Dagger in hand

A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.

--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.

Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com


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Monday, October 21, 2002
I finally read Fallaci's translation over the weekend. I'm actually not sure "translation" is the right word. It's more like she rewrote the same book in a different language, following the same train of thought but adding or changing things here and there without much interest in tracking exactly what she'd said the first time around. I had noticed a similar phenomenon when I read the Italian book version as well. Even though ostensibly she was merely restoring the passages she had cut out for publication in Corriere, I was too intimately familiar with the text not to notice lots of little word changes and such even in the passages that had remained in the published article. (These weren't major changes, mind you--they were the kind of thing that would only be of interest to someone like me who had racked his brain to come up with an English equivalent of "mancato playboy" only to find that she had switched to the much simpler and less evocative "ex-playboy.") Since it's probably only of interest to me, I won't go into detail about all the things I noticed about the way she chose to express herself in English, the (mercifully few) places where I can see I had clearly made wrong choices, or the places she seems to have chosen softer language (saying "make love" where she had said "scopare" or "damn" for "fottutissimo"), or the extra details she seems to have added just for us (like the wonderful ass-kicking she doles out to Hanoi Jane).

I am conflicted about the way she sounds in English. Her English is certainly serviceable, but it definitely lacks the assured colloquial fluidity of her Italian. Its "oddities," as she puts it, stem not from the expression of her personal style in English but from her using the same kinds of Italianate constructions that all Italians do when they try to write in English. (Unless they've really made a concerted effort to master the nuances of colloquial American English like my own sposa bellissima.) So while I can respect and even admire her reasons for not doing so, there's still part of me that wishes she'd at least collaborated with a native speaker. (The book was printed by Rizzoli in Italy, and I wouldn't be surprised if no native-English-speaking editor laid eyes on it before they fired up the presses.) In Italian Fallaci reads as though she's writing with a stiletto. In English, I feel like she's got a wet washcloth wrapped around it. But I may not be able to judge objectively, because I can't read her English without comparing it to the original Italian, and to my own attempt at writing English to match that Italian. So I'm still interested in reactions from anyone who can read the book without my baggage.

UPDATE: Paola isn't as benevolent in her interpretation of Oriana's decision as I:

I disagree here. I think that what she did doesn't prove much more than her stubborness and inability to come to terms with her own linguistic shortcomings long enough to allow herself the humility of consulting someone who could have helped her with the fine points of the seemingly easy, yet very difficult syntax of the English language. (Which allows one to vent in long-winded sentences just as well as Italian.) I don't understand how a world-renowned journalist, so knowledgeable about the world and so culturally aware, could be so shortsighted when it comes to the very simple, yet crucial matter of the importance of an accurate translation. Did she think that the universal language of outrage and self-righteousness would cross all linguistic boundaries? Can you say hubris?

Italian women don't mince words.

UPDATE: Judging from the comments to this post, Oriana's translation is playing just fine. I'm so glad. I'll be even more glad if the success of this book leads to her other books being reissued in this country. And I'll be ecstatic if they collect and republish in book form all her articles--especially her dispatches from the (last?) Gulf War. And all the interviews--like Khomeni and Sharon--that aren't included in Interview With History.

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