6. Can FW be translatable?

John Paul Riquelme wrote ([The Use of Translation and the Use of Criticism; pp. xv-xxvii] in Fritz Senn. Joyce’s Dislocutions edited by John Paul Riquelme in 1984; The Johns Hopkins University Press) ---- (Page xxiv) We discover that new possibility by coming to see Joyce's late texts as if they were written in a foreign language, even though we may be native speakers of English. This new relationship to the mother tongue is one important effect of Joyce's styles that few readers besides Senn have as yet fully recognized. It is arguably a central part of the legacy Joyce leaves to his most creative younger contemporary, Beckett, who writes English through the transforming process of composing in another language. By writing French and translating into English, Beckett achieves a distance from his native language that allows him to use it in startling, foreign ways. Such distance may be especially important for American readers, who often tend to assume erroneously a familiarity with Joyce's use of English by identifying contemporary American usages with the language Joyce learned in Ireland nearly a century ago. In this circumstance, the foreigner's would-be handicap of unfamiliarity turns out to be an advantage. As Senn explains in some detail, particularly in the essay "Foreign Readings": along with the disadvantage of being uncomfortable, the foreign reader has the advantage, because the language is not familiar, of being forced to look at it very closely. The foreigner brings a different set of presuppositions to the encounter with the language, which may produce a different kind of understanding than is normally available to the native speaker. The special sort of attention and concentration that develops may create a sensitivity to the language's texture that native speakers do not have. This insight, persuasively reinforced by the examples of both Joyce and Senn, is itself foreign, for it runs counter to our usual assumption that a native speaker can deal most sensitively with the nuances of literary language. In fact, our responses to literature, and to all forms of language within our own culture, are often so habitual and conventional that it is only through some tremendous effort of the imagination in answer to an equally large challenge that we can achieve an outsider's perspective. Both Joyce and his favorite hero, Odysseus, were foreigners who learned to operate by their wits, as must the reader of Joyce's works. As Senn points out, Joyce regularly evokes the situation of the foreign observer by representing it within his narratives, frequently through the use of foreign words or within the narration, often through startling combinations of words. With Ulysses the unfamiliar aspects of the style become so pronounced that they are difficult for us to overlook, though we may succeed sometimes in doing just that. The translator cannot ignore them. To the extent that we, too, learn not to, we have become foreign readers. But this is a skill we have to work to achieve; the non-native speaker can recognize and admit more readily than most readers the difficulties we all face. We gain more in this process than just a highly sophisticated sense of the style's vivid texture and its disruptive cross-currents, for we come to recognize ourselves, as well as the style, as foreign. We discover as did Joyce and, to a lesser degree, the young Irishman Stephen Dedalus, that all the languages we speak are "acquired." One implication of Senn's commentaries, though he does not formulate it in this way, is that we come to know language per se as foreign, as different from the processes of mind with which it is sometimes naively identified. Sensitized by Joyce's disruptive language, we glimpse a horizon that is beyond language but also within us. We become foreign readers of the text of ourselves as language users through finding a new orientation toward language, one that may include a sense of ourselves as not just textual. We can understand this position, to which we are translated by Joyce's writings, in one way to be translating itself as the activity Senn calls righting. Righting is, of course, also writing. It is, on the one hand, the act of producing something new. And, on the other, it is simultaneously the attempt to rectify disruptions, to put things right. Reading as translating is always the process of crossing the shifting border between restitution and invention. The dynamism that is the constant overstepping of borders, within a language, between languages, and between language and mind, is at its most obvious because most hyperbolic in Finnegans Wake. Although Senn mentions this dynamism prominently in his essays, for the most part he no longer writes directly about the details of the Wake. When he does, as in "Dogmad or dubliboused?", he describes what amounts to a double helix in the Wake's language, whose interlocking but antithetical implications give us the opportunity to stay in motion. The long essay on Nausicaa presents a similar interpretive attitude by treating that chapter as an apparently bipartite structure in which the two halves are not wholly separate. Senn derives this attitude toward the structure of metaphor as a process of interaction from his experience with Finnegans Wake. The Wake is both the inseminating beginning and the end as conclusion and as methodological basis for Senn's work on Joyce. He began as a critic by producing numerous commentaries on details of the Wake. But through the process of writing about it, he explored both its untranslatability and some of the grounds for that untranslatability. Finnegans Wake is an internally transformative text, one that is dislocutory in the highest degree, for its language is relentlessly involved in various overlapping, interlocking processes of transformation and mutual implication. A variety of borders are continually being simultaneously transgressed within its covers. To say that Finnegans Wake is the ultimate dislocutory text and that it is untranslatable is by no means to suggest that it is nonsense. It makes sense instead in special ways to be understood in relation to cognitive processes and not only in relation to semantics. The conclusion that Senn draws from the Wake is that the critic can learn a new procedure, not to write about it, but to write through it, to write in its mode, which is transformational and self-correcting. We may learn righting through reading the Wake and thereby learn to write, and not just read, through it. Righting-as-also-writing through the Wake is translating the Wake not in the conventional sense but in an experiential one. In this way; all of Senn’s commentaries, because they are written through the enabling perspective of Finnegans Wake, are themselves translations of the untranslatable text. Through the hindsight provided by the Wake, the pervasive cognitive dynamism that Joyce was in the process of discovering and representing as styles of language throughout his career becomes visible to us even in the early stones. The appearance of that dynamism even there requires the critic to rethink conventional readings of Joyce's texts from the ground up, and this is the project that Fritz Senn pursues in his essays. This project frees us from the pretenses of objectivity, of the natural perspective, and of the hegemony of any one language. It frees us for the extending of our language by realizing that new choices are now available.
---- (Page xvii) The biographical facts are clear enough, and widely known, but the implications have not been widely developed. Having studied while in Ireland Latin and several modern languages (French, Italian, Dano-Norwegian, and German) at school, at the university, and independently, Joyce moved to the Continent in 1904 at the age of twenty-two with the intention of teaching for Berlitz in Zurich. His wanderings from city to city in Italy, Switzerland, and France have become nearly legendary for students of modern literature. Our concern here is not so much the legend as the linguistic and cultural realities of this most unusual exile. Ordinarily, when we think of expatriation, we may well imagine someone settling in a foreign culture and mastering a new language sufficiently to be considered bilingual. Joyce's expatriation, however, was more complicated. Because of his employment by Berlitz, he was able to exchange language lessons with his colleagues and thereby extend his knowledge not just of one language but of several, either simultaneously or in overlapping succession. Additionally, largely by chance, he found himself from the start in a polyglot situation that did not diminish in its linguistic diversity, despite the moves from Pola to Trieste, then to Zurich, and finally to Paris, which took place over a period of fifteen years. Even before the move in 1915 to Zurich, out of exigency after the outbreak of World War I, Joyce's life in Europe was polyglot in the extreme. In Pola (now the city of Pulj in Yugoslavia), where Joyce first taught for Berlitz, he would have heard Italian, German, and Serbian spoken on the streets. And in Trieste, where he lived for the most part during the decade before the Zurich years, besides hearing the special Triestine dialect, Joyce could have heard regularly the variety of languages and accents spoken by the Greek, Austrian, Hungarian, and Italian residents of the city. This long period of gestation came to fruition once Joyce reached Zurich, where his transformed sense of language and the freedom to write provided by newfound patronage combined to enable him to undertake the work that led ultimately to Finnegans Wake. Having acquired either proficiency or extensive familiarity with several languages, Joyce found himself in a German-speaking but polyglot culture, in which the interplay of languages would have been a constant factor in his daily life. In normal times, Zurich is a city in which several languages are either in use (primarily German, both High- and Swiss-German) or near at hand (primarily French). Today we see the evidence of this circulation of languages in the many public signs around the city and even in the labels on products in grocery stores printed in three and occasionally four languages (German, French, Italian, and sometimes English). But during World War I, the influx of foreigners seeking a haven from the hostilities would have created an even more intensely diverse linguistic atmosphere for a polyglot artist whose reputation and energy meant involvement with many groups and projects. In this unusual, and transient, atmosphere, Joyce's transformations of English prose style became possible. The experience of Switzerland was for Joyce not the beginning but rather an advanced stage of a process that began in Ireland and continued in Italy: the process of recognizing English as foreign and of using it in ways that would make that recognition available to others. His route starts in Ireland, because he encountered there the difference between the King's English and English as the Irish speak it. Later, in Pola and Trieste, he experienced the difference between Dante's Italian, which he had studied, and modern Italian, and he heard not just Italian, but Italian as the Triestines speak it and the Triestine dialect as foreigners spoke it. Given the linguistic circumstances of Joyce's life in Europe, it should be no surprise that a writer with his cultural and educational background could develop a sense of language usage and a practice of style that are comparable to those of the translator, even when he is writing in what is ostensibly his native language. And yet the results Joyce produced are perennially surprising. His mature style always poses problems for readers, who are asked to share in the polyglot translator's experience of language, though usually without having undergone the writer's linguistic experiences that made the style possible. The difficult, but potentially successful, communication between the artist and the ordinary citizen, which Joyce's narratives often probe, is made available to us through our performance as readers. Though we need not be polyglot to read Joyce, it is also not surprising that a polyglot reader might develop a particularly sharp sensitivity to the dynamics of Joyce's language. That sensitivity channels the reading process back toward the translating process as the style's origin and goal. In this regard, a German-speaking Swiss reader could well develop a particularly acute receptivity to Joyce's writings, for such a reader's sense of language would have been moulded by an experience with German like Joyce's with English and with Italian. Not literally, but structurally, reader and writer in this case come from the same linguistic country, where the spoken vernacular and the official, written language differ starkly. By realizing within a polyglot context the difference between writing and speaking as a determining factor in the linguistic world all of us share, the Irish writer and his Swiss reader can invent strategies for revealing the dynamic, and disruptive, qualities of literary language. Once they have made these qualities available to us, we can discover the energizing connections and differences between language and cognitive processes. The difference that is the explicit focus of many of Senn's essays is not between speaking and writing or between consciousness and language, but between languages. And in that difference lies one version of the problem of translatability. Although translation has a wide range of meanings in his essays, Senn returns regularly to translations in the narrow sense, that is, to specific attempts to find equivalents for Joyce's works in languages other than English. Senn also frequently uses the word "translation" in one of its widest contexts of meaning to name the metaphorical nature of all language usage, but especially within Joyce’s writing themselves. Translation, in this regard, always involves substitution.
Louis O. Mink wrote ([Reading Finnegans Wake; pp. 34-47] in Critical Essays on James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake edited by Patrick A. McCarthy in 1992) ---- (Page 34) Now of course I don't know javanese either, and there is no easyfree translation of Finnegans Wake -- although it is no joke that it is being translated into Polish (by Maciej Slomczynski), the only translation of the whole book ever attempted. The untranslatability of Finnegans Wake into any language but Polish is a fact about it known even to many people who have never tried to read a page of the book on which Joyce spent almost the last two decades of his life. Finnegans Wake is extraordinary in every way. It is certainly the only literary classic which professors of English and of comparative literature freely admit that they haven’t read and don't even intend to read. Unlike the Divine Comedy, the Canterbury Tales, Don Quixote, Faust, War and Peace, and other blockbusters of Western literature, it has never been included humanities courses or educational curricula and almost certainly never will be. No theory of literary criticism dares to test itself against Finnegans Wake, and no College Outline Series summarizes it for students needing a quick term paper. The reason, of course, is that reading Finnegans Wake is a lifetime enterprise -- a vocation for a handful of professional scholars and an obsessive avocation for a larger number of amateurs like myself. Thornton Wilder said many years ago that no one is qualified to say anything about Finnegans Wake who has not spent at least a thousand hours reading it. Professors of English don't have that kind of time. So the Wake is the only undoubted classic which belongs to a literary underworld, inside and outside the academy. It is to literature as cockfighting is to sport. Neither will appear on NBC-TV and be interrupted by commercials.
Stephen Heath wrote ([Ambiviolences: Notes for reading Joyce, pp. 31-68] in Post-stracturalist Joyce edited by Derek Attridge and Daniel Ferrer in 1984; Cambridge University Press) ---- (Page 60) Like Brisset in the 'Avertissement' to La Science de Dieu, Joyce might have prefaced Finnegans Wake with the remark that 'the present work cannot by entirely translated', suppressing indeed the 'entirely'. The status of non-translatability defines the totality of Joyce's text, which is already itself a multitude of translations. Crossing an immense number of languages (where Brisset worked in French alone) in order to open up the narrative of language, Joyce's writing baffles the establishment of the single equivalences between one language and another operated by translation. To translate is to establish the meaning, to isolate the signified in order to pass it through the alternative signifier of another language. Nothing is more monological than translation in its dependence on the compromise of the sign. The writing of Finnegans Wake is a writing against this logic in its attention to the work of the signifier. In the course of a short article, Jean Paris refers to some twenty-five languages for the reading of the single word 'venissoon' (FW3.10). At what point of such a reading is the operation of translation to be introduced? The only imaginable translation of Finnegans Wake is the development of another writing in progress, extending and disseminating Joyce's writing according to those relations of irony and parody, fragmentation and transformation, described above in connection with the passage from text to text in Joyce's work. Such a 'translation' would constitute in its relation to Joyce's text precisely an ambiviolence.
Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli wrote [Beyond Translation: Italian Re-writings of Finnegans Wake; pp. 142-161] in Joyce Studies Annual 1990 edited by Thomas F. Staley; University of Texas Press) ---- (Page 142) The main assumption behind "translation" is that there must be a source text (the original) and a target text (the outcome of the process of translation). From this viewpoint we perceive the translator as the expert who can transform a message originally structured in a code to which we do not possess the key (but she or he does) into a message that we are able to decipher. Such a reductive approach would undermine any attempt at discussing "translations of Finnegans Wake for at least two reasons: because it is nearly impossible to agree about the language of the "original" text; and because nobody could honestly claim to possess the key to all aspects of that "polyhedron of scripture" (FW107.8). A broader concept of "translation," however, can be assumed in order to discuss the experiments that have attempted to re-write the language of Finnegans Wake into something different from the original, a concept in line with Steiner's assertion that "inside or between languages, human communication equals translation," or, more specifically, in line with Senn's critical assumption that everything Joyce wrote has got something to do with translation.
(Page 146) At this point one major question comes to mind: if Finnegans Wake is already a "translated" text, both from the point of view of writing and of reading, how can it be "re-translated?" In other words, is Finnegaus Wake translatable? It seems clear that a purely semantic translation would be impossible, or pointless, at the most. But if we consider translation as an act of reading that pragmatically involves the translators/readers with their specific cultures and knowledge of the world, then the peculiarity of Finnegans Wake language can no longer be an insurmountable obstacle. Anyway, it is a fact that, despite the difficulty of the task, translations have been attempted in several languages; or I should say that fragments have been re-written with reference to language systems other than English, namely French (the only complete version, as far as I know), Italian, German, Spanish, Catalán, Hungarian, Japanese, Russian, even Basic English, and there may be more in progress.
(Page 160) To conclude, I am convinced that attempts such as most of those discussed above can help to shed some light on the Finnegans Wake experience. One basic question, however, remains to be answered: who is the "translation" for? I do not have a clear-cut answer to this question, but it seems to me that it may address at least two categories of readers: a) The general reader of Joyce, who can use the "translation" merely as a form of gloss, with no independent existence; an addition to the body of critical work, a reading that highlights how people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds may approach the text. From this perspective a publication with the original text on the left-hand page and the "translation" on the right, as in Mondadori's edition of 1982, is a particularly valuable critical contribution. b) The literally "foreign" reader. Even if I argued at the beginning that in more than one way we are all foreign readers, clearly there are readers who are more foreign than others, namely those who have no knowledge whatsoever of English. Through translation, these readers may gain an idea of the Joycean revolution of the word and perhaps share some of the fun at Finigans wake. As with any translation, the transferral of Finneganian into Finnitalian may or not be successful. When it is, it shows the importance of Joyce's lesson about communication and miscommunication, which is the major impact of Joyce's last work: the fact that it makes us aware of how fragile our belief in the integrity of words is. Joyce's novel exposes the ambiguity of everyday expressions by re-using them in an improbable context, and thus challenges the possibility of communicating. At the same time Joyce, by impersonating the role of chief miscommunicator, paradoxically re-affirms the infinite meaning potential not of one specific language but of human language in general, because, despite its babelic confusion Finnegans Wake communicates its lesson, which pertains to the trickery of messages and the immense potentiality of expression in any language system, even in "translation." It is a lesson on doubt rather than on certainty, which is, to my mind, the most precious gift that literature can bestow upon us. So to the question "who is the translation for?," I can offer a tentative answer: it is for the universal reader inscribed in Joyce's text the multi-lingual, flexible, patient reader, who is willing to stay on the freeway (if you will allow me to return to my Los Angeles metaphor), the reader who is hooked forever by the fascination of that adventure of thought that Finnegans Wake triggers at every "swerve of shore or bend of bay" in its meandering progress.
Arthur Nestrovski wrote ([Mercious (de seu mesmo): Notes on a Brazilian Translation of Finnegans Wake; pp. 473-477] in James Joyce Quarterly, Volume 27, Number 3 in 1990) ---- (Page 473) To speak of Finnegans Wake is to speak of translation already. To speak of translating Finnegans Wake is to speak of translating a translation, which Benjamin asserts is an impossibility. Yet Finnegans Wake remains eminently translatable, irrespective of whether anyone may ever prove able to translate it. Translation for Joyce is indeed the privileged model of writing, since to write for him, means always to write in relation to already existing texts. Reading and writing become synonymous before the resistance of the symbol, and translation may then be characterized, as Benjamin says, by the turning of the symbolizing into the symbolized. To translate Finnegans Wake is a difficult task in a sheer technical level; it seems harder still when one considers the odds against what could conceivably be a significant intervention in this already charged terrain. What is usually regarded as the greatest impediment to its translation, namely the extensive use of puns and portmanteaus, is not in practice a great source of anxiety after all. It is not difficult to overload a tongue with other tongues; what is difficult is to transform the movement of this tongue toward itself.
(Page 475) Paraphrase is the death of translation no less than of critical reading. Paraphrase is the death of translation, and in translating Finnegans Wake one must avoid paraphrase at all costs, even, and perhaps especially, when confronted by incomprehensible passages. And yet it is a trivially ironic facet of a translator’s life that one will be asked, time and again, to paraphrase one's own translation for the benefit of those who cannot read his language. But nothing could be less illuminating than to list examples and run a summary explication de texte. Just as a translation is not for those who cannot read the work in the original, it is obviously not for those who cannot read the other language. If the translation is to some degree successful, it will have displaced the text into a state of suspension between the two languages; in the case of Finnegans Wake, this becomes a linguistic allegory of dialectical themes dramatized in the text. Translation cannot be read except as a dialogical manifestation that is both external to, and conditioned by, the original text. The translator’s writing is an original response to what can be read unoriginally, between the lines of the text; something that is both defensive and destructive, both native and foreign, and which Joyce has captured, with irony in a dialogue, in Mercius' words (FW 193.31-195.06), which I now offer to you in my own words: . . .
Philippe Soupault (in 1930) wrote ([on Joyce; pp. 523-526] in James Joyce, the Critical Heritage, Volume 2 edited by Robert H. Deming in 1970; Routledge & Kegan Paul, London) ---- (Page 524) I had the occasion, at the time when I was translating [a French translation of Anna Livia Plurabelle] with him [James Joyce], or rather when he was translating with my help, to see and to hear worked out a fragment of Finnegans Wake, the episode of 'Anna Livia Plurabelle.' These translating gatherings [Samuel Beckett, A, Peron, I. Goll, Eugéne Jolas, Paul Léon, Adrienne Monnier, Philippe Soupault and James Joyce] lasted three hours. They were exhausting. Joyce was never satisfied with the results. I have never, however, met a man who was such a sure, faithful translator. It was necessary for him to consider words as objects, to draw them out, to cut them, to examine them under a microscope. He persisted and never surrendered. This was not out of 'conscience' nor of mania; it was the application of a pitiless method. It was a question of a 'matter' so moving, so rich, so new, so evasive also that it was necessary never to let go, not even for a second. And I remain persuaded that to the cause of his fellow-translators Joyce restrained himself, that he pitied them. When he worked alone, he was even more uncompromising. He would let himself be submerged in the tide of ideas, projects, remembrances, comparisons, imaginations, sounds, descriptions, odors . . . In the midst of this whirlwind, he maintained a sang-froid, and his critical sense, fearing the laxness which would cause him to accept the almost, the nearly so, never relaxed. When I wish to describe his state while he was working, I can not escape from this cliché: body and soul. Before my eyes Joyce, his index finger raised, saying nothing, repeating a word, a phrase, criticizing, rejecting, taking back an entire fragment, destroying pages already on the point of being printed. . . Paris helped him to end Ulysses, to write Finnegans Wake. Never, to my knowledge, had any work of this type been attempted and achieved.