Friday, October 29, 2010

Inferno: Does not computer

I'm going to keep pushing my zine because at the moment it seems it's just my literary peeps who have checked it out, and partly because they had to.

Anyway, I recently finished reading Inferno. Dante's Inferno. Part one of the divine comedy, which I'm sure you've heard of at some point in your life. Not bad for something written around 700 years ago. Something like that. Now, I think it'd be cool to write reviews for books, music, movies, that sort of thing because I think people don't really know how to do it well.

I felt kind of hypocritical reading Inferno because for a book so well known as a 'classic', I really hated it so, and I couldn't exactly figure out how it sustained its status for so long. However, I feel compelled to define 'why' I hate this book so, and I think I've got it all figured out.

For starters, it is translated from Italian. I recently read 'If On a Winter's Night a Traveller' by Italo Calvino, which is also an Italian translation, but that book, on the other hand, was brilliant. The translation is a problem because Inferno is an epic poem written in the 14th century, and not a postmodern novel written in the '80s. In the popular penguine copy I read, the original Italian was written on the left pages and the translations on the right. I could see skimming down that the Italian side rhymed, where, understandably, the English side did not. If you can read Italian, by all means, give the book a chance, I don't know, it may be infinitely better in its original language.

Now, I don't know whether this is limited to the popular penguin edition, or whether all translations into English bare this fault, but the wording is painful to get through. No one speaks like that, no one writes like that, it just doesn't follow any logical grammatical progression (which I should point out, is pretty basic stuff for a classic). So it could well be that the person that translated the text was some form of poetic babboon, but if there's large chunks of dialogue where you don't know who is saying what, then you have a bit of a problem.

My copy of the book also comes with an extensive introduction and an extensive chunk of notes at the end. I don't really fancy going through all of that to make sense of the jumbled catastrophe that is Dante's descent into Hell. Really, if you take away the introduction, the Italian version of the poem and the notes, you have a 150 page book padded out to over 500 pages. Fuck that.

And while I must admit, there were a few short bursts of decent imagery, it just wasn't enough to maintain the interest of my 21st century brain. Which brings me to my final point. I think the book is terrible (note: "I think") because I'm reading it in the wrong century. I am most certain that the book gained popularity in the 14th century was because it was the sort of thing people enjoyed reading back then. But not now. It's a classic because it was a defining and cutting edge piece of literature for its time, as is pretty much most classics. Which is why I think that people may often be disappointed by the classics. Yeah, they were brilliant for their time, and some may still be brilliant today, but some just can't keep up with our radically changing tastes and fall limp. Still remembered, but not enjoyed as they once were. Sorry Dante, I was born 700 years too late to enjoy your divine comedy.

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