Translation "alla rovescia" : the metaphor and practice of translation in Primo Levi's Holocaust writings / Lina N. Insana.
Primo Levi's preoccupation with the transmission of cultural texts informed not only his activity as a translator per se, but also his approach to testimonial writing. Faced with the crisis of representation brought about by the Holocaust, this survivor often focused on the process of translation—cross-language, cross-system, cross-cultural—in order to represent the challenges to witnessing engendered by trauma, and to foreground the importance of transmitting information, language, and concepts from one temporal, geographical, or spatial zone to another, specifically from Auschwitz to “after.” Levi's task, in this light, emerges as that of translating the Holocaust to a community of readers who did not “speak the language” of the source text of Auschwitz. Of course, this is no ordinary source text and as such makes unique demands of its translators. Levi's principal challenge in this regard was the source text's inherent resistance to translation, the direct result of its insularity, its failure, its concreteness, and its denial of the agency necessary for transmission and reception to take place. The overcoming of this challenge thus represents nothing less than the reversal of the traditional hierarchies inherent in the relationships between target and source, resulting in a revaluation of the historically “derivative” translation. Translation theory can in this way and others enrich our understanding of the source text and Levi's transmission of it, while translation processes emblematize many of the themes that surround Levi's witnessing project: the recuperation of subject-hood that allows witnessing to take place; survival guilt and the grey zone; the transgressions that condition Levi's identity as Jew and as survivor. “Translatio” is thus not to be understood only in its most etymologically strict sense of “carrying over,” but also in its more common context of translation practice, since it is precisely in the textual space of translated literature, oftentimes itself characterized by a concern for issues of transmission and translation, that Levi explores both the necessity and the challenges of witnessing.
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