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A Classic Intervention in the Underbelly

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Translators are often ignored or overlooked, and that is an injustice. Therefore I call your attention to the work that has gone into this passage, from Antonio Negri and Raf Valvola Scelsi’s Goodbye Mr Socialism: Radical Politics in the 21st Century (Serpent’s Tail, £8.99):

Iraq was the American attempt to get its hands on Empire, an attempt at a coup d’etat by means of permanent war, now a constitutive element of imperial development. It is clear that the problem of who commands the global market was tabled and progressively developed from the end of the Soviet system. Bit by bit, the Americans have elaborated a unilateral and exclusive vision of their command of globalisation. The decision of the war in Iraq therefore constituted the definitive point of a project of monarchical approach to global order. The conjugation of preventative, permanent war and unilateral hegemony has led the American presidency to nominate rogue states and to articulate a strategic politics in the globalised world in three points: a) the attack on Iraq and a reordering of all the states of play in the Middle East, that is, the attack and domination of all the primary energy supplies of Europe; b) the attack on Iran, the second rogue state, a classic intervention in the underbelly of the ex-Soviet Union and Russia; c) the third pressure point is North Korea, a platform for going into the great Chinese space.

Comments on “A Classic Intervention in the Underbelly”

  1. Phil says:

    According to De Mauro, the figurative use of ‘underbelly’ doesn’t have a direct Italian equivalent – they suggest ventre molle, “soft belly”. So that’s “un intervento classico nel ventre molle”, I suspect. It’s not a bad translation – if I were editing it I could find almost nothing to change – but it does suggest an unusually high degree of fidelity to the original. Which is perhaps the best way to translate Negri, I don’t know. (The translator, incidentally, clearly knows his stuff.)

  2. Daniel Soar says:

    Maybe you’re right. There’s something unusual about his untranslated English too: “The gambit of the debate on the ‘autonomy of the political’ consisted in the attempt to valorise the political as a terrain of struggle, forging its absolute antagonism into an instrument . . .”

  3. Phil says:

    I think he’s thinking in Italian. Valorizzare il politico come terreno di scontro – it rolls off the tongue, in its way.

  4. Lola says:

    Nothing to change? I don’t know about the Italian, but the English is not good. One could, for example, clarify the second sentence by correcting the tense and avoiding the implication of a causal connection, which can’t be meant here at least, so perhaps: ‘the problem of who has control of the global market has been laid out and progressively worked on since the end of the Soviet system’. A bit further down: using a word like ‘conjugation’ here is not just faithful, it must be literal, which is not such a desirable thing in a translation. As for that ‘intervento’ – why not use the medical meaning, and have an ‘operation on the soft underbelly of the ex-Soviet Union’? Perhaps the translator knows the politics better than the language, but he does Negri no favours here.

  5. Lola says:

    An afterthought, sorry: I don’t think you can defend a translation by guessing what you think the original might have been. The question isn’t what would work in Italian, it’s what works in English, and a quick google shows that ‘ventre molle’ seems to be quite widely used as a political/ geographical metaphor, as ‘underbelly’ is not. In fact, the first example of it in English I find after a quick internet search is an FT editorial – about Italy.

    Negri’s original phrase is actually ‘un intervento classico sul ventre molle': raising, on top of all that, the thorny question of which pronoun to choose.

  6. Lola says:

    Oh, preposition, preposition, not pronoun, sorry. Difficult to find the right word, eh! I’ll be calling the subjunctive a tense next.

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