were introduced into Italy. Moreover, as the appendix illustrates, (pp. 224-8), there was a notable increase in the number of US writers and books translated into Italian in 1930s, and it is this phenomenon, which would appear to run contrary to Fascist ideology, that is examined by Ferme, a professor of Italian and comparative literature at the University of Colorado. As is acknowledged in the first chapter, this work is informed by translation theorists who place translation within a wide sociocultural context, such as Itamar Even-Zohar and Lawrence Venuti. Thus, Ferme offers a study of these translations that incorporates a reading of the translation strategies that produced them into the broader cultural, political and economic context of Italy in the 1930s.
The translations of Pavese and Vittorini are examined in two separate chapters. In the case of Pavese, Ferme argues that his interest in translation was primarily aesthetic, but that it had a political effect. His concern was to reinvigorate what he saw as the sterility of Italian prose through the introduction of US modernism. Hence, his translations, which were difficult recreations in Italian of some of the more difficult US modernists, were inevitably subversive in the context of the standardisation of the Italian language promoted by the Fascist state. Vittorini, who was attracted to the note of liberation he heard in US literature, employed what Venuti would characterise as a ?domesticating’ translation strategy: an appropriation of the foreign text into the linguistic and cultural norms of the target language, a move which Venuti sees as typical of hegemonic cultures. Ferme takes issue with Venuti’s theories, contending that they are not only based on elite styles of translation, but are also not borne out by concrete historical examples, (pp. 81-2). Through his reading of Vittorini, he further argues that a strategy of ?domestication’ can uncover a more universal, symbolic message within the text (pp. 185-6). Indeed, his vigorous debate, based on historical example, with Venuti’s almost-canonical theories alone renders this study a valuable contribution to the growing field of translation studies.

Aidan O’Malley