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I have about four A4 pages of email correspondence to convert into Italian, but there are parts which I am struggling with. The author of the emails is Polish but has lived many years in the UK. The person for whom I have to translate this is a young journalist and would-be-apologist, who is experiencing difficulty in understanding most of it. I am translating it into spoken Italian and the young journalist records me.

The following excerpt that I am having trouble translating is written as a single sentence. The only corrections I made were the removal of a second colon (::), and the spelling of Goffman which were obvious errors in typography. Otherwise what you see is exactly what I have.

All the new and striking, and all of them short-lived (though all of them, as Charles Baudelaire observed already more than century and a half ago, aiming at capturing eternity in a fleeting moment) copy-cat modes of manipulating the public appearances of one’s body - or imprinted on the body part of the “presentation of self in everyday life”, as Erving Goffman preferred to brand them), which you [the Italian journalist] noted and listed above so perceptively, have their roots in the modern, all too human recasting social identity from a given into a task: one expected now, needed and bound to be performed by its individual bearer, while deploying socially supplied patterns and raw materials in a complex operation of “creative reproduction”, known under the name of “fashion”.

Imprinted is the author's way of referring to tattoos.

  • How would you describe this type of writing? It's not written in jargon, but the entire text ambles (not rambles) and often I have to reach the end of a sentence before I can fully grasp its meaning.

  • What are socially supplied patterns? Is "patterns" the social framework or diagram which society chooses to follow or not?

  • What does raw materials refer to? Although translating it into Italian is easy enough (materia prima), is the author referring to the human body, our physicality, as if it were a crude or rudimentary resource? Or does it simply stand for clothes?

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    The closing parenthesis/round bracket after "brand them)" doesn't seem to have a corresponding opening "(". That's another thing that confuses me
    – herisson
    Dec 10, 2016 at 7:57
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    @sumelic oh, yes, I forgot to mention that bit. I imagine the parenthesis is (as Erving Goffman .... brand them),
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 10, 2016 at 8:00
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    The very beginning of the sentence is not only run-on, but completely ungrammatical. You cannot have “all of them” in a parenthetical statement between the determiner and the noun that them refers to like that. “Imprinted on the body part of the ‘presentation of self in everyday life’” is also garden-pathy to the point of gibberish to me (changing on to in would help). And the “all too human recasting social identity” needs an of to be grammatical too, though at least that one is still fully understandable, just jarring. It’s pseudo-academic, high-falutin’ rubbish writing. Dec 10, 2016 at 9:41
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    @JanusBahsJacquet It’s pseudo-academic, high-falutin’ rubbish writing. Sure, but aside from that what do you think?
    – deadrat
    Dec 10, 2016 at 10:13
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    @deadrat I was being vague and couching my words again, wasn’t I? Dec 10, 2016 at 10:14

2 Answers 2

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  • How would you describe this type of writing? Discursive almost stream of consciousness (perilously close to word salad), pseudo-intellectual, and contradictory. For instance, creative reproduction is in scare quotes to indicate that it is a renaming of fashion. But this is a private label (if you will) and bears no relationship to the meaning of the words. Fashion may be creative or it may be derivative. Note that new and striking things cannot be by definition "copy-cat", and truly "creative" things aren't "expected".

If you strip out the ambling (indicated by ellipses) and supply some necessary connectives (indicated in brackets) you get the following statement:

All the new and striking ... copy-cat modes of manipulating the public appearances of one’s body ... have their roots in the modern ... recasting [of?] social identity from a given into a task ... expected to be performed by its ... bearer while deploying socially[-]supplied patterns and raw materials in a complex operation of “creative reproduction” known ... [as] “fashion”.

  • What are socially supplied patterns ? Generally, these are the expected roles that society imposes (or attempts to impose) on people (called here "social identity", I'd guess) and the appearance of individuals performing those roles. Society may deploy these roles and appearances to create social norms (in some very abstract metaphorical sense), but this is an inapt verb for individuals altering the appearance of their bodies in forming ("recasting") a new identity. Perhaps an error for employ.

  • What does raw materials refer to? The language gives you no clue. (Does socially supplied apply to both patterns and materials, or only to patterns? If the former, then it must an additional abstraction; if the latter, then it must be the inputs to fashion.

It is worth noting that the mention of Erving Goffman seems particularly jarring. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life was Goffman's award-winning (1956) book, which analyzed social interaction not in terms of presenting "new", "striking", and "short-lived" fashion statements as identities but in terms of theatricality intended to make social interaction as smooth as possible.

The problem for readers (and a particular problem for a translator) is that these are private thoughts rendered in a private language. It doesn't have any meaning in the sense we're used to -- that is, the sense of people who order their thoughts in language pitched to a particular audience for the purpose of entertaining, convincing, or otherwise communicating with that audience.

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  • I thought that "All the new and striking" refers to trends which young people interpret to be innovative and bold, which in turn ignites in others the need to imitate, (copy-cat modes of manipulating). That the "expected" is what society tells us to be, and the “creative reproduction” (fashion) refers to individuals who seek their identities by recreating themselves.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 10, 2016 at 12:43
  • @Mari-LouA I interpreted copy-cat to mean imitated, but perhaps you're right and it means imitable. Although how that happens in either case for something so "short-lived" it may be compared to a "fleeting moment". I think you're right about the "expected", but the words don't actually talk about individuals recreating themselves but their "social identities", which I take from the Goffman reference to mean their personae only.
    – deadrat
    Dec 10, 2016 at 19:29
  • @Mari-LouA Perhaps you have more context, but is this (whatever it is) restricted to the young? The words say "individual bearer" (of the task of whatever is being undertaken to effect the changes). Might that not include say, closeted homosexuals who are middle-aged?
    – deadrat
    Dec 10, 2016 at 19:31
  • About "creative reproduction", my thought is: suppose we are in the era of bell bottoms. A particular designer might make his or her own version of the bell bottom. It could be creative, but it would be in some sense a reproduction. Dec 11, 2016 at 0:17
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An proximate interpretation of the Journalist's question (by the OP):
Tattoos are becoming increasingly popular, especially among Millennials in the US. In Italy, regardless of gender, social status or level of education, the young are just as eager to get their skins tattooed. Why is this? Why do they feel compelled to conform to a modern "fluid" society?

Original answer: All the new and striking, and all of them short-lived (though all of them, as Charles Baudelaire observed already more than century and a half ago, aiming at capturing eternity in a fleeting moment) imitate modes of manipulating the public appearances of one’s body - or imprinted on the body part of the “presentation of self in everyday life”, as Erving Goffman preferred to brand them), which you [the Italian journalist] noted and listed above so perceptively, have their roots in the modern, all too human recasting social identity from a given into a task: one expected now, needed and bound to be performed by its individual bearer, while deploying socially supplied patterns and raw materials in a complex operation of “creative reproduction”, known under the name of “fashion”.

Note about my approach: I have decided to treat the written dialogue as a written interview, and the Polish-British interviewee as a social critic. (If I got that wrong, please advise.) I have decided to treat the beginning of the excerpt as an actual sentence, with main verb to copy-cat, meaning to imitate. However, I will not actually use "imitate" in my restatement. I have found that when copy-editing problematic social science text, what works best is to use guesswork to form a working hypothesis about what the author intended, and then rewrite as needed, until the text effectively conveys the hypothesized idea. (Didn't Engels do that for Marx?) For some of the words and phrases, I will make more changes than I would normally do as an editor, in order to give you more options for the translating you're going to do.

Here is a restatement and simplification of the original answer, converted to a form that will hopefully be easier to translate:

Restated answer: All fads of this type, which are by nature short-lived (but also aimed, as Charles Baudelaire observed more than a century and a half ago, at capturing eternity in a fleeting moment), are ways of manipulating the public projections of one’s body, or, as Erving Goffman would say, ways of imprinting on the body part the “presentation of self in everyday life." As you noted and outlined so perceptively, these fads have their roots in the modern and all-too-human recasting of social identity from a premise into a task, a task which is expected nowadays, and which is required to be performed by the individual, deploying socially supplied patterns and raw materials in a complex operation of “creative reproduction”, known under the name of “fashion”.

You asked about the phrase "while deploying socially supplied patterns and raw materials." I find this part less abstruse than the first part of the paragraph, and I'm afraid of creating too much distortion by restating this part in different words. So, instead, let me talk about a different way one might creatively use externally supplied patterns and raw materials. (If this is not helpful for you, please ignore it!) My next-door neighbor is an artist. She makes series of paintings and 3-D collages; each series is based on a small set of ideas generated from found objects. A series might start with a small set of geometrical shapes, and a small set of specific colors. In each piece in the series, she reworks the small set of ideas in a new and interesting way. Often, at least one piece in the series will play with just the shapes, without any colors, by using just plain brown corrugated cardboard cut-outs, or all white shapes cut out from cardstock, layered on the canvas so as to play with the light and shadow that appear when lighted from the side. For example, when someone in the neighborhood replaced some major appliances, she adopted the styrofoam shapes the appliances came packed in. The packing pieces themselves appeared in some of her pieces, with colors applied. Then she used shapes observed in the packing pieces in her layered cardboard or cardstock collages, with or without colors. In this case, the externally supplied patterns and raw materials were the shapes observed in the styrofoam packing materials and a set of specific colors. In the context of the interview you're translating, I suppose that the externally supplied patterns and raw materials might be, for example, certain motifs that one finds reappearing in popular tattoos.

I think the raw materials are the tattoo artist's colors and the natural shapes and topography of the human body. I would guess that a slim wrist would be a different sort of canvas from Tim Howard's thigh.

I think the socially supplied patterns might refer to the memes and motifs that are in vogue in a particular place at a particular time.

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  • I summarised the journalist's question, it is a rough translation, nothing more. If I had any idea you would have quoted me, I would not have mentioned it in the first place. I've realized that "liquid modernity" could be rephrased as being fluid, fashion is fickle and fluid. The journalist used the word "liquida" The first translation that came to mind was the most obvious liquid, but I was wrong, and so was the journalist when he translated his question, it should have been something like "today's fluid society"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 11, 2016 at 19:10
  • But I do appreciate the "restated answer" that is quite good. And the bit about "raw materials" being the tattooist's inks could well be what the author meant. So thank you for that, but please delete the "question" or make it clear that it is my rough and ready, crude translation/interpretation.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 11, 2016 at 19:23
  • @Mari-LouA I said "restated question" because when you gave me the gist of the question in a comment, you explained that you were not quoting it verbatim. I said "original answer" to distinguish it from the restatement I proposed. These little bits in bold were simply intended to give a clear structure to my answer. // Please feel free to ignore my contribution about "liquid modernity," and, for that matter, anything else I wrote. // In this answer, I had fun trying to solve a puzzle. If any of what I wrote is useful, great -- but it is now yours. Please feel free to edit it as you see fit. Dec 11, 2016 at 19:27

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