La stanza infinita from La straniera

Written in Italian by Claudia Durastanti

Add

Ogni anno, a febbraio, mia madre ci costringeva a guardare il Festival di Sanremo.

Per cinque giorni ci sedevamo sul divano ad ascoltare quelle canzoni poco ispirate, storditi dal profluvio di rose, capelli cotonati e problemi da Prima Repubblica.

O almeno, io e mio fratello ascoltavamo, dato che lei non poteva; si limitava a leggere i sottotitoli che apparivano sullo schermo per seguire i testi.

I cantanti popolari e melodici su quel palco assumevano sempre atteggiamenti da opera slanciando le braccia in avanti, ma dato che lo facevano quasi tutti, mia madre non riusciva a stabilire quale fosse la differenza tra le loro canzoni. Non poteva dire, dalla postura, se si trattasse di una canzone triste, o d’amore, o impegnata; era costretta ad affidarsi a sottotitoli stringati che spesso spuntavano fuori sincrono.

Mia madre ha sempre amato la musica. È cresciuta in una famiglia in cui musicassette, fisarmoniche e proiezioni di film musicali napoletani erano molto comuni, con i loro ritornelli stucchevoli e i ritmi ripetuti, di solito su un tradimento inaspettato o un periodo di ingiusta detenzione.

Quando mi sono iscritta ad Antropologia all’università, l’ho fatto come se mi stessi iscrivendo a un corso di educazione contro gli stereotipi. Non vedevo l’ora di studiare la classe, il genere e l’etnicità per vederli esplodere e scoprire una nuova forma di umanità ibrida, in modo da dimenticarmi come tutte quelle cose mi avessero condizionata e fatto diventare la persona che ero. Uno dei primi giorni di lezione, il professore disse: “Alla fine di questi studi, vi renderete conto che c’è qualcosa di vero nel fatto che i tedeschi sono rigidi. E che i napoletani rubano. E che i romani guidano male.” Ci stava parlando con onestà, e in qualche maniera sofisticata aveva ragione. Presto avremmo letto un libro di Michael Herzfeld intitolato Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State e ci avremmo fatto pace.

È per questo che non mi sento in colpa a stereotipizzare la mia famiglia italoamericana attraverso appassionati riferimenti criminali; sono le fantasie di grandezza a cui aspiravano. Erano i film che avevano visto, le canzoni che avevano sentito.

Non sapevo cosa fossero le metafore o le allegorie all’epoca, e non lo sapeva neanche mia madre: quando traducevo il contenuto di una canzone per lei, quando trascrivevo i testi di Nino D’Angelo o Mario Merola per farla sentire più vicina a suo padre che amava quei neomelodici, tutto ci sembrava letterale: la gente era davvero disposta a uccidere e morire per un amore non corrisposto. Quelle canzoni erano dichiarazioni di guerra, non trasfigurazioni di una tristezza, erano atti trasformativi, non consolazioni passive.

Io e mia madre eravamo senza contesto.

Io e mia madre preferivamo i testi quando erano veri, ma eravamo circondate da finzioni. Finzioni veicolate dal sangue: l’inganno era comune nella sua famiglia, nonostante la sua sordità, suo fratello Arturo le regalava un walkman ogni anno.

Uno dei primi walkman gialli della Sony che lei agganciava al passante dei jeans mentre faceva le pulizie in casa, giurando di percepire il ritmo. “Non ti fa impazzire questa band?” chiedeva a qualche amico che passava a trovarci, poi l’amico mi guardava con aria interrogativa, chiedendosi come fosse possibile dato che mia madre non sentiva. Sarebbe stato come dire che lui aveva una lettera braille preferita. Cosa possibile, ma se non era cieco non era lo stesso.

Per la sua famiglia, mia madre era soprattutto una forestiera, una ragazza incomprensibile: adesso vivono a distanza e lei va a trovare i suoi fratelli ogni anno o due, ma ancora non sanno relazionarsi al fatto che non sente. Si scambiano una lingua che non è la lingua dei segni e neanche la lingua degli immigrati, nessuno padroneggia l’inglese come dovrebbe e nessuno parla di disabilità. Cos’è la disabilità in un nucleo familiare in cui tutti parlano in maniera diversa comunque?

“Com’è la musica?” chiedeva mia madre quando da bambina mi agitavo al suono della tarantella nel seminterrato di suo padre. Lui la invitava a ballare, batteva le scarpe di pelle sul pavimento sperando che le vibrazioni le risalissero lungo i polpacci, ondeggiassero nelle sue anche e le si fracassassero nelle costole, mentre i suoi amici anziani suonavano la fisarmonica e si bevevano il fegato, e a volte lei ballava, e a volte no. Poi, a un certo punto, si è ritirata. Ha smesso di chiedermi com’era la musica, sempre più stanca di quel gioco. E per quanto mi piacesse vederla danzare, mi faceva anche arrabbiare, ero infastidita dalla sua performance e dal suo desiderio di integrarsi: i suoi passi non erano mai abbastanza veloci o a ritmo. Così come mi inquietavano le sue risate quando guardavamo un film insieme: se si accorgeva che stavo ridendo lo faceva anche lei, ma solo qualche secondo dopo. Era una reazione fisica quasi involontaria, a prescindere dal fatto che avesse capito o meno, e in quei secondi tutto in me si faceva acido.

Mia madre guardava il Festival di Sanremo come se fosse il concorso per il miglior racconto dell’anno. I testi erano l’unica cosa che contava, poemi in prosa che abusavano dell’amore e del dolore.

Le piaceva il cantautorato e aveva una collezione di libri sulla musica: la storia del reggae, un’antologia di canti scritti in prigione, inni comunisti, le prime poesie di Patti Smith e il canzoniere di Bob Dylan. Come lei, non mi chiedevo mai che suono avessero quelle canzoni quando prendevo in prestito i libri; eravamo tutte e due lì per la storia. Prima che qualcuno mi portasse in un negozio di dischi, non sapevo neanche che Patti Smith o Bob Dylan avessero una voce. Avevo fatto esperienza di quei musicisti proprio come mia madre: in silenzio. Avevo cercato di farli suonare nella mia testa, e trovavo le loro pulsazioni e il loro ritmo come facevo con qualsiasi altro scrittore o poeta leggessi. E le loro voci non sono state una delusione quando le ho sentite la prima volta, non davvero, ma in quella transazione ho perso qualcosa: una vicinanza con mia madre. Ho attraversato la linea e sono entrata nell’altro mondo, quello in cui le canzoni potevano essere ascoltate e ripetute ossessivamente. In quel momento ho perso anche una fantasia di appropriazione che mi viene così facile quando leggo letteratura: non potevo più riempire le crepe tra le loro parole con una musica che fosse solo mia. Per questo le polemiche sul Nobel a Bob Dylan non ho potuto capirle: era sempre stato, per me, più vivo nel testo che nella voce.

Le canzoni presentate a Sanremo erano meno ambiziose di quelle descritte in quei libri. Non erano rivoluzionarie o inventive o profetiche, e non facevano nulla per il genere: la preoccupazione principale di quei musicisti era non perdere qualcuno che amavano o perdere qualcuno che amavano così da poterci scrivere una canzone.

Ma c’erano delle eccezioni. Io e mia madre vivevamo per le eccezioni.

Nel 1993 un ragazzo di nome Nek si presentò sul palco per cantare In te, una canzone sull’aborto. Era decisamente pro-vita, ma almeno portava un po’ di varietà. Nel 1996, Federico Salvatore affrontò la questione dell’omosessualità in Sulla porta, il testo si focalizzava sul rifiuto di una madre nei confronti del figlio. Nel 1999 il cantautore Daniele Silvestri cantò Aria, seguendo le cronache di un uomo condannato a morte all’Asinara.

Quelli, in ogni caso, furono i miei primi incontri ravvicinati con i dibattiti socio-politici nazionali: vivevo in una società in cui la sofferenza non esisteva a meno che non potesse essere misurata tramite la distanza fisica dal dottore o dal prete.

Mia madre non sopporta la fiction, per questo tifava sempre per le canzoni dal risvolto sociale, quelle che di solito vincevano, dato che diventavano argomento di discussione sui quotidiani. Credo che fosse il suo modo di sostenere la vittoria del significato rispetto al suono, per vendicarsi dei rari pezzi prevalentemente strumentali che non davano indizi alle persone come lei. Quindi forse è più accurato dire che in quel concorso specifico, mia madre era alla ricerca del miglior racconto di non fiction dell’anno.

«La sua fidanzata ha abortito veramente e adesso lui soffre». «Quanto fa male essere rigettati da una madre». «Chissà se posso scrivergli in prigione,» diceva di quelle canzoni.

Neanche mio padre sopporta la fiction. Per lui film come Scarface e La casa sono documentari, racconti di vita vissuta. Ogni volta che cercavo di spiegargli «Questa cosa non è mai successa» e di introdurlo alle sottigliezze della finzione, si ribellava e mi liquidava, a volte con rabbia. Se dicevo a mia madre che il film appena visto non era un biopic, allora per lei quel film non valeva una cicca. Crede ancora che L’esorcista sia un capolavoro di realismo.

Tutti e due interpretano la vita come un fatto e si attaccano alle parole per quel che sono, ma sono anche sospettosi come lo sono tanti sordi, sempre timorosi che le persone stiano congiurando significati alle loro spalle, per i miei genitori una rosa è davvero una rosa è una rosa, davvero?

Da scrittrice, la mia vita dipende dall’ironia e dalla metafora, e i miei genitori sono inorriditi ed estraniati da entrambe. Quando siamo insieme entriamo in questa zona sconosciuta, un mercato nero del linguaggio: io impongo su di loro delle allegorie, loro mi respingono con l’univocità delle parole, l’impossibilità dell’ubiquità.

Mio padre faceva dei sogni molto brutti dopo il divorzio, così per Natale una volta gli regalai una piccola gomma bianca. Sopra ci scrissi «Per cancellare i brutti ricordi», e lui non la prese bene. Stavo cercando solo di essere sua figlia, di relazionarmi alle proprietà guaritrici dei materiali e alla letteralità degli oggetti, ma non era la mia battaglia da combattere, era la sua.

Ho sempre pensato che la sordità fosse un ostacolo per il loro pieno apprezzamento del linguaggio figurativo. Da bambina, credevo pacatamente che ci fosse una lacuna cognitiva nei miei genitori che avrei fatto del mio meglio per colmare, barattando e interpretando le parole per loro. Ma stando ad alcuni studi, non ci sono differenze di comprensione significative tra adolescenti sordi e adolescenti udenti quando si imbattono in una metafora in un romanzo. L’ironia è leggermente diversa: pare che gli adolescenti sordi diventino sempre più capaci di capirla quando crescono, quando diventano consapevoli di un tono che inflette (infetta) le persone attorno a loro. Ma l’ironia è una figura che arriva con una perdita di innocenza per tutti, che sentano o meno. (La prima volta che mia madre ha capito una battuta ironica aveva cinquantacinque anni, e io e mio fratello l’abbiamo fissata a lungo, stupefatti. È stata un’emozione nuova, piena di gratitudine.)

Il cammino dentro una metafora può essere più lento, tortuoso o imprevedibile per un lettore sordo, ma questo è vero per tante persone: anche se ci affidiamo a un archivio condiviso di simboli quando leggiamo un’opera d’arte, le nostre traduzioni interiori di quei simboli variano. Davanti ai test che si fanno per misurare le competenze testuali di una persona, penso anche io che ci sia un errore se un bambino sordo si perde tutto il simbolismo nel Meraviglioso mago di Oz, ma quell’errore mi manca. Se una metafora è un incidente, una rivelazione, un incidente stradale, io finisco con il raccattare sempre gli stessi pezzi di vetro andati in frantumi. Non conquisto o guadagno mai un nuovo frammento, mi limito a partecipare al costante riciclo della bellezza.

Non so se i miei genitori fossero fieri di disubbidire alla grammatica, se fossero solo troppo pigri per sviluppare buone doti di alfabetizzazione o se semplicemente si fidassero troppo dei loro sensi e preferissero demistificare un codice al quale non appartenevano comunque, ma penso spesso a loro quando traduco romanzi da una lingua all’altra: non sono più spaventata dalla mia tentazione o inclinazione verso gli errori.

Un po’ di tempo fa mi sono ritrovata a pensare alla Neverland di James M. Barrie in Peter Pan. In italiano, Neverland è stato tradotto con «L’isola che non c’è», ma a dire il vero una traduzione letterale dell’inglese sarebbe stata meglio: mentre «L’isola che non c’è» allude a un territorio che è impossibile trovare e forse non esiste, il letterale «Maiterra» contiene un rifiuto, un desiderio di tagliare qualsiasi legame con il mondo tradizionale, ed è più vicino alle intenzioni dei bambini perduti di Peter Pan. Anzi, per farlo risuonare come il grido di battaglia di un bambino, «Terramai!» funziona ancora meglio.

«Terramai» è la traduzione letterale di Landnever. Qualcosa che James M. Barrie non ha mai usato e sembra cattivo inglese, qualcosa che non è mai stato lì in primo luogo, ma ai miei genitori sarebbe piaciuto: credo che questo errore sia più fedele a quello che direbbe un bambino, sia capace di restituire un senso gioioso di fuga, e riscrivendo la storia nella mia testa con una nuova parola, imito i loro atti quotidiani di sfida linguistica. La traduzione è anche la storia di una poetica inaccuratezza. In questo gioco i miei genitori mi battono sempre.

Published October 3, 2019
Excerpted from Claudia Durastanti, La straniera, La nave di Teseo, 2019
© 2019 La nave di Teseo

Whispering in Caps Lock from La straniera

Written in Italian by Claudia Durastanti


Translated into English by Claudia Durastanti

Come February every year, my mother would force me to watch a popular music contest on Italian TV, a show oozing bad haircuts and roses: Sanremo, il Festival della Canzone Italiana. For five days, we would sit on the couch and listen to a bunch of songs performed by retired singers making a comeback, or new singers sounding like they never came back from a very uninspired place.

At least I would listen. Being deaf since the age of four, my mother would just read the subtitles popping up on the screen to follow the lyrics. Italian pop and melodic interpreters often act like opera singers, thrusting their arms forward as if holding onto the imaginary ropes of a shaky swing, wondering how did they get there and expecting a disastrous fall. But since they ALL acted like that, it barely made a difference: my mother couldn’t tell from their faces or postures if it was a sad song or a love song or a political song — she had to rely on poorly transcribed subtitles showing up at the wrong time.

My mother always loved music. She was raised into an Italian-American family where tapes, accordions and Neapolitan musicals were very common, with their repetitive beats and cheesy lyrics, usually about impromptu cheating. As a child, I was exposed to the possibility of early marriages and the resurrection of a villain during a christening or a funeral, and expected to grow up swooning after young men rushing to JFK to prevent me from leaving the country, willing to hijack a plane if needed.

When I enrolled in college, I picked Cultural Anthropology. In my heart, I was signing up for an anti-stereotypes program. I longed to melt in relativity, dwell into class, gender, and ethnicity to watch them blow up, and be presented with a new form of hybrid humanity, so I could forget how those things had affected me. The first day of class, a professor said: “At the end of the term, you’ll learn there is something true in the fact that Germans are inelastic people. There is something true in the fact that Neapolitans steal. And Romans are bad drivers.” He was coming at us in earnest, and in some sophisticated way he was right; soon we would read a book by Michael Herzfeld called Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State and make our peace with it. This is why I don’t feel ashamed for characterizing my Italian-American family through passionate criminal references. That’s what they aspired to anyway.

However, when I started watching Sanremo with my mother I had no use for metaphor or allegory, and neither did she. When I translated the content of a song for her — writing down Nino D’Angelo’s or Mario Merola’s lyrics to help her understand and make her feel closer to her father who did love those Neomelodic guys — everything felt literal to us: people were really willing to kill and die for unrequited love. Those songs were declarations of war, not transfigurations of sadness; they were transformative acts, not passive consolations.

Both my mom and I lacked context. We preferred lyrics when they were real, but we were surrounded by fictions.

Fictions carried by blood: deception was a common occurrence in her family, her parents and brothers bought her audio players all the time.

An early heavy yellow Walkman she would pin on the waist of her jeans as she cleaned up the house, swearing she could follow the rhythm. “Don’t you love this band?” she would ask to a random friend coming by the house, and the friend would look at me quizzically, wondering what was that all about since she couldn’t hear: it was like saying he had a favorite braille letter. (Which he could have, of course, but it was not the same.
Not if he was not blind.)

Family lore has it that when my mother was 14, her father saw an ad on a newspaper claiming there was a special procedure to help with hearing loss; but the doctor who visited her in Manhattan said she was a lost cause, and my grandfather punched him in the face. To her family, my mother was mostly a stranger, an incomprehensible girl. Even now that they have been living apart for three decades, and she travels to the States to see her brothers once a year, they still don’t relate to the fact she can’t hear. They share a funny language which is neither sign language nor immigrant language. None of them seems versatile in English and there are no talks of disability. What is disability in a kin in which everyone speaks and hears differently anyway?

“What’s the music like?” my mother would ask when I was a child dancing tarantella in her father’s basement in Bensonhurst. He would invite her to dance, tap on the floor with his leather shoes and hope the vibrations would climb through her ankles, sway into her hips and crash into her ribcage, while old men played their accordions and drank their livers out. Sometimes she would dance and sometimes not.

Then, at one point, she retreated. She stopped asking what the music was like, increasingly tired of that game. And as much as I loved to see her dance, I was also angry for it, annoyed at her performance and her desire to fit in: her steps were never fast enough or in tune and that made me feel slightly ashamed.

By the time she was 34 and we had moved to southern Italy, my mom gave up the pretension she could make any sense of music, and she watched the Festival of Sanremo with me and my brother as if it were a competition for the best short story of the year.

Lyrics were the only thing that mattered, formulaic prose poems that rhymed with love, loss, and lust — cuore, amore e dolore, the ever abused words ending in -ore, the easiest match you could think of as a child.

She was all about songwriting, and owned a scarce but powerful collection of music books: the history of reggae, an anthology of lyrics written in prisons, Communist chants, Patti Smith’s early poems, and Bob Dylan’s songbook. Like her, I never wondered what those songs sounded like when I borrowed the books. We were both there just for the story.

Before someone took me to a record store in my early teens, I didn’t even know Smith or Dylan had an actual voice. I experienced those musicians just like my mother did: in silence. I tried to make them sound in my head, to find their pulse and own rhythm as I did with any other writer or poet I read. Their voices didn’t come in as a disappointment when I heard them for the first time, not really, but I lost something in the transaction: a closeness to my mother. I crossed the line and entered that other world, where songs could be listened to and repeated obsessively. I also lost a fantasy of ownership that comes so easy when reading literature: I could no longer fill the cracks in their words with a music of my own.

Songs performed at Sanremo were less ambitious and by no means revolutionary or inventive or prophetic; they did nothing for the genre: the biggest concern for those popular songwriters was not to lose someone you loved or how to lose someone you loved so you could sing about it.

But there were a few exceptions in that contest.

Both my mom and I lived for the exceptions.

In 1993 a young man called Nek showed up on stage to sing “In te” (“Inside of you”), a song about abortion. It was heavily pro-life, but at least it provided some variety. In 1996, Federico Salvatore tackled the issue of homosexuality in “Sulla porta” (“On the doorstep”), the lyrics focusing on a mother’s rejection of her son. In 1999 songwriter Daniele Silvestri performed “Aria” (“Air”), chronicling the story of a man serving a life sentence in a prison in Sardinia.

My mother, she couldn’t stand fiction. She always rooted for those socially charged songs to win, and they usually did, since they ended up generating a scandal in the newspapers. I think it was her way to champion meaning over sound, a form of revenge against the more instrumental songs whose performance left her baffled and clueless as to what they were about. She preferred lyrics that conveyed a sense of the material world: actualities.

So I guess it’s more accurate to say that in that specific competition, my mother was looking for the best nonfiction story of the year. “His girlfriend really had an abortion and now he’s mourning” she would say about the pro-life singer. “How painful to be rejected by his own mother” was her opinion on the man discussing homosexuality. “I wonder if I could send him a letter in prison” was her wish when she heard the song about that man doing a life sentence.

My father can’t stand fiction either, and he’s deaf too. To him, movies like Scarface, A Clockwork Orange, and Evil Dead are real life accounts.

Whenever I tried to explain to him “This has never happened,” introducing him to the subtleties of fiction, he would revolt and dismiss me, sometimes angrily. If I told my mother the movie we just saw was not a biopic, she would call it bullshit. The Exorcist is still a masterpiece of realism to her.

They both interpret life as fact and hang onto words for what they are, and yet — like many deaf people — they are also often suspicious, always afraid of people conjuring secret meanings behind their backs. For them, a rose is really a rose is a rose, really?

. . .

As a writer, my life relies heavily on irony and metaphor, and both of my parents are deeply estranged by them. Whenever we are together we enter this very uncharted zone, a black market of language: I force allegories on them, I get slapped back with the uniqueness of words, the impossibility of ubiquity. My dad used to have very bad dreams after their divorce, so one Christmas I bought him a small white eraser as a present. I wrote “To delete bad memories” on top of it, and he didn’t react well. I was trying to be his daughter, relating to the healing properties of materials and the literalness of objects, but that was not my quest to take on.

I always presumed deafness was an obstacle for their full appreciation of figurative language. As a child, I quietly assumed there was a cognitive impairment in my parents that I would do my best to fix, trading and interpreting words for them. But according to some studies, there are no significant differences in understanding a metaphor in a novel among groups of deaf teens and hearing teens. (Irony is slightly different: it seems deaf teenagers get more skilled in understanding it as they grow up, when they become aware of a tone infecting people around them. But again: irony is a figure that comes with a loss of innocence for everyone, whether capable of hearing or not. The first time my mother understood irony she was about 55, and both me and my brother stared at her, bewildered.)

The path inside a metaphor may be slower, more crooked or unpredictable in a deaf reader, but that is not so uncommon: we do rely on a shared archive of symbols when we read a work of art, but our inner translations of those symbols are varied. So when I think about those tests on figurative language, I agree there’s a wrongness if a deaf child misses all the symbolism in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but I also feel myself longing for that wrongness.

I don’t know if my parents took pride in disobeying grammar, if they were just too lazy to develop good literacy skills, or if they trusted their senses so much in order to demystify a code they fully didn’t belong to, but I think about them a lot when I translate novels from one language into another: I’m no longer afraid of my temptation and inclination toward mistakes. My mother often does reversals in syntax. She would say “stiro da ferro” instead of “ferro da stiro” (iron) which, funnily enough, in English sounds something like “I iron from iron.” (If she mastered English, she would say cleaner vacuum instead of vacuum cleaner.)

A short while ago, I found myself thinking about James M. Barrie’s “Neverland.” In Italian, “Neverland” has been translated into “L’isola che non c’è” (The Island that Never Was). Actually, a literal translation of the English noun would have been better: while “L’isola che non c’è” alludes to a territory that’s impossible to find and may not exist, the literal “Maiterra” contains a refusal, a desire to cut ties with the traditional world which seems closer to the tone of the Lost Boys in Peter Pan. More so: to make it sound like a child’s battle cry, “Terramai!” is even more effective. “Terramai” is the literal translation of “Landnever.” Something James M. Barrie did not use and that sounds like bad English, something that was never there in the first place, but my parents would have gone for it: I think their mistake is more truthful to what a child would say, providing a joyful sense of escape, and by rewriting the story in my head with a new word, I imitate my mother’s daily acts of linguistic defiance.

As a translator from one hegemonic language (English) into a non- hegemonic language (Italian), I am always expected not to make mistakes. I could hardly get away by saying that my mistake was a conscious deviation from the English golden standard. If I do that, then I’m bad at my job. But what if my error is indeed a form of creative vengeance? Not a fallacy in the target language, but something that decodes a fallacy in the original text. Translation is also the history of poetic inaccuracies.

At this game, my parents beat me all the time. Of course they know pigs don’t fly, but what if they did?

Published October 3, 2019
Courtesy The Serving Library, London and New York
First commissioned for The Serving Library Annual 2018/19 (Translation)
© Claudia Durasstanti

De eindeloze kamer from De vreemdelinge

Written in Italian by Claudia Durastanti


Translated into Dutch by Manon Smits

Ieder jaar in februari dwong mijn moeder ons om naar het Festival van San Remo te kijken.

Vijf dagen lang zaten we op de bank te luisteren naar die ongeïnspireerde liedjes, verdwaasd door die overvloed aan rozen, getoupeerde kapsels en de kwesties van het christendemocratische tijdperk.

Of tenminste, mijn broer en ik luisterden, want zij kon dat natuurlijk niet; zij las alleen de ondertiteling die in beeld verscheen om de teksten te kunnen volgen.

De volkszangers en melodische zangers op dat podium namen altijd een opera-achtige houding aan, met hun armen naar voren gespreid, maar aangezien ze dat bijna allemaal deden kon mijn moeder niet bepalen wat het verschil was tussen hun liedjes. Aan hun houding kon ze niet aflezen of het een smartlap was, een liefdeslied of een geëngageerd nummer; ze moest vertrouwen op de beknopte ondertitels die vaak niet synchroon liepen.

Mijn moeder is altijd dol geweest op muziek. Ze is opgegroeid in een familie waarin veel werd geluisterd naar muziekcassettes en accordeons en werd gekeken naar Napolitaanse muziekfilms, met hun hinderlijke refreinen en terugkerende ritmes, meestal over onverwacht verraad of een periode van onterechte hechtenis. […]

Ik wist destijds niet wat metaforen of allegorieën waren, en mijn moeder evenmin: wanneer ik de inhoud van een lied voor haar vertaalde, wanneer ik de teksten van Nino D’Angelo of Mario Merola voor haar transcribeerde zodat zij voor haar gevoel dichter bij haar vader kwam die groot fan was van deze Napolitaanse levensliedzangers, vatten we alles letterlijk op: de mensen waren daadwerkelijk bereid om te doden en te sterven voor een onbeantwoorde liefde. Die liederen waren oorlogsverklaringen, geen transfiguraties van verdriet, ze waren een transformatieve daad, geen passieve troost.

Mijn moeder en ik misten de context.

Mijn moeder en ik hadden een voorkeur voor teksten die een waar verhaal vertelden, maar we werden omringd door verzinsels. Verzinsels die via de bloedband werden doorgegeven; doen alsof was in haar familie heel normaal: ondanks haar doofheid gaf haar broer Arturo haar elk jaar een walkman. […]

Mijn moeder keek naar het Festival van San Remo alsof het een wedstrijd voor het mooiste verhaal van het jaar was. De teksten waren het enige wat telde, prozagedichten die de liefde en het verdriet uitbuitten.

Ze hield van singer-songwriters en had een verzameling boeken over muziek: de geschiedenis van de reggae, een bundel liederen geschreven in de gevangenis, communistische gezangen, de eerste gedichten van Patti Smith en het liedboek van Bob Dylan. Ik vroeg me evenmin als zij nooit af hoe die nummers klonken wanneer ik haar boeken leende; het ging ons allebei alleen om het verhaal. Voordat iemand me meenam naar een platenwinkel, wist ik niet eens dat Patti Smith en Bob Dylan ook konden zingen. Ik had die muzikanten precies zo ervaren als mijn moeder: in stilte. […]

De nummers die in San Remo werden gebracht waren minder ambitieus dan die in de boeken werden beschreven. Ze waren niet revolutionair of inventief of profetisch, en ze deden niets voor het genre: de voornaamste zorg van die muzikanten was om niet een dierbare te verliezen, of juist wel een dierbare te verliezen zodat ze er een lied over konden schrijven.

Maar er waren uitzonderingen. Mijn moeder en ik leefden voor de uitzonderingen.

In 1993 stond er een jongen genaamd Nek op het podium met het nummer “In te”, een lied over abortus. Het was duidelijk pro-life, maar zorgde in elk geval voor wat variatie. In 1996 roerde Federico Salvatore het onderwerp homoseksualiteit aan met het nummer “Sulla porta”: de tekst draaide om de afwijzing door een moeder van haar zoon. In 1999 zong liedjesschrijver Daniele Silvestri “Aria”, het verhaal van een terdoodveroordeelde man in de gevangenis van Asinara.

Dat waren voor mij in elk geval de eerste keren dat ik van dichtbij kennismaakte met de landelijke maatschappelijke debatten: ik leefde in een gemeenschap waarin geen ander lijden voorkwam dan wat kon worden afgemeten aan de fysieke afstand tot de dokter of de pastoor.

Mijn moeder heeft een hekel aan fictie, daarom was ze altijd voor de nummers met een sociaal aspect, die meestal niet wonnen aangezien ze onderwerp van discussie werden in de kranten. Dat was denk ik haar manier om de overwinning van betekenis op geluid te steunen, om wraak te nemen op die zeldzame nummers die grotendeels instrumentaal waren en mensen zoals zij daardoor geen aanwijzingen verschaften. Misschien is het dus accurater om te zeggen dat mijn moeder bij die specifieke wedstrijd op zoek was naar het beste non-fictieverhaal van het jaar.

‘Zijn vriendin heeft echt abortus laten plegen en daarom heeft hij nu verdriet.’ ‘Wat is het pijnlijk om te worden afgewezen door een moeder.’ ‘Misschien kan ik hem wel een brief schrijven in de gevangenis,’ zei ze over die nummers.

Mijn vader had ook een hekel aan fictie. Voor hem zijn films als Scarface en The Evil Dead documentaires, waargebeurde verhalen. Telkens als ik hem probeerde uit te leggen: ‘Dit is nooit echt gebeurd’, en hem probeerde in te wijden in de nuances van de fictie, verzette hij zich en snoerde me de mond, soms vol woede. Als ik tegen mijn moeder zei dat de film die we net gezien hadden geen biopic was, dan was die film voor haar geen snars waard. Zij gelooft nu nog dat The Exorcist een neorealistisch meesterwerk is.

Allebei interpreteren ze het leven als een vaststaand feit en ze klampen zich vast aan woorden voor wat ze zijn, maar zoals veel doven zijn ze ook argwanend, altijd bang dat mensen achter hun rug om konkelen om betekenissen te veranderen. Voor mijn ouders geldt: is een roos echt een roos is een roos, echt?

Als schrijfster draait mijn hele leven om de ironie en de metafoor, maar voor mijn ouders zijn die alle twee even afschuwwekkend en bevreemdend. Als we bij elkaar zijn komen we in een onbekende zone, een zwarte markt van de taal: ik dring hen allegorieën op, zij weren me af met het eenduidige van woorden, het onmogelijke van alomtegenwoordigheid.

Mijn vader had na de scheiding heel nare dromen, dus gaf ik hem een keer met Kerstmis een kleine witte gum. Ik had erop geschreven: ‘Om je nare herinneringen uit te wissen’, maar dat vond hij niet leuk. Ik probeerde alleen maar zijn dochter te zijn, me te verhouden met de helende eigenschappen van materialen en de letterlijkheid van voorwerpen, maar het was niet mijn strijd om uit te vechten, het was de zijne.

Ik heb altijd gedacht dat hun doofheid hen verhinderde om de figuurlijke taal volledig naar waarde te kunnen schatten. Als kind geloofde ik zelfs rustig dat er een cognitieve lacune was bij mijn ouders, en ik zou mijn uiterste best doen om die op te vullen door de woorden voor hen om te ruilen en te interpreteren. Maar enkele onderzoeken hebben uitgewezen dat er geen verschil in begripsvermogen bestaat tussen dove en horende tieners wanneer ze op een metafoor stuiten in een roman. Met ironie ligt het ietsje anders: het schijnt dat dove tieners steeds beter leren die te begrijpen wanneer ze ouder worden, wanneer ze zich bewust worden van een toon die de mensen om hen heen verbuigt (verwringt). Maar ironie is een stijlfiguur die voor iedereen met een verlies van onschuld komt, of je nu kunt horen of niet. (De eerste keer dat mijn moeder een ironisch grapje begreep was ze vijfenvijftig, en mijn broer en ik zaten haar een hele tijd verbluft aan te kijken. Het was een nieuwe emotie, vervuld van dankbaarheid.)

De weg door een metafoor kan trager, kronkeliger of onvoorspelbaarder zijn voor een dove lezer, maar dat geldt voor zoveel mensen: ook als we bij het lezen van een kunstwerk kunnen putten uit een gedeeld archief van symbolen, zijn onze innerlijke vertalingen van die symbolen heel verschillend. Wat betreft de testen die worden gedaan om iemands leesvaardigheid te bepalen, denk ook ik dat ze een fout bevatten als een doof kind alle symboliek in De tovenaar van Oz mist, maar die fout bevat ik niet. Als een metafoor een ongeluk is, een openbaring, een verkeersongeluk, dan ben ik steeds weer bezig dezelfde glasscherven op te rapen. Ik verover of verwerf nooit een nieuwe scherf, maar neem enkel deel aan het constante recyclen van schoonheid.

Ik weet niet of mijn ouders er trots op waren dat ze zich niet aan de grammaticaregels hielden, of dat ze alleen maar te lui waren om een fatsoenlijke mate van alfabetisering te ontwikkelen, of juist alleen maar te veel vertrouwden op hun zintuigen en maar liever zo min mogelijk belang hechtten aan een code waarvan ze sowieso geen deel uitmaakten, maar ik moet vaak aan hen denken wanneer ik bezig ben met de vertaling van een roman: ik ben niet meer zo ontzettend bang voor mijn neiging of verleiding om fouten te maken.

Een tijdje geleden zat ik wat te mijmeren over het Neverland van James M. Barrie in Peter Pan. In het Italiaans is Neverland vertaald als ‘Het eiland dat er niet is’, maar eigenlijk zou een letterlijke vertaling van het Engels beter zijn geweest. Terwijl ‘Het eiland dat er niet is’ verwijst naar een gebied dat niet te vinden is en misschien niet bestaat, bevat het letterlijke ‘Nooitland’ een afwijzing, een verlangen om alle banden met de traditionele wereld te verbreken, en dat is meer het idee van de verloren jongens van Peter Pan. Sterker nog, om het te laten weerklinken als de strijdkreet van een kind zou ‘Landnooit!’ nog beter werken.

‘Landnooit’ zou de letterlijke vertaling van Landnever zijn; iets wat James M. Barrie nooit heeft gebruikt en wat slecht Engels lijkt, iets wat er überhaupt nooit geweest is, maar mijn ouders hadden het vast mooi gevonden. Ik denk dat zo’n fout dichter in de buurt komt van wat een kind zou zeggen, dat het een vreugdevol idee van ontsnapping weet uit te drukken, en wanneer ik het verhaal in mijn hoofd herschrijf met een nieuw woord, imiteer ik hun dagelijkse worstelingen met de taal. Vertalen is ook het verhaal van een poëtische onnauwkeurigheid. In dat spelletje weten mijn ouders me altijd weer te verslaan.

Published October 13, 2019
Excerpted from Claudia Durastanti, De vreemdelinge, to be published by De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam in Spring 202o
© De Bezige Bij


Other
Languages
Italian
English
Dutch

Your
Tools
Close Language
Close Language
Add Bookmark