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Vernacular Edens: Tropes of Translation in Medieval Fiction
CMRS Distinguished Visiting Scholar Simone Marchesi (Associate Professor of French and Italian, Princeton University) explores the cultural roots of a double variable correlation in medieval vernacular fiction. One correlation is basic and unsurprising: medieval vernacular writers often take their narratives into gardens, and these gardens tend to conform to the topical model of the Earthly Paradise with various degrees of approximation and explicitness. The cultural basis and the literary effects of such connection are not difficult to see. As a now inaccessible place of human origin, natural state, and earthly perfection, Eden is an inviting setting for fictions aspiring to balance sense of loss (and creaturality) and aspirations to harmony (and artistic achievement). The second correlation is perhaps less immediate: medieval vernacular fiction writers often translate in their vernacular narratives, and they do so quite freely from ancient authors and from one another, thus establishing connections across time and space that rely on their activity as vulgarizers–in the technical sense of ‘translators’ into the vernacular. Often in this process their identity as part of a cultural tradition and of a web of literary relations is formed. This specific activity (this is the other correlation) quite often takes place in the Eden-like setting of the garden. The correlation of Edenic setting and translation work is not simply a literary topos, but a cultural trope. It appears for example in texts like the Roman de la Rose, Dante’s Commedia and Boccaccio’s Decameron, and in each case it is possible to suggest that the theme relies on one and the same ideal substratum, namely the notion that translation does not necessarily produce loss. It is an idea that has its roots in Augustine’s (and Jerome’s) reflection on scriptural translation and that vernacular fiction writers appropriate and combine with their genealogical as well as technical arguments in favor of cultural modernity.
Co-sponsored by the UCLA Department of Italian.
Advance registration not required. No fee. Limited seating.