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10.6.04

More on Translating Ulysses into French

As part of the buildup to the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday (see Getting Ready for Bloomsday, June 2), I have already mentioned the new French translation of Ulysses, from Gallimard, which will be in bookstores in France on June 10. Last week's issue of Le Figaro Littéraire had a number of Joyce-related articles, including a longer write-up of the new translation (Claude Michel Cluny, Les dernières sirènes d'Ulysse [The last sirens of Ulysses], June 3) and Bruno Corty's interview with the head editor of the translation (Jacques Aubert: «Joyce travaillait à dérégler le langage» [Jacques Aubert: "Joyce was working to undo language"], June 3). Here is a translated excerpt of the latter:

In 2000, Joyce's grandson asked Gallimard to start a new translation of Ulysses, to be placed under your leadership. Why did you choose a team instead of a single translator?

It was clear to me from the start that this new translation should be entrusted to several people. This was not only to give in to the spirit of the times, by influence, by example, for a project like a new translation of the Bible. We were ordered to publish it in 2004, and the work that had to be done made it seem difficult to me to conduct this work in a rigorous way with only one translator. Group translation is not the easy solution at all. Particularly in this case, where there are resonances, echos, and repetitions in the text that are furthermore subjected to variation throughout.

Why did you call on writers?

That seemed interesting and important to me. In a way, I was proceeding from Larbaud's experiment. If it had been useful, fruitful, to have Larbaud, that meant that there was, in Joyce's work, an element of a creator's quest. Ulysses was seven years of work that helped to articulate a literary career. Joyce began Ulysses by using fragments from Portrait of an Artist and ended up on the threshold of Finnegans Wake. It's a search during the writing itself, and it seemed to me natural to involve writers. It was a chance to make creators confront creation.

Was translating the first episode yourself a way to put people at ease, to reassure them?

Translating "Telemachus" was a chance to draw attention to a certain number of problems. For our first meeting, I put together a document that resolved a number of process issues. It was almost pedagogical. From the start, we had to be in agreement, for example, on the translation of street names, proper names, nicknames. Even on questions that seemed relatively simple, it was imperative to apply a common rule. Perhaps from my personal experience of the text, it seemed to be that all of Joyce's work consisted of undoing language. This undoing does not seem uniform throughout the text. In the first two episodes and in the fourth, things are rather simple. Then, little by little, things get complicated.

Joyce plays constantly with words and languages. Isn't that the biggest danger for this translation?

In effect, Joyce tells us that there is translation inherent in reading. He says that and he puts it into action. Buck Mulligan himself plays on his nickname from the second page of Ulysses. We made the decision not to translate the word "Buck." Leaving the English nickname, from the moment where the rest of the text illuminates it, this is part of the mixture of languages that Joyce begins to unfold. In the third episode, among the traps that Joyce lays for us, there is "Los demiurgos." You could read "Los" as the article that goes with "demiurgos." In fact, the context indicates that this "Los" is a proper name borrowed from William Blake [The Song of Los] and that, as a result, it should not be put in italics like the word that follows it. This is just one of numerous polyglot traps. It's one of those aspects by which Ulysses already has, I dare say, one foot in Finnegans Wake.
Aubert also notes that the first French translation of Ulysses, which Joyce supervised and helped edit, has been used by later editors of the English text to determine what problems might be typesetting errors and what are not. The same team will proceed now to the even greater challenge of translating Finnegans Wake into French.

Another little article in the same issue («Bloomsday», la fête des sens [Bloomsday, a feast for the senses], June 3) mentions the festivities planned in Paris for the 100th Bloomsday, sponsored by the Centre Culturel Irlandais and Le Figaro. A schedule of events is planned for June 14 to 27.

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