Whatever The Name, translated from the Italian by Peter Valente, New-York City, Spuyten Duyvil, 2017
Peter Valente is not only a gifted translator but also a fine poet. Both of these formidable strengths are in evidence in his marvelous rendition of Pierre Lepori’s Qualunque sia il nome. Due to Valente’s efforts, Lepori’s work, which interweaves societal concerns with personal history and a distinct regard for the interiorities of the Italian language, is now destined to reach a larger audience in the English speaking world. Valente’s faithful translations convey with grace and beauty not just the meanings but the stylistic subtlety of Lepori’s verse. Valente’s significant accomplishment can perhaps be best summed up by a phrase from Lepori himself: “…everything is now offered to us / like an array of sparkling lights.”
Pierre Lepori was born in Lugano in 1968, studied in Siena and Bern (PhD), and is now based in Lausanne (French-speaking Switzerland) . He is a writer and translator, and a journalist for the Swiss public radio network. He has translated French literature into Italian, including authors Monique Laederach, Gustave Roud, Claude Ponti. His literary works include: ‘Qualunque sia il nome’ (Schiller Prize for Poetry, 2014), ‘Strade bianche’ (2011), and three novels: ‘Grisù’ (2007), ‘Sexualité’ (2010) and ‘Come cani’ (published in Italian and French, with a self-translation). He’s founder of Hétérographe, revue des homolittératures ou pas: », a queer literary review, and directs the Company ” Théâtre Tome Trois” (Lausanne).
From Qualunque sia il nome
Whatever the Name
Translated from the Italian by Peter Valente (TALISMAN: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics)
Again without rest
until the blank page is filled: each new beginning
counted on the palm of the hand,
is a new vigil, with one eye open,
a cry without echo.
It is not true that you have finished looking.
There is something that slowly destroys the comfort zone
of your recognizable fears. But to able to exist is already
one step you haven’t taken. Slowly,
very slowly, the evil is suffered and paid for.
Even fewer are those that recognize the One that exists.
And in this deafness the body has chosen,
you set out to prove
that you are not mute! Indeed, a flourish
of gestures. A flower
in a heap of stones, dormant and frail
in the cold sunlight.
Qualunque sia il nome/Quelque soit le nom. « (…) This intense and compact collection of poetry divided into two sections tells the story of a revolt against silence in the face of traumatic family secrets. The collection starts in the form of a dream-like dialogue with past generations, followed by a section concerning a physical experience from Leopri’s early childhood and culminates, in the second section, with a supplication for change in our morally and ethically restrictive society. His poems allow the reader to face his or her existential fears as well as the pain of child/parent relationships with all their differing realities and myths. Jean-Paul Werner Walshaw-Sauter, Goodreads.com)
« (…) Olivier has been out of touch with his family for fourteen years. After a severe depression and an ensuing divorce, he moved to Paris. He left his three-year-old son Michele with his sister Laura and asked her to raise the boy. Over time, the nephew becomes like a son to her – until Olivier resurfaces years later and asks to see his child, now a young man. This is the starting point for the novel. They meet and talk together in Geneva, before Michele’s arrival, three days later. Laura travels from Zurich with her partner Erika, a well-known theatre director. Erika has written a play called ‘Sexuality’. Just like characters in a play, Olivier and Laura talk and argue – about their shared lives, their hopes, fears and suffering – while Erika watches them very closely. » (Martin Zingg, Swisslitterature.ch)
For a Creolized Switzerland
(« Passagen« , nr. 61, 2-2013)
Every writer should be a “bastard,” says the great Franco-Algerian poet Jean Sénac. Or at least a “piccaninny” who does not “master” his own language, like the writer Patrick Chamoiseau of Martinique. Switzerland is not Creole – its mix of languages is territorial, existing side-by- side and separately – but the country offers us the possibility of infringement, of an act of betrayal of the mother tongue and the fatherland. To be in exile in one’s own country, to take a position at the margin of oneself, delocalizing the identifying fiction that covers and protects us, in short: to be at the edge of language “neither in it nor outside of it, on the unlocatable line of its slope” (Jacques Derrida). Even in a tamed and regimented Confederation, writing has, perhaps, this – residual – power of braving boundaries, of crushing legacies with the madness of a Louis Wolfson, that “student of schizophrenic languages,” who, in 1970, wrote a novel fleeing his mother’s language to confront it with “whole words ideally irreducible, at once liquid and continuous” (Gilles Deleuze).
We have the good fortune to live in a little patch of Europe where translation is a necessary practice, a communitarian respiration, but we must not mistake our situation: “Opposed to the idea of an equalizing translation – proceeding by carry-overs, by lateral equivalence – stands the joy of a respiratorial translation, idiotic and descending into the idiotic body, into the incomprehensible matter of each language (…). It is the experience of a voyage into the great well of memory and oblivion” (Valère Novarina).
In my experience – and perhaps in yours as well – there are several linguistic strata: echoes of the Marche and the Veneto, where my maternal grandparents came from; the dialect of the Ticino valleys on my father’s side, then the Italian of my school days and my studies in Florence; in Berne, later, there was German; and for the last fifteen years, the French of Lausanne. It was thus inevitable for me, once I became a writer, to ask myself the question of language: neither from here nor from else- where, not quite a migrant (with the attendant woes), I was able to exile myself more and more from the certainty of a monolithic language. Thus the need to translate myself, to betray myself by constantly betraying my origins (in the bastard sonorities of a Francophone with an Italian accent). And to stop trying to opt for one single language.
Is there a fundamental difference between writing in one’s mother tongue or in another? Between translating others and translating yourself? I don’t think so, unless you hold a moralizing idea of translation. The philosopher Arno Renken has devoted an important study to the concept of “amoral” translation: Happy Babel (Babel heureuse). His subtle argument: “The experience (of translation) is not a fixation to cling to, but rather a destabilization to be embraced. If so much of the discourse slaves away with all the trappings of necessity and morals to render the translation indistinguishable from the original, if so many try so hard to appropriate it with great strokes of “accuracy,” “fidelity” or “adequacy,” perhaps it is only to suppress the anxiety that translation inscribes in the literary and philosophical order.”
To transgress monolingualism is to affirm the perpetual motion of language, the freedom that stumbles at each step, at each word, that spills over to invent stammering worlds. A utopian idea? Yes, but… Let us not forget that fifty percent of the world’s population is already, de facto, bilingual or multilingual (as David Bellos reminds us). Let us creolize Switzerland, then, embracing our uncertainties and our transgressions, and the multiple languages that criss-cross and weave together the space we live in.
(Translated from the French by Bruce Lawder)
Literary Translingualism in Switzerland: Pierre Lepori and Beat Christen FLUSSER STUDIES 22 (Rainer Guldin)
The Swiss writer Conrad Ferdinand Meyer had two languages at his disposal, German and French. He hesitated, but in the end he opted to write in German. His decision was deeply affected by the outcome of the French-German war of 1870, which led to the unification of Germany. Contemporary Swiss writers do no longer have to grapple with such heartbreaking decisions. Quite the opposite is the case. In the last few decades, new forms of translingual writing have come into being. They have created a dense dialogical net across the country linking the four linguistic regions with each other. In this paper I would like to discuss two significant examples of this new form of translingual literature. Pierre Lepori combines Italian and French and Beat Christen writes in German and French.