10 July 2008

Finding a way into the Wake

One of the most interesting sections of Umberto Eco's Experiences in Translation is his discussion of the decisions James Joyce made in the French and Italian translations of Finnegans Wake. The Italian translation
is certainly not an example of 'faithful' translation. Yet many have written that, to understand Finnegans Wake, it would be a good idea to start with his Italian translation of it. Perhaps, or rather certainly because, on seeing the text wholly rethought in another language, one can understand its deep mechanisms, over and beyond the insistence on this or that play of quotations.
Setting aside the mind-boggling idea that Finnegans Wake can even be translated, the fact that Joyce undertook to take nearly 700 pages of "Finneganian" and basically rewrite it in other languages isn't simply a testimony to his genius, but is also a way for readers to enter into the text and find out how it works. For example:
Tell us in franca langua. And call a spate a spate. Did they never sharee you ebro at skol, you antiabecedarian? It's just the same as if I was to go par examplum now in conservancy's cause out of telekinesis and proxenete you. For coxyt sake and is that what she is?
Eco explains the allusions in English and then examines how Joyce rendered it in Italian, illustrating how Joyce was more interested in linguistic playfulness to convey underlying themes than he was in "the letter of the original."

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