September 14th, 2008
All I’m going to say about it is — well, we’ll see if this is all I’m going to say about it or not, but — in 2002 I bought the Italian translation of Infinite Jest, because I’d wanted to reread it since my first time in 1996. Despite the pleasure that IJ always gave me, even in small doses, the time investment of a full re-read always seemed like too much to commit to. So I bought it in Italian instead, thinking that I could kill several birds with one stone: read 1400 pages of Italian as practice and to familiarize myself with idiomatic constructions; reread the great book; and find out how anyone could translate this most English work into another language. No other writer mined the English lexicon like David Foster Wallace did; his use of the insane, particolored variety of English words was one of the crucial, right-place-right-time exposures that compelled me into lexicography. How could it possibly be Italianed, or Frenched or Russianed or anything else?
It’s hard for me to say. Whatever my precise level of Italian was or is, and whatever the quality of Edoardo Nesi’s translation — I’m inclined to say it is very good — the power of DFW’s voice was such that, after pages and pages of reading Italian, it was always the English version, remembered from 10 years previous (by the time I got around to starting it in 2006), that I was reading, even as the Italian words were what my eyes were scanning. All of the quirks, inventions and exploitations of DFW’s English had stamped themselves on my brain, permanently; the idioms were not Italian nor even English but just Wallacian. IJ may be translateable, I don’t know: but once it made its mark on me, it couldn’t be undone, and I’m glad I read it when I did. And I’m sad that I apparently won’t get to read his book about Parmenides, truly the awesomest and most mind-bending of the pre-Socratics.