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  • “Re-Trans-Work”: A Report on the 2017 Zurich James Joyce Foundation Workshop on Joycean Translation Issues Zurich, Switzerland, 5 – 8 October 2017
  • Flavie Épié

The first weekend of October 2017 once again saw the reunion of a few Joyce enthusiasts at the Zurich James Joyce Foundation, coming from various places in Europe and the world to discuss matters of translation. “Re-Trans-Work,” organized by Erika Mihálycsa, Fritz Senn, and Jolanta Wawrzycka, was the second workshop of its kind, and, unlike its 2010 predecessor, it did not focus only on specific Joycean translation issues but most particularly on the retranslations of Ulysses into numerous languages. The four days of what Senn called this “first conversational workshop” were thus dedicated to reading Ulysses in German, Romanian, Hungarian, Polish, and French, with a few occasional references to Italian, Hebrew, and more. All participants wandered together through the twists and turns of the Joycean prose, on which (re)translations shed a new light, all aiming at being the same, yet ending as inevitably different since Ulysses is reworked time and again to cross borders in space and time.

As if in homage to the history of many translations of the book itself, the discussion series started with German. Senn solemnly opened with an overview of the German situation, introducing a historical and contextual approach to the translations of Joyce’s novel from Georg Goyert’s 1927 one, printed in a three-volume expensive edition that provided the first version for German speakers to [End Page 199] delve into the world of Ulysses, to Hans Wollschläger’s 1975 version, deemed the “translation of the century” and one on which Senn himself worked as an internal lector so he was able to share a few first-hand anecdotes.1 Addressing the basic purpose of (re)translating a text through matters of edition and reception, as well as touching upon the role of both the writer himself and Joycean scholars within the process, Senn highlighted how, all the more in translation, errors are portals of discovery.

Indeed, errors mean that something in the original text triggered an issue in translation, and the gaps necessarily existing between original and translation are precisely what need to be studied. They also prompt retranslations or, in some cases, revisions, as in the recent collective project of reworking Wollschläger’s Ulysses completed earlier in the spring, in which attendees Ruth Frehner and Ursula Zeller participated and from which both their talks stemmed.

Frehner offered an insightful comparison of fragments from the two existing translations and of their suggestions for revision, encompassing a variety of translation issues dealing primarily with word order. Joyce said to Frank Budgen that “[t]here is an order in every way appropriate,” Frehner reminded her audience as she showed how the word order described by the writer as “perfect” became one of conundrums translators came to face, as in the translation process words themselves change along with the syntactic structure of the language.2 Dealing with all that is conveyed through Joyce’s choices in word sequences, Frehner questioned what was or should be translated when tackling Ulysses and its syntactic oddities, invited those assembled to think about how it could be done while taking into account the possibilities offered by the target language, and highlighted the complexity of revising Wollschläger’s praised version of Joyce’s novel.

This tension between preserving and renewal that characterized the revision project was further explored by Ursula Zeller, who took the participants on a linguistic and musical journey through the German translations of “Sirens.” Analyzing fragments from the three German versions, Zeller’s inquiries into lexical, semantic, and morphological elements, as well as her attention to acoustics and sound through patterns of alliteration and assonance and her examination of syntax as rhythm, made for vivid discussions on the dilemmas often faced by translators, who ideally would want to preserve both form and content to best render the effect of Joyce’s prose in the target language.

The specific format of the Zurich workshop, calling for well-researched yet free presentations that make for interaction and conversation, brought about many of such discussions, in which experts...


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pp. 199-202
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