Thursday, June 29, 2006
Antonioni, Weaver on Calvino
While I was taking a breather from blogging, I came across this brief, touching reflection on Italo Calvino by his customary translator, William Weaver. For the most part he discusses his work on Invisible Cities, whose lucid poetry demanded not only a sharp eye but a hypersensitive ear: "Translating Calvino is an aural exercise as well as a verbal one. It is not a process of turning this Italian noun into that English one, but rather of pursuing a cadence, a rhythm--sometimes regular, sometimes willfully jagged--and trying to catch it, while, like a Wagner villain, it may squirm and change shape in your hands." But this short essay also offers a sidelong glance at Calvino himself, who clearly had zero appetite for small talk:
Our conversations were always a pleasure for me, though Calvino was anything but a conversationalist. In literary circles, hostesses exchanged horrified stories of his agonizing silences, which could freeze an entire dinner table. Calvino--it seemed to me--did not enjoy talking with me about his writing except at the basic, dictionary level of our working encounters. During one of these, a meeting at his house in Square du Chatillon in Paris, I unwittingly overstepped the bounds; I casually asked him if he was working on something new. Calvino froze, cleared his throat nervously, hemmed, hawed, then finally muttered, almost growling: "I'm thinking about some cities." I quickly redirected the talk to the problems at hand.