Translating surrealist imagery

Hi everyone, 

I just finished reading Ian Johnston’s translation of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, and was impressed at how the translator had dealt with some of its more surreal imagery. I found an Italian translation online, and was wondering how you would approach this text: how much liberty would you take, for example, to express some of the stranger ideas? If you would prefer to try a translation in the opposite direction, the English text is underneath the Italian. It may also be interesting to compare the two translations once you have suggested your own solutions to see how they were tackled by a professional translator. I look forward to reading your solutions.

La Metamorfosi 

Solo all’imbrunire Gregorio si svegliò dal suo sonno pesante, simile a uno svenimento. Si sarebbe svegliato di lì a poco anche senza rumori, si sentiva abbastanza riposato e in forze; ebbe l’impressione di essere stato svegliato da un passo furtivo e da un cauto richiudersi della porta dell’anticamera. La luce delle lampade elettriche della strada rischiarava qualche punto del soffitto e le parti superiori dei mobili, ma il pavimento restava al buio. Agitando goffamente le antenne, che a questo punto cominciò ad apprezzare, si trascinò fino alla porta, per rendersi conto di quanto era successo dall’altra parte. Il fianco sinistro gli dava l’impressione di essere un’unica, dolorosa cicatrice, e una fila di zampine non lo reggeva. Un arto era rimasto gravemente ferito negli incidenti della mattinata – era già un miracolo che fosse solo uno – e si trascinava inerte.

Solo quando fu arrivato davanti alla porta, capì che cosa lo aveva attirato fin là: un odore di cibi. C’era una ciotola piena di latte zuccherato, su cui galleggiavano fettine di pane bianco. Avrebbe quasi riso di gioia, tanto la sua fame era aumentata dal mattino. Immerse avido la testa nel latte, ma subito la ritrasse deluso: non solo provava difficoltà a mangiare per la ferita al fianco – per mangiare doveva comprimere e dilatare tutto il corpo – ma il latte, che la sorella sapeva essere la sua bevanda preferita e per questo glielo aveva portato, ora non gli piaceva più. Quasi con disgusto, girò la schiena alla ciotola e, strisciando, tornò in mezzo alla camera.

The Metamorphosis 

Gregor first woke up from his heavy swoon-like sleep in the evening twilight. He would certainly have woken up soon afterwards without any disturbance, for he felt himself sufficiently rested and wide awake, although it appeared to him as if a hurried step and a cautious closing of the door to the hall had aroused him. The shine of the electric streetlights lay pale here and there on the ceiling and on the higher parts of the furniture, but underneath around Gregor it was dark. He pushed himself slowly toward the door, still groping awkwardly with his feelers, which he now learned to value for the first time, to check what was happening there. His left side seemed one single long unpleasantly stretched scar, and he really had to hobble on his two rows of legs. In addition, one small leg had been seriously wounded in the course of the morning incident (it was almost a miracle that only one had been hurt) and dragged lifelessly behind.

By the door he first noticed what had really lured him there: it was the smell of something to eat. For there stood a bowl filled with sweetened milk, in which swam tiny pieces of white bread. He almost laughed with joy, for he now had a much greater hunger than in the morning, and he immediately dipped his head almost up to and over his eyes down into the milk. But he soon drew it back again in disappointment, not just because it was difficult for him to eat on account of his delicate left side (he could eat only if his entire panting body worked in a coordinated way), but also because the milk, which otherwise was his favorite drink and which his sister had certainly placed there for that reason, did not appeal to him at all. He turned away from the bowl almost with aversion and crept back into the middle of the room.

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