Tim Parks writes about his experiences translating Leopardi’s crazy-enormous book. Although I’m not sure how to take the article’s lede, “I’m starting a translation, my first for many years . . .” The book is set to publish July 9. It’s almost April now. Surely he started work on the Zibaldone long before now?
I’m translating a selection of entries from Giacomo Leopardi’s Zibaldone. This is a book all Italians know from school and almost nobody has read in its entirety. The word zibaldone comes from the same root as zabaione and originally had the disparaging sense of a hotchpotch of food, or any mixture of heterogeneous elements, then a random collection of notes, a sort of diary, but of disconnected thoughts and reflections rather than accounts of events. Leopardi, born in 1798 and chiefly remembered for his lyric poetry, kept his Zibaldone from 1817 to 1832, putting together a total of 4,526 handwritten pages. Printed editions come in at something over 2000, before the notes, which are usually many. There is general agreement that the Zibaldone is one of the richest mines of reflection on the modern human condition ever written. Schopenhauer in particular referred to Leopardi as “my spiritual brother” and saw much of his own thinking foreshadowed in Leopardi’s writings. The selection I’m translating, put together by an Italian publisher, is made up of all the entries that Leopardi himself had flagged as having to do with emotions.