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Take Care of the Sounds. On Translating Italian Nonsense Verse

Alessandro Giammei, Princeton University
Monday, March 5, 2018 -
12:00pm to 1:30pm
144 Louis A. Simpson International Building
Monday, March 5, 2018 -
12:00pm to 1:30pm

The literature of Nonsense presents some of the most exciting challenges for a translator. Outside of the Anglophone world, the history of the reception of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear shows how difficult it is to export such a genre, particularly in languages and cultures that strongly link moral pedagogy and children literature. Throughout the 20th century, Alice has had a hard time in the land of Pinocchio, and the Book of Nonsense waited almost a century for a full translation in Italian. It is no surprise that the development of Nonsense verse in Italy only happened in the second half of the Twentieth century, and exclusively in literary circles linked to the neo-avant-garde, the nascent Italian semiology, and Anglo-American culture. The unlikely champion of such a ‘nonsense Renaissance’ was Toti Scialoja, a prominent abstract painter. Italo Calvino called his ‘poems with animals’ “the first real Italian example of a poetic amusement that truly resonates with the extraordinary English tradition of limericks and nonsense,” and the hilarious exquisite perfection of his meaningless illustrated rhymes has received both critical acclaim and popular success. I am working on the first translation of Scialoja’s first book of poems into English. This experiment (a sort of happy repatriation of nonsense back to its most congenial idiom) is ironically based on the theory produced in the last fifty years to discuss how to translate Scialoja’s models, Lear and Carroll, into Italian. At the seminar I will present some of the most challenging cases offered by Scialoja’s poems and I will discuss my solutions in terms of lexicon, meter, faithfulness to illustrations, and, of course, sense. 

Alessandro Giammei is Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts at Princeton University, where he teaches in the Department of French and Italian, organizes event in the Program in Italian Studies, and coordinates the Humanities courses in the Prison Teaching Initiative. His first book, Nell’officina del Nonsense di Toti Scialoja, won the Harvard edition of the Edinburgh Gadda Prize in 2015. His current manuscript engages Ludovico Ariosto’s legacy in modern Italian art, literature, fascist folklore, and cinema. 

Sponsored by
The Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication