Transmutation in Digress


This essay inspects some almost inevitable actions of translators in dealing with intricate, multiply refracted works of literature. On the one hand, they tend to rectify minor oddities, possibly to facilitate understanding, but they may not notice ambiguities because the target languages do not allow for analogous departures from apparent norms. Translations of Joyce’s works in general are more syntactically correct and slur over his textual ruptures. On the other hand, the numerous links that hold the sprawling and dispersive Ulysses together are almost impossible to preserve. The second French translation, entitled Ulysse and published in 2004, was undertaken by eight different translators, and it highlights these issues particularly well. It makes sense to divide Joyce’s idiosyncratic episodes for a parallactic approach, but, conversely, the problems of coordination become overwhelming. Moreover, almost automatically, interpretation comes into play, and translators frequently have to make decisions that are left to readers in the original.