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Translating collage in the Italian Neo-Avant-Garde: An English Translation of Nanni Balestrini's "X. Frammento dell'anarchia"

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Doireann Lalor
University College Dublin, Ireland

X. Frammento dell'anarchia

                                    amente dichiarò ch
                           il paziente si ritrae nel m
        scopo di questo frammento è accertare la vost
ose e in minuscoli due pezzi a cui dettano ordini e contrordini
è estremamente vivace e può persino compiere alcuni mo
                              ioriva con inaudita letizia la città
                                       è diffici

                                     chiarò chiunque metta la mano
                      te si ritrae nel momento del raggiungimento d
questo frammento è accertare la vostra attuale velocità e grado
due pezzi a cui dettano ordini e contrordini mentre as
                            compiere alcuni movimenti con le bra
                                       la città
                                       riesca a comprende

               iunque metta la mano su di me per governarmi
rae nel momento del raggiungimento del piacere quando si tratta
è accertare la vostra attuale velocità e grado di comp
                        trordini mentre aspettano con ansia
                                       on le bra
                                       tino e di mattone
                        comprenderli conviene quin

tta la mano su di me per governarmi è un usurpatore e un tiran
il raggiungimento del piacere quando si tratta di fare
                        tà e grado di compresione per stabi
                                       con ansia
                                       uo cuore batte già
                        mattone sorbiva la luce com
          erli conviene quindi lasciarli nel loro ambie

me per governarmi è un usurpatore e un tiranno io lo d
                        si tratta di fare un passo decisivo
                                       per stabi
                                       di essere chiamati
                        batte già da due settimane
             sorbiva la luce come un'avida selva le fontan
iene quindi lasciarli nel loro ambiente senza cercare di volerl

                     un tiranno io lo dichiaro mio nemico
                                       decisivo
                                       ivello base su cui
                        chiamati al telefono instal
               da due settimane ha un cervello e un sistema
a luce come un'avida selva le fontane papali si levavano in un
arli nel loro ambiente senza cercare di volerli cambia

                                       io nemico
                                       indiretto verso di
                        se su cui misurare i vostri
               al telefono installato a un metro dall'acqua
ettimane ha un cervello e un sistema nervosa che mandano impuls
da selva le fontane papali si levavano in un cielo più
                     di volerli cambiare fosse anche nell

 

X. Fragment of the anarchy

                                    edly I declared th
                           the patient draws back at the m
                   aim of this fragment is to ascertain yo
ings and in lower case two pieces to which they dictate orders an
e is extremely lively and can even perform some mo
                          rished with unheard-of joy the city
                                       is difficu

                                   clared that whoever puts his hand
                nt draws back at the moment of attaining p
this fragment is to ascertain your current velocity and degree
ces to which they dictate orders and counterorders while they aw
                            perform some movements of the ar
                                      the city
                                      manage to understa

                  oever puts his hand on me to govern me
ack at the moment of attaining pleasure when it is a matter
is to ascertain your current velocity and degree of comp
                        terorders while they await with anxiety
                                       of the ar
                                       ning and of brick
                     understand them they should theref

uts his hand on me to govern me is a usurper and a tyran
attaining pleasure when it is a matter of taking
                 ity and degree of comprehension to establ
                                       with anxiety
                                       is heart already beats
                             brick sipped the light lik
          tand them they should therefore be left in their envi

me to govern me is a usurper and a tyrant I d
                        a matter of taking a decisive
                                       to establ
                                       to be called
                      already beats since two weeks ago
               sipped the light like an avid multitude the pap
ould therefore be left in their environment without trying to wan

                     a tyrant I declare him my enemy
                                       decisive
                                       asic level on which
                        called on the telephone instal
               since two weeks ago has a brain and a nervous
e light like an avid multitude the papal fountains rose up in a
ft in their environment without trying to want to chan

                                       y enemy
                                       indirect step towards
                         el on which to measure your
            on the telephone installed a meter from the water
eeks ago has a brain and a nervous system that send impuls
vid multitude the papal fountains rose up in a sky more
                   to want to change them was also in th

 


 

Explication

Carrying out a translation of Balestrini's "X. Frammento dell'anarchia" involved a series of unusual procedures. The first step was to come to terms with the structure of the poem, which, bearing out the title, is both utterly fragmented and highly anarchic. Before starting the translation from source into target language, I first "translated" the form, dissected the poem's chaos, taking apart what is effectively a collage of fragments.

The first lines of each stanza, when taken out of their position in the poem and considered one after another, produce what I will call "sense-units." These are the first lines of each stanza (numbers indicate stanza provenance):

1. amente dichiarò ch/ 2. chiarò chiunque metta la mano/ 3. iunque metta la mano su di me per governarmi/ 4. tta la mano su di me per governarmi è un usurpatore e un tiran/ 5. me per governarmi è un usurpatore e un tiranno io lo d/ 6. un tiranno io lo dichiaro mio nemico/ 7. io nemico

When read like this, the first lines of each stanza form an alternative "stanza." Reading from top to bottom of the page, the poem presents utter chaos, yet in the ostensible anarchy of the poem is a complex and innovative kind of order, perceptible through a different kind of reading process. These "sense-units," however, are far from coherent. As we can see, the segments above, when put together, do not form a complete syntactic unit; the utterance begins not only in a situation devoid of context, but in the middle of a word. Also, the words do not flow seamlessly into one another, but rather the reconstructed text proceeds in jerks and starts, moving us forwards, then jumping backwards, in a manner that completely overturns the linear process of reading. Our satisfaction in solving the structural puzzle, discovering that the "sense," in as much as there is any, continues on the corresponding line of the following stanza, is immediately frustrated as we encounter this halting, regressive, lurching motion. When we strip away the extraneous matter (the words or letters which are repeated) from our ensemble of first lines, we obtain this:

amente dichiarò chiunque metta la mano su di me per governarmi è un usurpatore e un tiranno io lo dichiaro mio nemico

After these steps of dismantling, reassembling, and paring down, we are now in a position where the act of translation is possible, and it yields something like this:

edly I declared that whoever puts his hand on me to govern me is a usurper and a tyrant I declare him my enemy

The next step is to "flesh out" this piece, to perform the process in reverse, splitting up the skeletal piece into seven segments, one for each stanza, which can later be restored to their proper positions in the body of the poem, to produce something like this:

1. edly I declared th/ 2. clared that whoever puts his hand/ 3. oever puts his hand on me to govern me/ 4. uts his hand on me to govern me is a usurper and a tyran/ 5. me to govern me is a usurper and a tyrant I d/ 6. a tyrant I declare him my enemy/ 7. y enemy

The same techniques were applied to the second lines, the third lines, etc., of each stanza, until seven translated "sense-units" were created.

The translation problems were very different in this ruptured poem to those encountered in the translation of a more conventional piece. The first problem, after having broken down the fragments into their barest form, was with the translation of incomplete words, like the very first word of the piece: "amente." "Mente" is an adverbial ending, corresponding closely to the suffix "ly" in English. What we have here is "amente", the ending of a more restricted group of adverbs, which I felt would be rendered with "edly," which is the ending of a smaller group of adverbs than the "ly" group in English. Thus, as the Italian text did, we have restricted the possible adverbial candidates while maintaining quite a degree of ambiguity. This example encapsulates the main translation issue for these incomplete words; that of finding a balance, similar to that in the source text, between the specificity and the openness of the word-particle.

In III we find that the "sense-unit" is itself internally severed:

scopo di questo frammento è accertare la vostra attuale velocità e grado di compresione per stabi ... ivello base su cui misurare i vostri

"Stabi" is almost unquestionably the beginning of "stabilire," "to establish," so fragmented it becomes "establ;" just as "ivello" is almost certainly part of "livello," "level". The problem here, however, stems from the divergent syntactic structures of the two languages. We obviously cannot translate "[l]ivello base" into "[l]evel basic;" the word order must be altered, and so we must effectively fragment a different word, and render it, not entirely accurately, as "[b]asic level." The other problem here in the transfer from Italian to English is the lack of a discrete second person plural possessive pronoun in the latter, thus "la vostra" and "i vostri" must inevitably lose something as they become simply "your." The finished product is:

aim of this fragment is to ascertain your current velocity and degree of comprehension to establ ... asic level on which to measure your

IV begins with a word-particle:

ose e in minuscoli due pezzi a cui dettano ordini e contrordini mentre aspettano con ansia di essere chiamati al telefono installato a un metro dall'acqua

This is a case where it is much less obvious what word is being suggested than it was with "stabi" or "ivello;" "ose" is much more ambiguous, and the context seems to lend us no real clue. It could be "[c]ose," "things," or it could be a feminine plural form of an adjective, like "pericolose." I have opted for "ings", which captures a certain degree of ambiguity as it could be from "things," or it could refer to a gerund/verbal noun like, for example, "beginnings." In the translation I have thus created a different, but similarly motivated, type of tension or ambiguity:

ings and in lower case two pieces to which they dictate orders and counterorders while they await with anxiety to be called on the telephone installed a meter from the water.

The main difficulty with "sense-unit" V stems from the fact that in Italian the subject personal pronoun need not be used; it is sufficient to say "è" rather than "lui è" or "lei è," or "ha" rather than "lui/lei ha," and the person is gathered from the context.

è estremamente vivace e può persino compiere alcuni movimenti con le bra ... uo cuore batte già da due settimane ha un cervello e un sistema nervosa che mandano impuls

Here, however, we have no context, and the overall passage creates an impersonal atmosphere that would be sacrificed if a translator were to add in the personal pronouns that the English language requires. I chose to put "è" as "e is," which could be either the end of "he is" or "she is," and to omit the pronoun entirely from "has." The two incomplete words "bra" and "impuls" suggest "arms" and "impulses;" and "uo," missing the "s" that would make it "suo," "his," I cut to "is," again in order to maintain the impersonal and clinical feel:

e is extremely lively and can even perform some movements of the ar ... is heart already beats since two weeks ago has a brain and a nervous system that send impuls

"Sense-unit" VI was a veritable translation quandary:

ioriva con inaudita letizia la città ... tino e di mattone sorbiva la luce come un'avida selva le fontane papali si levavano in un cielo più

The first word-fragment, "ioriva" suggests, paradoxically, both "fioriva" and "sfioriva;" two verbs which are completely antonymic, meaning "to bloom" and "to wither." The joy of "letizia" could lead us to decide that "bloomed" would be more appropriate to the context, but "ioriva" embraces, indeed it revels, in the antonyms it contains. The struggle embodied in this fragment, representative of the ambivalent attitude the neo-avant-garde poets had to the modern city's speed and anonymity, is vital to the text, and the translator has a responsibility to replicate this tension. I rendered it as "rished," which I hope is suggestive both of "flourished" and of "perished."

The fragment "tino" could be the end of "mattino," "morning," or the end of an adjective that behaves like "fiorentino." Because of the context of light, and the poetic ring of "[mat]tino e di mattone," I chose "ning" from "morning." "Sorbire" has a wide semantic field, meaning "to sip" or "to endure," and "selva" can mean literally a "wood" or figuratively a "multitude." The "fontane papali" were not a problem in the translation, but an issue arose in the next stage, when the translated fragment had to be "fleshed out." The division between the lines in stanzas 5 and 6 occurs like this: "sorbiva la luce come un'avida selva le fontan/ a luce come un'avida selva le fontane papali si levavano in un," but due to the divergent syntax-structures of English and Italian mentioned above, the result was this: "sipped the light like an avid multitude the pap/ e light like an avid multitude the papal fountains rose up in a," with the division occurring after "pap" rather than after "fontan." The slicing of "papal" at "pap" generates implications of breasts or udders, which, in my translation, are heightened by the choice of "sipped" for "sorbiva" and the division of "like:" "brick sipped the light lik/ sipped the light like an avid multitude the pap:"

rished with unheard-of joy the city ... ning and of brick sipped the light like an avid multitude the papal fountains rose up in a sky more

The sexual innuendo which arose spontaneously as I was translating seems not wholly discordant in the poem, as it chimes with the sense of ecstasy and the phallic image of "rising up" in "si levavano." In a piece which is purposely fashioned to generate meaning anarchically out of ambiguity, I felt that these new meanings engendered by my translation were well in the spirit of Balestrini's exercise, which was to make poetry "aperta a una pluralità di significati e aliena dalle conclusioni" (197) [open to a plurality of meanings and averse to conclusions].

Thus, only after the "montage" of Balestrini's poem had been "undone" to reveal the "sense-units" could the real task of translation begin. The difficulties of such an enterprise stemmed from the divergent syntax systems and other grammatical differences in the two languages, and from the fact that many of the "words" were incomplete and without much coherent context, often embodying an ambiguity which was challenging to capture in English. Splitting up the "sense-units" did not pose too many problems, but an interesting example of the complexities encountered in this step is in "sense-unit" I, the last two fragments of which run thus: "un tiranno io lo dichiaro mio nemico/ io nemico." The final "io nemico" is very poignant, it means literally "I enemy", suggesting that "mio nemico," "my enemy," is not only the other, but also the self. My only option for this seemed to me to be: "a tyrant I declare him my enemy/ y enemy," with "y," as a similar phoneme to "I," aurally carrying the message of "I" as well as of "[m]y."

The final stage in the translation of this piece was the aesthetic one. When I had decomposed, stripped down, translated and recomposed each "sense-unit," I had to literally "copy and paste," perform a collage, placing the lines composing each "sense-unit" back into their proper places within the body of the poem. For Balestrini the visual aspect is tremendously important, and so the shape which each stanza created in the translation was crucial. I found that the shapes made by the English stanzas I had created largely corresponded to those of the original poem, but one exception caused problems. Line 4 of stanza 1, when translated, gave this: "ings and in lower case two pieces to which they dictate orders and counterorders," which is considerably longer than its Italian counterpart, and looked unwieldy in the poem. I simply had to shorten the line, but found no way to remove words or use shorter words in the translation without losing meaning. Thus, I felt I had no option but to split up "sense-unit" IV at different points from those of the source text, sacrificing a degree of the accuracy of division in order to satisfy the visual demands.

The final translation, fragmented at many levels and thoroughly polysemic, renders, I hope, the provocative iconoclasm of the original poem, which, as a fundamental example of Balestrini's poetics of "opposition," combats the "sedimentation" and "inertia" of language to reveal the elusive and ever-changing nature of modern life.

Works Cited

Balestrini, N., Ma noi facciamone un'altra. Feltrinelli: Milan, 1968.

---. "Linguaggio e opposizione." A. Giuliani, ed. I novissimi: poesie per gli anni         '60. Einaudi: Turin, 1965.

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