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8 February 2023

Pier Paolo Pasolini in other languages – Part One

Martine Van Geertruijden (University 'La Sapienza', Rome)

The year of the centenary of Pier Paolo Pasolini‘s birth was marked by an exceptional profusion of initiatives (conferences, book editions, film retrospectives, theatrical performances, documentary exhibitions), testifying to the ever-increasing interest throughout the world in the figure and work of what is probably the best-known 20th-century Italian intellectual abroad. This is further confirmed by the census of the most important translations of Pasolini’s works made for newitalianbooks by Martine Van Geertruijden, the first part of which we publish here.

‘Pasoliniano, pasolinien, pasolinian, pasolinisch…’. The presence of these adjectives in the various languages into which Pasolini has been translated (thirty-eight in all) give us the first glimpse of the fact that he is one of the best known contemporary Italian authors abroad. To be convinced of this, we just need to read the obituaries that appeared in newspapers on 2 November 1975, or look at the programmes of initiatives scheduled to commemorate each anniversary of his birth or death. Pasolini was and remains one of the most appreciated and debated figures of the second half of the twentieth century, and one can indeed speak of a ‘Pasolini myth’, one that was unfortunately also boosted by his violent and mysterious death.

A poet, novelist, essayist, director, scriptwriter, playwright, journalist, and a painter, the many facets of the man who simply defined himself on his passport as a ‘writer’, do not, however, all shine with the same intensity everywhere. Certainly, in almost every country, it is Pasolini the director to be best known. In this summary review of Pasolini’s career abroad, I will not, however, discuss the distribution of his cinematographic work, except to point out a few special cases. I will also leave aside his many publications, even abroad, of theatre plays and writings, which would deserve a separate study, tightly connected to how his films and the performances were received. Instead, I would like to focus on Pasolini the writer, poet, essayist, and novelist, which prevails in various countries thanks to the translations of his works (which I have attempted to list, without claiming to be exhaustive). 

A few months prior to the publication of The Ragazzi, Pasolini wrote: ‘There is a publisher who wants my novel and pays me, and assures me of translations abroad’ (letter of 18 March 1955 to Biagio Marin). In fact, Les ragazzi, translated into French by Claude Henry, appeared in Paris in 1958, followed in 1961 by Muchachos de la calle (Attilio Dabini) in Argentine Spanish, and Vadios in Portuguese (Virgílio Martinho). From then on, The Ragazzi has been published in more than twenty languages, including the recent publications in Georgia and Serbia (2015), in Romania four years later, in Poland (2021), in Latvia and the Basque Country in 2022.

It is therefore surprising that this first novel, by an author who is most often remembered as a filmmaker, continues to be translated today. A prime example is that of the Tirana-based publishing house Botimet Dudaj, which in 2017 decided to fill a gap in the though broad diffusion of Italian literature in Albanian by publishing Pier Paolo Pasolini’s works, starting with The Ragazzi, Djem jete, and A Violent Life, Jetë e dhunshme, both translated by Shpetim Kelmendi. And if the first translations continue to multiply, there are also various more or less recent second translations: in Spanish, after the first Argentinian version reissued in Barcelona in 1973, the novel was re-translated in 1990 under the title Chicos del arroyo by Miguel Angel Cuevas, who, on the fortieth anniversary of Pasolini’s death, gave a third version, this time entitled Chavales del arroyo. In France, Les ragazzi was retranslated in 2016 by Jean-Paul Manganaro (who will also retranslate Une Vie violente in 2019). The same year, a new American version, The Street Kids, was released, after The ragazzi was first published in New York in 1968 and then in England in 1986. And for the centenary of the writer’s birth, Turkey is also offering a second translation, Kenar Mahalle Çocukları (Nazlı Birgen).

However, if we look at Pasolini’s poetic work, starting with The Ashes of Gramsci (1957) to go in chronological order (Pasolini’s Friulian dialect text would only be translated sporadically and much later), we can start seeing some differences. Once again, there are many translations, but the chronological differences in relation to his novels are striking: the first translation seems to be that of Vladimír Mikeš into Czech, Gramsciho popel, in 1963 (whereas The Ragazzi was translated only in 1975), while the French, who are so quick to translate novels, would only publish this first collection of his Italian poetry in 1980, at the same time as the Germans, but after the Spanish and the Swedes (1975). The following decade saw the publication of Dutch, Turkish and Finnish versions, and it was not until 2015 that we read an English and a Greek translation.

It is obviously impossible to list all the translations of Pasolini’s work here. However, in this catalogue, we can attempt to make out certain cultural, but also political and ideological trends, sometimes even more personal, which have guided publishing choices. We can try to understand, looking at prose, poetry and essays, what has been translated most in this or that country, when and why. As it always happens for translations, and even more so for a writer of civil poetry, a heretical intellectual, the reception of a work depends on the particular political, social, linguistic and cultural soil in which it is placed. In Pasolini’s case, we must also take into account the considerable problems of translatability posed by the language of the borgate, Rome’s rural-urban districts at the outskirts of the city, which is difficult, especially for certain languages that don’t contemplate a gap between dialectal idioms.

If we then re-examine the chronology, we are first struck by the early translation (1961) of The Ragazzi into Argentinean rather than Iberian Spanish. The reason for this is quite obvious: in the midst of Franco’s dictatorship, Pasolini could not be published in Spain, and it is precisely for this reason that he was, for progressive Spanish intellectuals, the very example of a writer who is a victim of censorship, a symbol of struggle and freedom. Although neither his books nor his films were published or broadcast, they were often reviewed in a few magazines, which also published ‘acceptable’ fragments of poems, such as Noche en la Plaza de España, translated by his friend, the poet José Agustín Goytisolo. After Franco died, a few days after Pasolini’s death, Spain was ready to publish Las cenizas de Gramsci (Antonio Colina) and La divina mímesis (Julia Adinolfi) immediately, while an exhibition was organised in Madrid with screenings of unpublished films. From then on, the lost time was quickly made up for and the following decades saw a wide (re)discovery of Pasolini’s work and life, with numerous translations, this time following the same pace of Italian publications: 1982, Poesia en forma de rosa (Juan Antonio Méndez Borra), and Transhumanar y organizar (Ángel Sánchez-Gijón); 1983, Las bellas banderas (Valentí Gómez Olivé); 1984, Amado mio (Jesús Pardo and Jorge Binaghi); 1993, La religión de mi tiempo (Martín López-Vega), Cartas luteranas and Escritos corsarios (Silvia Manteiga), Una vida violenta and Petróleo, by Atilio Pentimalli Melacrino, who will also translate, in 1997, Descripciones de Descripciones and El olor de la India (2002); 2005, Empirismo herético (Esteban Nicotra); 2019, El sueño de una cosa (María Del Carril). The centenary of 2022 is celebrated with the late translation of Teorema (Carlos Gumpert) and, for poetry, La insomne felicidad. Antología poética (selection and translation by Martín López- Vega). Finally, as to the writer’s life, in addition to translations of important biographies (written by Enzo Siciliano and Nico Naldini), a biographical novel, Pasolini e la noche de las luciernagas, by José M. Garcia Lòpez, will be published in 201, and, in 2022, Miguel Dalmau’s major biography, Pasolini. El último profeta.

Going back to the first Hispanic version of The Ragazzi,  the first translation was published in Argentina in 1961, followed by Una vida violenta in Venezuela in 1969, both translated by Attilio Dabini. These two publications marked the beginning of a significant advance of Pasolini’s work in South America, with translations which, until 1975, anticipated those that would later be published in Spain: Teorema (Enrique Pezzon, Buenos Aires, 1970), El sueño de una cosa, (Nestor Alberto Miguez, Caracas, 1971), and so on. And even after the end of Franco’s dictatorship, most of Pasolini’s texts continued to be featured in a South American version alongside the Iberian translation.