Sunday, July 15, 2012

Finnegans Wake in translation?

A recent question from some of us in the group was whether there were any translations of Finnegans Wake, and whether in fact it was a book that could actually be translated. I thought of this again the other day, and happened to be near enough to a computer to google it. I was surprised to find a couple of apt articles right off the bat. One of them was by W.V. Costanzo and was published in The James Joyce Quarterly some years ago. It is available at JStor, but I was only able to glimpse the first page, as JStor is very particular about who they let in, and that particularity doesn't include me.

Still, a page can tell a lot, and what I learned there is that Joyce, with his keen interest in language, took part in many of the translation attempts going on at the time, and had a role that went from collaborator to consultant to supervisor. His most direct involvement was when Samuel Beckett undertook the fragment of the book referred to as Anna Livia Plurabella. Beckett was helped by Alfred Peron, a friend who he had actually met (I learned elsewhere) while at Trinity College and who had been of enormous help to him in learning both written and spoken French. This version was then submitted to another group for revision, which included Paul Léon, Eugene Jolas, and Ivan Goll, under the supervision of Joyce himself.

I was curious who these helpers were. Léon was a Russian Jewish émigré living in Paris, who ended up taking over many of Joyce's business affairs, but also was a central figure in his literary life. In a word, he was the Sylvia Beach of Finnegans Wake. He also is the one we have to thank for the survival of many of the manuscripts that we have, because he is the one who went back to the Joyces' Pais apartment and gathered their belongings as they fled before the Nazis and put them in safekeeping for them. A tricky role for a Russian Jew, I'd think, but definitely a brave one.

Jolas, who certainly has a French or at least European sounding name was actually born in Union City, New Jersey. But his family moved to the Alsace Lorraine area, that annexed and reannexed border region between France and Germany, when he was two, so he has his European credentials. He was among othe things, the editor of the literary magazine transition, and he and Joyce had an affinity because Jolas recognized what Joyce was doing with the Wake as an illustration of his manifesto , which he had published in his magazine.

Ivan Goll, or Yvan, as the sources I've looked at have it, was a poet who wrote in both French and German, being another transplant from Alsace Lorraine. He was in touch with both the French surrealist movement and the German expressionism. His father, at least, was Jewish. Goll, whose given name was Isaac Lange described himself thus: "By fate a Jew, by an accident born in France, on paper a German."

It is so interesting to think of all these different nationalities and language influences hovering around the Wake during its gestation. Costanzo quotes from a book called Souvenirs de James Joyce by Phillippe Soupault, another French writer who was involved with the project, which describes how they fixed upon a regular meeting time at Jolas' apartment. Joyce would sit reclining and smoking, Léon  would read the text in English, and Soupault would follow along in the French version.

This unfortunately is all I know, as that is where the page stops. The link to Costanzo's article, however, is here, and if you have access to the rest of the article, perhaps you could clue the rest of us in as to what happened next.

I found another fascinating article about the Wake in translation, but that will have to wait for another post...   

No comments:

Post a Comment