The last time I interviewed Francesco Pacifico for The Paris Review Daily was back in 2013, when he published The Story of My Purity. That novel, whose slacker narrator was unusually both Catholic and celibate, was an examination of a certain hipster atmosphere—and in his new novel, Class, Pacifico continues his malicious analysis of that global condition. Class tells the story of an Italian couple in New York, Lorenzo and Ludovica, and the fresco they inhabit: filmmakers, literary scouts, total wastrels …
The more I thought about this novel and its dark concerns, I began to realize how Pacifico’s look so beautifully matches his writing’s contradictions. The first time you meet him, with his beard and his smile, you have this sense of a charming bohemian happiness, a man never far from recreational drugs. But as I have come to know him, I’ve learned that his beard is a disguise: it might look like the absolute genial hipster accoutrement, but really it’s the beard of a savage second-century prophet. And in his novels, too, the apparently comical surface will suddenly rupture, revealing its ethical precision, its melancholy soul.
We finished our last conversation talking about translation. You said, “I loved changing things in the translation … I don’t like the unnatural effort of conveying everything in translation. Choices have to be made.” And now here we have you seemingly translating this new novel on your own. How did you go about it?
My editor Mark Krotov and I used the method you and I used when we rewrote an Emilio Gadda story in English for Multiples, the translations issue you guest-edited for McSweeney’s. I would turn up a version where I would convey everything I’d thought of the registers, the way people talked in my novel. It was of course much simpler than Gadda’s. While translating it, I really rewrote it—for two reasons. One is that Class is a book about the way Italian bourgeois are influenced by American culture and language. So I had to turn every conceptual joke on its head. There’s a lot of English in the Italian version, plus an assorted slang of Angloitalian. And there’s a lot of Italian in this English version. The other reason was, I’d gained enough distance from Class to realize the Italian version hadn’t been properly edited—there were a lot of moral asperities that I had to tone down because it was a crazily bleak book. Now my Italian editor and I think we should publish the new version as a paperback. Read More