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Polyglot Joyce: Fictions of Translation, and: Borges and Translation: The Irreverence of the Periphery (review)

From: Translation and Literature
Volume 16, Part 1, Spring 2007
pp. 125-129 | 10.1353/tal.2007.0001

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

'We have these two vast and, why not say it, illegible novels, Ulyssesand Finnegans Wake', and 'they are untranslatable', Borges claimed. Yet Borges was the first, in 1925, to translate Joyce into Spanish with his version of the final page of Molly's monologue, the last page of Ulysses being, as Waisman points out, the first of Joyce in Spanish. Polyglot Joyce proposes that the entire corpus of translations of the work of a major author such as Joyce can be treated as a coherent object of investigation, forming a single macrotext in a continuum with the originals, whose study must rely on the notion of a multilingual, translingual textuality. This idea of continuity between versions would have appealed to Borges, who refused to accept the primacy of originals over translations, thinking of the relationship between author and translator as one of metempsychosis.

O'Neill outlines three models for the relationship between original and translation: the prototextual (where a unique original precedes the translation and generally falls short of it); the metatextual (a text about a text, privileging the reader-translator as interpreter and recreator of the original in a different language); and the macrotextual, which considers the entire and constantly shifting system of all the translations that exist, in any language and at any time. In the first model authority resides with the author; in the second with the reader-translator; in the macrotextual model authority is dispersed across the entire polyphonic textual system. It requires a method of reading that O'Neill definesas necessarily transtextual, focusing on comparisons between texts considered as at once both different and the same.

The project immediately poses a problem: how can one individual reader describe and analyse the entire – and growing – polyglot system of translations of all Joyce's work in all languages? Implicitly invoking the ideal reader of Finnegans Wake, who suffers from an ideal insomnia (FW 120.13–14), O'Neill imagines a hypothetical Borgesian super-reader as the ideal subject for carrying out such a study. His more realistic solution is first of all to offer a chronology of translations of Joyce's texts in all languages (giving a sense of the historical growth of interest in Joyce), and then by individual language (charting Joyce's impact on specific literary systems). This is followed by analytical case studies of specific language systems (French, German, Italian, and, in less detail, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Scandinavian, Irish, Czech, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Turkish, and Arabic), and by transtextual analyses of the strategies adopted by various translators. The final section of the book, analysing specific features of different translations (the titles of the Dubliners stories, for example), focuses on the wayeach translation extends the original into a richer, varied, polyglot (macro)text. The 'fictions of translation' of the subtitle thus refer to the complementary aspects of the mapping of a multilingual system andthe analysis of the transfigurations of the multilingual text. This is the book's major original contribution: the idea that translations comprising the macrotext extend the original into a potentially infinite, never-ending text-in-progress. It is something that Joyce himself would have relished.

There are drawbacks. The transtextual readings, useful for illustrating O'Neill's case on how different versions extend the meaning of the original, do not make much advance on what other scholars – notably Fritz Senn – have already done very successfully. Any single reader attempting this kind of project, with necessarily limited linguistic competence, inevitably makes mistakes (I noticed one in the interpretation of a point of Italian grammar that would invalidate the reading built on it). And much of the data presented in the 'mappings' derives from existing publications. But this is not the point. If the data has been published before, as the useful forty-page bibliography indicates, itis still an achievement to have brought it together, resulting in an impressive and valuable reference book for anyone interested in translations of Joyce and in the impact of his work on other literary systems.

Other interesting points emerge. The countries that were earliest and most active in translating Joyce's work, France and Germany, have subsequently proved to be the most conservative in their translating activity...

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