“Oxen of the Sun Roundtable” (on Translations)

The first difficulty of translation for the viewer of this presentation was to wring an understanding from either of the labels “Oxen of the Sun Roundtable” or The Science(s) of Birthing: Language/Gestation in ‘Oxen of the Sun’ (roundtable). The attempt to entertain neither amuses nor informs. This confusion occurred throughout Omniscientific Joyce. It would benefit viewers if the agenda and the Zoom link matrix used a single meaningful label.  The fact that arcane cryptic imprecise labels were preferred promised the confusion which was to follow.

The panel consisted of four contributors. Three had created translations of the episode. The translations examined were Polish (Wawrzycka), Hungarian (Mihálycsa), and Turkish (Ekici). Fritz Senn, esteemed as he may be, seemed to be in conflict with Chairperson Wawrzycka about the introduction and content of the proceedings. The intervention was disruptive.

Senn, however,  made one significant contribution to the discussion by pointing out that in writing Oxen, Joyce engaged in translations of his own in creating text that engaged the evolution of the English language before any of the other translations were attempted. This may suggest there is already a degree of separation between Joyce’s meaning and the English text. Senn also interjected that “translation is opportunistic.” This suggests an intention by the translator that is different than the meaning of the words or alternately that elegance in the translation could be more important than the meaning of the original. He also lathed across the introduction a sentiment that he expressed in an unattributed quote: “Translation theory is as important to translation as ornithology is to birds.” That is derisively clever but not useful to the listener, the reader, or the audience of the presentation. As advice to a translator, it is in fact “for the birds.”

But here, let’s examine one attempt to upend all the multifaceted Joycean prose, tumble it from the table and see if it reassembles itself on the floor in a new configuration but with identical, intelligent meaning.

Here is just one result of the discussion:

“Stark ruth of man his errand that him lone led till that house.” (Joyce)

What realigns on the floor is…

“Ruth for fellow man was HIS ERRAND (or HIS MISSION) that led him alone to his house.”

Or

THE VERY PITY (or LONE PITY or PITY ALONE) for fellowship was his errand.

“Ruth” in Joyce suggests an antithesis of ruthless. Its literal meaning is “pity.” But also, in the Old Testament, Ruth extends the bond of family beyond the link of genetics, culture, or religion saying to her former mother-in-law after Ruth is widowed: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” This is the kinship that Bloom extends to Mrs. Purefoy (and to all humanity).

“Lone” in Joyce suggests that only sympathy led him to the maternity ward. “Alone” might suggest that Bloom was lonely and sought comfort for himself as suggested by the second translation.

This is only one of several comparisons of translations 

“Watchers tway there walk, white sisters in WARD SLEEPLESS. Smarts they still, SICKNESS SOOTHING.”

 Is translated…

IN THE HALL THAT DOESN’T SLEEP

THE HALL OF NO SLEEP

HALL WHERE THEY DON’T SLEEP.

Is it the hall, the nurses, patients or visitors who do not sleep?

A translated work is proven here to be something other than a rendering of the original text. A new interpretation with omissions amendations and “improvements.” Perhaps as Senn suggests, it is opportunistic rather than faithful; forJoyce abridged rather than replete. 

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