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“Where’s that bleeding awfur?”: The Oxen Coda in Translation, Authorized (Mis)readers

From: Joyce Studies Annual
pp. 96-130

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It has long been a critical commonplace that certain parts of Ulysses prefigure the linguistic experimentation of the Wake and, in so doing, work as texts that construct their own codes and determine their own reading protocols. They ask the reader for co-creative participation in deciphering their language—a language that spills over the frontiers of English, brimming with foreignized and minorized idiolects. The Coda to the “Oxen of the Sun” episode is one of the most polymorphic parts of Ulysses, a tissue of porous holes that forever frustrates the reader’s attempts at filling them. As such, this closing section constitutes a litmus test for the vagueing and rhizoming capacities of translation, for a translation text’s capacity to allow for multiple lines of flight and lateral, pun ceptual connections along Joyce’s lapsing letters. If reading produces the traces of that which composes it, then translation as the explicitation of reading is literally a reading over, as well as an overriding reading, into another language, an infinite palimpsest of transmissional errors. Given the nature of the source text, its polylogical translations will almost necessarily yield instances of what Derrida called disschemination—a dissemination in, through, and potentially against the foreign language(s) that de-schematizes the language of origin and diverts it from the chemin pre-established in its naming, toward untrodden paths.

Focusing on the “Oxen” Coda—in itself a potentially ironic appendix to the mock-grandiose scheme of the evolution of English prose styles in the episode—this essay addresses fertile misspellings, mislays, and near-portmanteaus that pre-program reading as repair-work that is forever thwarted by the text’s constant rejection of authorized discourse, standards, and reference points, its dissolution of constant form in favor of dynamic differences. The metatextual comment on the absence of any controlling authority is seen as a significant word of passage beneath an order-word: awful beneath author. The gesture that writes the Cartesian author out of the text and literally questions authorship and authority also inscribes the author in a negative metaleptic intrusion. From a Deleuzian perspective, this reading attempts to offer inroads into a selected passage from the Coda and its various text-productions in translation, acknowledging that all translation is doomed to be a more or less provisional way of accommodating the foreignness of languages.

I will discuss a passage that, over more than half a century, has been rendered in several translations, which reflect the widely different ideological and poetic assumptions that were prevalent but which, occasionally, were overtly resisted in the receiving culture and canons. In doing so, I will examine this corpus of texts for fissures and glued edges of the amphora that Walter Benjamin speaks of, exploring the way translations can bring out a profound and capacious kinship of languages. Benjamin writes:

Fragments of a vessel which are to be glued together must match one another in the smallest details, although they need not be like one another. In the same way a translation, instead of resembling the meaning of the original, must lovingly and in detail incorporate the original’s mode of signification, thus making both the original and the translation recognizable as fragments of a greater language, just as fragments are part of a vessel.

Tracing the fissures running through the polylogical amphora of the “Oxen” Coda will, I hope, reintegrate Joyce’s original into what Benjamin calls the “symbolic alliance, or wedding ring” among languages that is greater than both the original and the individual translated texts (Ear of the Other 123). At the same time, one of the objectives of my reading is to apply a criterion proposed by Jolanta Wawrzycka: that when assessing a translation text, one should see how far it accommodates textual criticism articulated about the original. To this end, I will try to illuminate the rhizoming potential of translation versions of the Coda in German (Georg Goyert’s 1927 version, revised in 1956, and Hans Wollschläger’s 1975 version), Italian (Giulio de Angelis’s 1960 text, published in 1973 and Enrico Terrinoni’s 2012 retranslation based on the 1922 text), Romanian (Mircea Ivănescu 1984) and Hungarian translations (Endre Gáspár...

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