Michael Subialka


“Translating Luigi Malerba: Roman-ness and the International Market”

Luigi Malerba: an extremely important author who has had a significant influence on the world of Italian literature. His name is associated with the Gruppo ’63 and the Neo-Avant-Garde movement. His literary friends include such illustrious writers such as Italo Calvino, Giorgio Manganelli, and Paolo Volponi, to name just a few. With his previous books translated into not only French and German but also Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Swedish, and Danish, Malerba’s writing clearly holds a broad and global appeal. And yet, at the moment only two of Malerba’s early novels have been translated into English (The Serpent and What Is This Buzzing? Do You Hear It Too? both translated by William Weaver and published, decades ago, by FSG). His later work, with its more contemporary relevance, remains unavailable to English-speaking audiences.

In this paper we address this apparent gap in attention to Malerba by asking what elements might help to differentiate the perceived “translatability” of his earlier, Neo-Avant-Garde works from his later production. Drawing on our experiences translating his last novel, Fantasmi romani (2006), we ask whether the geographical and lexical “Italianness” (and, specifically, “Roman-ness”) of this novel factors into that gap. We thus consider issues like the difficulty of translating Italian idioms into American English as well as specific geographical and cultural elements. At the same time, we also address how the publication and adaptation of works across cultures relies on personal and institutional factors impacting the translation process, on the one hand, and the perceived cultural affinities that create an audience in a given historical moment, on the other. Malerba’s early novels were championed by an institutionally-established translator and a prestigious publishing house in a moment when the Neo-Avant-Garde had achieved international interest and fostered a readership among an elite intellectual group. While Malerba’s cultural legacy continues to be recognized in Italy – where the Premio Malerba has been awarded to young writers each year since 2010 and the author’s collected works have been re-released by Mondadori and Quodlibet (in 2014) – we ask how the more local and particular elements of his later, postmodern writing might appeal to a different group of readers today.


Dr. Subialka is the Powys Roberts Research Fellow in European Literature at St Hugh’s College, University of Oxford, where he lectures on Italian modernism, avant-garde theatre, and 19th– and 20th-century literature and culture. He received his PhD with honors from the University of Chicago (Romance Languages and Literatures and the Committee on Social Thought) in 2012 with a dissertation on “The Aesthetics of Ambivalence: Pirandello, Schopenhauer, and the Transformation of the Modern European Social Imaginary.” His current book project focuses on Italian Modernism in a European Context: The Legacies of German Idealism. He is the editor of PSA, the scholarly journal of the Pirandello Society of America, and is the treasurer of the Society for Pirandello Studies in the UK. His primary research focus is the intersection of literature and philosophy.