What constitutes a creative act? Is the translation of a work merely interpretation, or is there something more? Translator and author Cristina Vezzaro shares her own creative introspection. BY RAFFAELLA BUSCHIAZZO
NCTA and the Italian Cultural Institute jointly presented Creativity Revealed: from Translation to Writing with Cristina Vezzaro on August 3rd at the Italian Cultural Institute in downtown San Francisco. Cristina Vezzaro shared her explorations of creativity, from translation to writing and back to translation. Her thoughts are the result of examining her personal experience as a literary translator and writer, and of extensive research in related fields.
Cristina studied Translation at Ecole de Traduction et d’Interprétation (ETI) in Geneva, Switzerland. She began translating literature in 2005 and has since translated German and French novels and essays, as well as poetry and plays. She started doing her own writing in 2008, and has an ongoing blog. One of her short stories was selected in a contest and published. She also recently won a “StorySLAM” in New York City, a prestigious slot in The Moth storytelling contest.
A transitional space
When Cristina started writing on her own, it made her wonder about the nature of creativity. If literature is considered the result of creativity, is writing the only creative act or can the process of translation be considered a creative art, too? She asked herself why it took so long for her to start writing out her own ideas and examined how she started. Babel of the Unconscious: Mother Tongue and Foreign Languages in the Psychoanalytic Dimension (Amati-Mehler, Argentieri, and Canestri) became a key starting point for her analysis. A section of the book is dedicated to writers with complicated relationships to languages; writers who either had a multilingual background or felt they needed to abandon their native language in order to fully express themselves. Samuel Beckett used French as a “transitional space” to overcome his inhibitions around writing; the translations of his texts in English and French are never straightforward translations but rewriting of the original text. Argentine-born French author Héctor Bianciotti and his painful search for himself through languages is another example that Cristina brings to our attention. Both Bianciotti and Beckett felt like authors without a linguistic homeland.
Cristina was born in a bilingual region, South Tyrol, in Northern Italy on the border with Austria. This gave her a wide cultural background, but also uncertainty about her linguistic identity. When she started studying translation, she knew that she had a better feel for German, and would have to improve her Italian skills to be able to translate into Italian at a professional level. Upon graduating she began translating books. Once published she felt that she could call herself a literary translator, but was still far from considering herself an author. Cristina pointed out that while literary translators are aware of their role as cultural interpreters, they often consider translating to be mere interpretation of someone else’s work. Where is the creative act if all the content is already written and they “only” need to rewrite it in the target language? While translators consciously choose the degree of closeness to the author’s style, they rarely consider themselves authors.
The essence of creativity
This is how Cristina thought about her work until she saw Henri Matisse’s Still Life after Jan Davidsz. de Heem’s ‘La Desserte’ at the MOMA. Why did Matisse base his painting on another’s? She suspected it was not that he couldn’t think of what to paint himself, but was inspired by somebody else’s art and wanted to reinterpret it in his own way. She realized this could apply to translation as well. The content is there, and translating it means reinterpreting it—a creative act. But like a poet constrained by the forms of rhyme, a translator’s creative license is limited by the structure and meaning of the original. The art is the choices a translator makes within that framework.
Any word can be translated with multiple synonyms and any paragraph can be interpreted differently. Cultural references can be reinterpreted in a variety of ways. To choose, translators must know their boundaries and restrictions, while also being willing to explore endless possibilities for ways of expressing themselves.
Cristina said that it’s important that the translator and the author meet in person; because, whereas the author is the source of the literary work, the translator is the bridge that allows cultures and languages to connect. While the author and the translator don’t share a language, they can share imageries and sensibilities. Ideally, it becomes a collaboration in which the author recognizes—and trusts—the translator’s freedom to choose. It is this shared space between author and translator that gives birth to a creative act. Cristina concluded that translators penetrate the work they translate and reproduce it for the readers. We all know that translating is not just finding grammar or cultural equivalents in another language: it is us expressing ourselves, and that is the essence of creativity. RB