Iain Halliday. Huck Finn in Italian, Pinocchio in English: Theory and
Praxis of Literary Translation.
Madison/Teaneck, Fairleigh Dickinson.
University Press, 2009.
ast year during a radio interview on Italy's Rai Uno for the program "Scrittori per un anno," the author Antonio Tabucchi spoke about his experience translating the Portuguese poet and writer Fernando Pessoa.1 During the course of his comments, Tabucchi noted a certain irony, a paradox if you will, in the translator's task: "Per fare una traduzione ci vogliono paradossalmente arroganza e umiltà", paradoxically it takes both arrogance and humility to make a translation. Humility presumably because of the impossibility of achieving perfection, arrogance because translating a text is a great responsibility that requires courage and daring.
The volume Huck Finn in Italian, Pinocchio in English: Theory and Praxis of Literary Translation by Iain Halliday2 sets out to explore the broad themes of theory and practice in literary translation. This well-constructed volume, a little under two hundred pages, includes Notes, a Bibliography and an Index. There is an Introduction, and the final chapter serves double duty as a conclusion. The author, himself a practicing literary translator, organizes his material well, taking a systematic approach to his examination of the subject. The objective of the work is clearly stated at the outset, namely, to examine "one of the basic issues in the study of translation: how do we reconcile theory and practice?". Initially stated in liberal terms, this objective is later refined and restated in more specific terms relevant to the texts under consideration: that is, to explain and ilustrate how the two works, Huck Finn and Pinocchio, fared in their respective translations.
It takes both arrogance and humility to make a translation.
The structure of the work is outlined plainly in the Introduction. Chapter 1, the author informs us, is concerned with showing what translation theory is. Chapter 2 focuses on English translations of Carlo Collodi's Le avventure di Pinocchio, while Chapter 3 centers on Italian translations of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
In Chapter 4 the author considers the genre of the two works--children's literature--and their ambivalent status as classic texts. Finally Chapter 5 attempts to show what translation practice is, drawing on the author's own experience as a professional translator, and includes an interview with an Italian translator of Huck Finn.
A concept that runs throughout the book buttresses the structure: namely, the suggestion that translation theory is often associated with hubris, translation practice with humility. The notion of hubris and the casting of translation as an audacious activity recalls Tabucchi's abovementioned remarks.
Chapter 1, "Theory and Hubris", introduces the discipline of Translation Studies and associates the audacity of the activity we call translation with hubris. Hubris in this context is explained by Halliday as the need or drive to bring things to a perceived order: indeed the history of translation shows that the "perfect mirror" was often, though not always, an objective for translators. What is so audacious about the act of translation? The answer is perhaps to be found in Steiner's preface to After Babel: "The affair at Babel was both a disaster and--this being the etymology of the word 'disaster'--a rain of stars upon man".3 Catching the brightest of those stars and casting them back up in the heavens is the audacious--impossible?--task of the literary translator. Halliday calls to mind Tim Parks' word iva, 'so to speak':4 translation as an attempt to catch those stars, to tie words down 'so to speak', since words themselves work against this process.
Beyond these considerations, the interdisciplinary nature of Translation Studies is stressed, and the practice of translation is viewed as part of the process of understanding, expression and communication. The stated aim of the book is to explain and illustrate how the two works, Pinocchio and Huck Finn, fared in their respective translations into English and Italian, while the methodology employed to achieve this objective--the way in which the study of these translations is approached--is a close, comparative reading of the source and target texts.
Chapter 2, "Three Pinocchios", plunges us into the close-reading technique, with Halliday comparing and commenting passages from Collodi's original5 and two translations of Pinocchio done a century apart: M.A. Murray's 1892 version6 and that of Ann Lawson Lucas in 19967 Along the way the author raises a number of interesting issues dear to translators' hearts, which we will touch upon further on. In addition to the close reading and exposition of the texts, the chapter also presents a survey of the history of the texts and the evolution, which led to their acquiring canonical status.
The final part of the chapter describes a self-administered TAP (think-aloud protocol) exercise in which the author himself undertakes to translate a passage from Collodi's original text into English, commenting aloud on the process as he does so. We are presented with three drafts along with transcripts of tape recordings made during the course of creating each of the drafts. In the end Halliday's third draft is compared with the Murray and Lawson Lucas translations of the same passage. Not unexpectedly, among the numerous things revealed through the think-aloud protocol exercise is the fact that an ongoing flow of verification of the quality of the translation takes place as it is being made.
In Chapter 3, "Five Huckleberry Finns", the same methods and considerations applied to Pinocchio are applied to Huck Finn. This time besides Twain's original8 there are four translations: two earlier ones by Teresa Orsi (1915)9 and Luigi Berti (1939),10 and two more recent ones by Gabriele Musumarra (1964)11 and Giovanni Baldi (2002).12 The chapter includes another TAP exercise, though in this case, since Halliday is required to translate into Italian, its application involves breaking the 'golden rule', namely, the tenet which requires a translator to translate into his native language. The author readily draws attention to this 'transgression', which he associates with hubris, though he again points out, not for the first time in these pages, that "to translate well requires a constant mediation between hubris and humility". Thus we are told that the dangers associated with the audacity of breaking the golden rule are offset by the value of gaining awareness of the difficulties created by translating toward a language other than one's native tongue: a realization that can become an aid to understanding.
Chapter 4, "Kids' Stuff for Grown-Ups: Art as Translation" is concerned with the parallel worlds inhabited by so-called children's classics. Such texts operate on two levels, bridging the gap and appealing in different ways to both children and adults, and frequently have much to say to one another. In the context of translation, Halliday considers whether the translators of Pinocchio and Huck Finn made adjustments reflecting principles which Zohar Shavit posited as essential to a translator's approach when translating children's literature: "...an adjustment of the text to make it appropriate and useful to the child", in accordance with what current societal norms regard as being "good for the child", and a similar "adjustment of plot, characterization, and language", also in accordance with prevailing societal thought.13 Other characteristics of children's classics include the overall impression that simple, oral communication is occurring, and a style which disguises the literary nature of the text.
The final chapter, Chapter 5, "Praxis and Humility", acts as a kind of conclusion, reprising earlier threads: the usefulness of close reading, the value of diachronic analysis, the fact that no single theory can fully describe the process of translation, the interdisciplinary nature of Translation Studies, the need for both product-based (text comparisons) and process-based (think-aloud protocols) approaches, and so on. Theory is said to be of value insofar as it makes possible a discussion of the practice of translation: the hubris of theory is thus balanced against the humility of praxis. To further facilitate a discussion of praxis, the author employs two additional techniques. The first is a report of a taped interview with Gabriele Musumarra which took place in 2004; in it we learn that for Musumarra, one of the Huck Finn translators examined earlier, translation theory held little import. The second is a discussion of three of Halliday's own translations, from Giovanni Verga's Una peccatrice,14 Claudio Magris' Microcosmi15 and Valerio Massimo Manfredi's Alèxandros,16 which he engages in notwithstanding the admitted risk of subjectivity.
These, in general terms, are the broad outlines of the book. But it is in the interstitial areas, in the spaces that fill out the structure and make it richer, that some of the more appealing gems are to be found. Halliday himself, speaking about Giorgio Manganelli's Pinocchio: un libro parallelo, says that "like all the best books it is not only about the subject it deals with, but pulls in and simultaneously draws out a myriad of other, related topics".17 The same might be said about his Huck Finn in Italian, Pinocchio in English.
Among the many themes that Halliday "pulls in", sometimes parenthetically or incidentally, sometimes central to his theme, several in particular sparked my interest and drew my attention.
One has to do with a literary translator's accountability. Commenting on the generally held invisibility of translators who "in popular conception lead quiet, sedentary lives",18 the author notes that it is often thought that translators are accountable to no one but themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course! He goes on to affirm that indeed translators are accountable to their authors, their editors, their publishers, their readers, and above all their texts--a truth with which no practicing literary translator would disagree.
Another general observation about translators can be drawn from Halliday's comments concerning children's texts. Both the writers of such texts and--in the case of Pinocchio and Huck Finn--the protagonists share a certain capacity for remaining "at once both detached from and yet directly involved with the adult world", despite their status as children or children's authors.19 He goes on to remark that "this ability to be at once involved and detached, to participate and observe...is to translate".20 Just as the writers of children's texts form a bridge between the adult world and that of the child, so translators form a bridge to convey meaning. To do this they must be an active participant in recreating the text while yet remaining detached and 'invisible'.
I particularly liked the quote from John Dryden which addresses one of the enduring issues faced by literary translators: strict literalism versus a more liberal approach. Halliday tells us that Dryden, acutely conscious of the dilemma the ancients faced between whether to translate literally or whether to aim for general meaning, proposed a third way, a via di mezzo or middle course, namely, "to steer betwixt the two extremes of paraphrase and literal translation; to keep as near my author as I could".21 Since extremes of any kind rarely produce good results, this is undoubtedly good advice. Steer down the middle, keeping as close to your author as you can. Who could argue with that?
An essay I recently read by publisher Christopher Maclehose confirms that the issue of literalism versus a more liberal approach is not limited to translators: editors are faced with the same choice. Maclehose, recalling his years at Harvill, wrote: "Guido Waldman, my colleague at Harvill, [...] favoured the school of the exact translation, but my preference remains to seek the best reflection of the text in English rather than to sacrifice a more felicitous rendering in English for the sake of being its mirror".22
Closely related to the issue of balancing literalism and paraphrase are considerations of readability versus fidelity to style, and respect for meaning versus the need to convey form. With regard to the former, Halliday gives the example of Giovanni Verga's extremely long sentences which he chose to split in the interests of readability, fully aware that this strategy violated a respect for style. A dilemma with which I can fully empathize, having just completed the translation of a work by Claudio Magris which contained exceptionally and intentionally long sentences. With regard to meaning versus form, the trick is, of course, to value meaning while at the same time respecting form: a mediated solution, Dryden's "steer betwixt the two extremes". I found myself identifying with Halliday's observation that his "reticence back in 1995 to translate more literally derived purely from a fear of producing an English text that might in some way appear bizarre".23 Indeed sometimes literal can produce results that are not only more accurate but more effective. On the other hand, readability is often in the eye of the beholder: Halliday notes that "editors are indeed often exaggeratedly concerned with the 'readability' of the translated texts they work on".24
Another theme which resonated with me were passages related to the use of notes and explanations in translated texts. In his analysis of Lawson Lucas' Pinocchio, Halliday chides her for the introduction of two parentheses (actual additions embedded in the text!) by which she attempts to explain the idiomatic Italian phrases regarding lies (lies with short legs and lies with long noses). Though an explanation might be required by parents reading to younger children, why deny the Italian parent's experience to parents reading the translated text? All in all Halliday views flagged notes as intrusive, a presence which interferes with the flow of reading the text. He returns to the theme later on in the volume: "The temptation to do this, to explain as well as translate, is great...". Moreover, "the irony is that an approach in which there is less explanation actually preserves more opportunity for greater effect from the writing...".25 I confess that I myself have been guilty of the temptation to explain and annotate; it is only thanks to Claudio Magris' gentle nudging that I have become aware of this tendency of mine and come to realize that less can indeed be more.
Who should read this book? Somewhere during the reading of the first chapter with its broad survey of the discipline of Translation Studies, I found myself wondering who the book's intended audience is. Specialists in Translation Studies, as stated in Chapter 1? Readers who might be language students, as implied on the cover flap? Professional literary translators like myself, also mentioned on the cover flap? Perhaps the audience is multifaceted, or multi-faced. Why not assume an inclusive rather than limited readership, given the fact that translation itself is a ubiquitous, unavoidable imperative? As the Argentine writer Juan Pablo de Santis put it: "Nacemos en una lengua desconocida. El resto es una lenta traducción", we are born into an unknown language, the rest is one long translation.26
1 The Tabucchi program aired on September 23, 2008.
2 Madison/Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2009.
3 George Steiner, Preface to the second edition of After Babel, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. Cited by Halliday on p. 39.
4 From Tim Parks' essay "Prajapati" in Adultery and Other Diversions, London: Vintage, 1999. Cited by Halliday on pp. 43 ff.
5 Carlo Collodi, Le avventure di Pinocchio, Ornella Castellani Pollidori, ed., Pescia: Fondazione Nazionale Carlo Collodi, 1983. First published 1881-82.
6 Carlo Lorenzini, The Story of a Puppet; or, the Adventures of Pinocchio, M.A. Murray, tr., London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1892.
7 Carlo Collodi, The Adventures of Pinocchio, Ann Lawson Lucas, tr., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
8 Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1958. First published in 1884.
9 Mark Twain, Le avventure di Huckleberry Finn, Teresa Orsi, tr., Florence: R. Bemporad & Figlio, 1915, 2 vols.
10 Mark Twain, Le avventure di Huck Finn, Luigi Berti, tr. 1939, Turin: Frassinelli, 1943.
11 Mark Twain, Le avventure di Huckleberry Finn, Gabriele Musumarra, tr. 1964, Milan: Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, 2000.
12 Mark Twain, Le avventure di Huckleberry Finn, Giovanni Baldi, tr., Milan: Garzanti, 2002.
13 Zohar Shavit, Poetics of Children's Literature, Athens, Georgia, University of Georgia Press, 1986, p. 113. Cited by Halliday on p. 109.
14 Giovanni Verga, Una peccatrice; Storia di una capinera; Eva; Tigre reale, Milan: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1975; A Mortal Sin, lain Halliday, tr., London: Quartet Books Ltd, 1995. .
15 Claudio Magris, Microcosmi, Milan: Garzanti, 1997; Microcosms, lain Halliday, tr., London: The Harvill Press, 1999.
16 Valerio Massimo Manfredi, Aléxandros: la trilogia, Il figlio del sogno, Le sabbie di Amon, Il confine del mondo, Milan: Mondadori, i SuperMiti, 1999; Alexander, The Sands of Ammon, Iain Halliday, tr., London: Macmillan, 2001.
17 Giorgio Manganelli, Pinocchio: un libro parallelo, Milan: Adelphi, 2002. First publihed 1977. Cited by Halliday on p. 48.
18 Halliday, p. 16.
19 Halliday, p. 111.
20 Halliday, p. 112.
21 From John Dryden's dedication of Virgil's Aeneid, 1697; cited by Halliday on p. 22.
22 From Christopher Maclehose, "A Publisher's Vision", in Shelving Translation, Rebecca Beard and Brenda Garvey, eds., a supplement to EnterText: an interdisciplinary humanities e-journal 4:3, November 2004, pp.103-110.
23 Halliday, p. 148.
24 Halliday, note 17 to Chapter 5, p. 176.
25 Halliday, p. 55, and pp. 120-121. The italics are his.
26 Juan Pablo de Santis, La Traducción (Barcelona: Planeta, March 2001), p. 45. The words are attributed to Ulises Drago, who believes there is no such thing as a native language: "Lengua natal: No hay tal cosa. Nacemos en una lengua desconocida. El resto es una lenta traducción". The citation forms the exergue to Part Two.