- Polyglot Joyce: Fictions of Translation
Translation is a matter at the heart of Joyce scholarship. Having spent almost two-thirds of his life in various different European countries and outside of Ireland, polyglossy and internationality have become trademarks in the critical approaches to the logophil Joyce. As Patrick O'Neill points out in his book, Polyglot Joyce: Fictions of Translation, some of Joyce's earliest literary efforts were translations: for example, translations of Gerhard Hauptmann's Vor Sonnenaufgang and Michael Kramer into English in 1901 and Italian translations of Yeats's The Countess Cathleen and Synge's Riders to the Sea during the Triestine years. Likewise, Joyce's books have been translated into at least forty different languages, some as exotic as Korean, Japanese, or Urdu, while Joyce himself took an active interest in having his works published in other European languages. And, of course, his last book, Finnegans Wake, crucially challenges the concept of translation. Although attempts were made to transpose the book into French and Italian during Joyce's lifetime, Finnegans Wake was long regarded as untranslatable.
Under the direction of Fritz Senn, the James Joyce Quarterly published a special translation issue as early as 1967, launching this novel interest in Joyce criticism. Since then a vast number of critical studies has been published on the subject, most of them offering in-depth, comparative analyses of a particular Joycean text and its equivalent in one foreign target language. O'Neill's Polyglot Joyce takes a different approach. Significantly marked by the influence of genetic criticism, this study regards the entire corpus of Joyce translations as an extension of the Joycean oeuvre in English. As O'Neill argues, the foreign language versions form, together with the original English counterparts, a polyglot macrotext. They should therefore be considered as one single object of critical scrutiny. The aim of Polyglot Joyce is to explore this multilingual Joycean macrotext in a critical fashion that incorporates all these supplementary Joyces.
That such a study has its practical limits is obvious. O'Neill understandably focuses his attention on translations of Joyce's major texts into selected western European languages. But this [End Page 582] necessarily limited scope is in no way impairing for the argument of the book. What Polyglot Joyce offers is, above all, a distinctive way of reading Joyce's texts. After a short methodological introduction that situates the study in its critical context and defines its critical vocabulary, the major part of the remaining pages then follows as an illustration of the way Joyce can be read across different languages. And O'Neill's selection proves to be both instructive and interesting, highlighting fascinating and at times curious aspects of the polyglot Joycean macrotext. Everyone familiar with Joyce's "The Boarding House," for instance, will remember the importance of the word "cleaver" in the characterization of the strong-willed Mrs Mooney who deals with challenges and problems "as a cleaver deals with meat." Awaiting his fate to be determined by the hands of this merciless nemesis, Bob Doran anxiously studies the open windows of the boarding house where "the lace curtains ballooned gently towards the street beneath the raised sashes."1 When Yva Fernandez, assuming that her French readers were unfamiliar with the concept of English sash windows, translated the above passage in 1926 as "au-dessous des châssis relevés des fenêtres à guillotine," the French translation ingeniously expands the symbolism of the original English version. This is only one of the many examples of the transtextual details that Polyglot Joyce examines, and the result is a rich and informative read that uncovers many startling aspects in the Joycean oeuvre.
A second focus of Polyglot Joyce is a valuable review of the history of Joyce in translation. The first part of the study, "Macrotextual Joyce," reads like a "who's who" or an "everything you always wanted to know" about Joyce in translation. O'Neill here explores a number of remarkable details: for instance, the fact that Exiles, one of Joyce's...