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Nicola Paladin: “Mapping the Italian Literary Field and Literature in Translation: Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis on 20th Century US Literature in Italy”.

By Yana Mommadova

Although at first glance it might seem a mechanical and straightforward task, translating a literary text is akin to creating a complex work of art, a process that goes well beyond the reshaping of words from one language to another. As such, literary translations are endowed not only with artistic significance but also with social and political importance. This was one of the major theses that Nicola Paladin, professor in North American literature at D’Annunzio University in Italy, presented during his virtual visit at the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks on November 10th. Paladin is one of several scholars who are currently collaborating on the Letteratura tradotta in Italia (LTit) project, a joint effort between scholars from diverse academic backgrounds, which include literary ontology, Italian studies and sociology of literature. The main goal of the project is to compile a comprehensive database of the translations of foreign-language texts into Italian, thereby acknowledging the artistic value of translations and their literary significance in Italian culture and history.  

Paladin began his talk by describing the origins of the project and its theoretical underpinnings. The LTit project was launched in 2013 through a grant from the Italian Ministry of Education. Since the project is dedicated to tracing the circulation of foreign literature in Italy, it involves extensive collaboration between a diverse group of scholars working in different fields. The database itself reflects the dominant traditions in the field of literary studies in Italy, where German, Scandinavian, Russian, and English studies tend to be much more prominent. LTit contains a repository of information on Italian translations of literary texts from these languages. Paladin hastened to note that the choice of these four languages is not meant to suggest that the database is comprehensive, for there can exist no linguistic hierarchy between translated texts. Rather, the focus on the translations of German, Scandinavian, Russian and English literature, is merely reflective of the strength that collaborators have in these fields. Spanish or French literary texts, for instance, are absent for the sole reason that the current team does not have an expert in the fields of either Spanish or French literary studies. That is why the current linguistic repertoire on the LTit, as Paladin noted, is, unfortunately, quite limited. Ideally, Paladin and his colleagues hope to build a comprehensive database of all translations of foreigh language texts that have ever circulated on the literary scene in Italy.

The discussion then shifted to a demonstration of the LTit database. As Paladin began to show the database, it became immediately clear that the emergence of a translated novel or poem is never a random phenomenon. Under Mussolini’s dictatorship, the severe censorship apparatus of the fascist regime drastically curtailed the translation and circulation of literary texts produced by the authors from Allied nations. American authors and their works, for instance, were under harsh scrutiny and were frequently banned by the censors. Many translators, some of whom were far from academia and were not professional literary scholars, were actively involved in the translation, publishing, and circulation of American novels in the 1930s as an explicit act of anti-fascist resistance. Due to their tenuous connection to academia, or lack of what Pierre Bourdieu would call ‘symbolic capital’ in the field of literary studies, their translations and literary accomplishments went either unnoticed or did not receive academic acknowledgement and acclaim. That is the reason why the LTit’s database has the power to shed light on the accomplishments of authors who significantly contributed to the field of literary studies in Italy. The users of LTit can navigate the database easily and get a sense of the influence of a certain translator by accessing the date of the translator’s work and the publishing house that circulated the work. Therefore, the database tells a lot about the history of a given text. For instance, the very first Italian translation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was actually a translation of the French version of the novel. After the premiere of the 2013 film adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novel and the consequent resurgence of interest in the book, the original Italian translation had been re-published without any major edits, largely due to its high artistic quality. 

The presentation was concluded by a brief Q&A session during which Paladin showed the audience the backend of the database which is also relatively user-friendly and does not require advanced software skills. The LTit project, therefore, not only allows the users to easily navigate it but also affords future collaborators, even those who are less tech-savvy, the opportunity to to add their knowledge and insights about Italian translations of foreign literature, thus, shining more light on the forgotten or unnoticed practitioners of this craft. 

Image credit: LTit database, here.

For further questions or for more information, please contact Yana Mommadova at mommadova[dot]y[at]northeastern[dot]edu

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