FINNEGANS WAKE TRANSLATORS
FINNEGANS WAKE TRANSLATORS
Dirce Waltrick do Amarante
In an essay entitled “Gli Aiutanti” (The Helpers), the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben (dialoguing with the ideas developed by Walter Benjamin in the essay “Franz Kafka”) talks about beings that we don't know who they are, but who might be “sent” from the enemy (which explains why they insist on lurking and peeking). Even so, they resemble angels, messengers who are unaware of the content of the letters they must deliver, but whose smile, whose gaze and way of walking “seem like a message”.
One could think of Finnegans Wake characters as the “helpers” described above. One of the inhabitants of the Joycian dream is, in fact, a postman, Shaun, or “Shaun Mac Irewick, briefdragger,” the fact digger [FW 126], whose function is to make public a document of which he is neither an author nor is aware of the facts described there. Regarding Shaun's role in Joyce's narrative, Donaldo Schüler, translator of the novel into Portuguese, states that “in the role of postman, Mercury, Thoth, moon, pope, or Christ, Shaun is nothing but a messenger, the bearer of a light that doesn't come from him. It hurts, readers ask questions”.
Joyce's dream helpers, or nightmare, would be essentially “twilight” creatures, similar to the characters from Franz Kafka's work, analyzed by Walter Benjamin in the essay mentioned above. About these creatures, Benjamin says that none of them have a fixed place or clear and unmistakable outlines; there is not one that is not rising or falling; none that cannot be mistaken for your enemy or your neighbor; none that has not attained majority and yet is immature; none that is not completely exhausted and yet is at the start of a long journey. One cannot even speak of orders or hierarchies.
Tim Finnegan, a character in the popular song that gives title to Joyce's last book, for example, is one of those “twilight” creatures that enters and leaves the story without us knowing who he really is. Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson say that Finnegan’s fun episode is just the prologue to greater action. Or, as Michel Butor asserts, the story of Finnegan presents itself under enormous amplification and gives rise to many other kinds of narratives, through which the constants that define HCE as the “hero” of the book are gradually discerned.
Tim Finnegan disappears in the first pages of the novel. Completely “exhausted”, he abandoned his long journey at the beginning. Other characters take their place, HCE, Anna Livia Plurabelle, his wife, their children, Shem and Shaun, who also disappear and reappear, going through continuous metamorphoses, which is why I would say that, like the “helpers”, these characters are unable to “complete nothing and are usually left with nothing to do”, as Agamben says.
To exemplify the above thesis, I quote Donaldo Schüler’s brief outline of chapter 13 of Wake: “In the dream”, says Donaldo, “the bar became a boat, the boat became a conjugal bed. Shaun, who is the primary focus of the action, is a barrel taken by the current, it is a box full of letters, it is Diogenes searching for a man or a truth, it is Christ, in whose Fourteen Stations pathway so many other questions are posed. The movement is textual, with questions and answers”.
Without a specific function, except to appear “in the moment of danger”, helpers are these characters who, according to Agamben, the narrator forgets at the end of the narrative, when the protagonists live happy and content until the end of their days; but of them, of that unclassified “rag” to which, in the end, they owe everything, nothing more is known. However, try to ask Prospero, when he dismissed all his charms and returned, with the other human beings, to his duchy, what life without Ariel is.
But when it comes to Finnegans Wake, who are the protagonists? Are they really multiple? In the opinion of Adaline Glasheen, it is difficult to identify the protagonists of Joyce's work, or who will live happily ever after, as an actor plays many roles at the same time, so that Wake's characters are fragile indications (not models) of a broad, dense process, constructed in an elaborate way and in perpetual movement of regular variation, such as stars, atoms, sub-atoms, cells and galaxies: who exactly did you say that is who when …?. The characters appear in Wake as they appear in our dreams, without accuracy or clarity. As the Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade said, “the night dissolves men” in Joyce's life and pages.
In addition to this dreamlike character of Finnegans Wake, responsible for the “dissolution” of his characters, the book has no end (but since when do dreams have an end?); therefore, which character, we could imagine, lives “happy and content until the end of his days”? So, I wonder if, in Finnegans Wake, all the characters are just helpers circulating within the narrative at the service of language, that is the great protagonist of the book.
Regarding Wake's language, William York Tindall says that the Irish writer's latest novel is not about anybody, any place, any time. Following this thesis, scholars have affirmed, over the years, that the novel is nothing more than “a dream about language”, or “the true romance takes place between Joyce and language”. That is why, when referring to the Finnegans Wake translations carried out by Joyce himself into French and Italian, he stated that, even for the author / translator, “the theme was a pretext”, as he sought to protect the fundamental principle that governs Finnegans Wake, i.e., the principle of pun and mot-valise. In other words, Joyce sought to translate not the history of the novel, but his own experiment with language.
Regarding Wake's language, I would compare it to Odradek, Kafka's character, who is “broken off bits of thread, old, knotted and tangled together, of the most varied sorts and colors”. According to Walter Benjamin, “Odradek is the form which things assume in oblivion. They are disfigured, they become unrecognizable”, as is the case with Finnegans Wake's dream language. If Odradek, who nobody knows what it is, is “the concern of the family man”, Wake's language, incomprehensible, is the center of the novel. In the fifth chapter of the book, we read: “You is feeling like you was lost in the bush, boy? You says: It is a puling sample jungle of woods. You most shouts out: Bethicket me for a stump of a beech if I have the poultriest notions what the farest he all means [FW 112].
In this context, Wake's helpers would have the function of translating the language of the Joycian novel, in a situation similar to that of the helpers of a thousand and one nights, mentioned by Agamben, who were chosen from among the non-Arabs; they are foreigners among the Arabs, although they speak their language. FinnegansWake's characters, despite being Irish, are foreigners in “British colony” Ireland and, due to the fact that they move through two different cultures and two different languages (or more cultures and languages, since before the English arrived, to Ireland, the Vikings, the French), would be better able to translate a book with English syntax, however, full of different cultures and speeches.
Regarding the helper, Agamben also affirms that “one of his qualities is to be 'translators' (mutarjim) from the language of God to the language of men”. The Italian philosopher goes on to quote Ibn-Arabi, author of Illuminations of Mecca, according to which “everyone is nothing more than a translation of the divine language, and the helpers, in that sense, are the makers of endless theophany, of a continuous revelation”.
In Wake, the characters strive to translate everything that is untranslatable, that is unattainable in the dream, at night. Helpers prepare our “Kingdom”, but “reigning”, says Agamben, “does not mean satisfying. It means that the dissatisfaction is what remains”.
In Finnegans Wake, Donaldo Schüler recalls, “Like writing, Shaun unveils and hides. Writing, putting itself in place of absent ones, distance, kills. But it is in the same script that the dead return as remembrandies, works of art, images collected and distributed by Shaun, the postman. The literary text (of which Shaun is the surface that promotes) kills HCE and ALP, kept in the literary casket. Only in HCE literature does it revert, only in ALP literature is Anastasia, the Resurrected”.
The helper would then be “the figure of what is lost, or rather, of the relationship with the lost”, says Agamben. It represents the translation gap, the relationship with what has been lost, and “the lost is not to be remembered or satisfied, but to remain present in us as forgotten, as lost and, for that reason alone, as unforgettable. In all of this, says Agamben, “the helper is from home. It spells the text of the unforgettable and translates it into the language of the deaf and dumb”, gesturing, moving, because“ the unforgettable is only possible parody ”, that is, in translation, what is lost only in parody is recovered .
But in Joyce's novel, which is the subject of the present piece, Schüler says that, “dispersed, we resign ourselves to the loss of what is going on beyond our horizons or we rehearse the painful march of return, caught in the effervescent immensity of what is not ours”.
On the other hand, those who also report “do not understand what they divulge. Madly seeks help in theories and works of various kinds. What could be a boring scholarship is shown to be an insatiable lack”.
Finnegans Wake is thus an effort to understand the nature of the dream language. More than that, it seems to me, the book proposes a reflection on language and literature as possibilities for revealing the “truth”.
In the midst of these needs, the helper / translator strives to keep an original that is increasingly distant, a proto-image (Urbild), completely lost. He looks at it, as Walter Benjamin says in another context, “on the ambiguity of the passages: its wealth of mirrors that increase spaces in a fabulous way and make orientation difficult. Now, this world of mirrors can have multiple meanings and even an infinity of them - always remaining ambiguous”. The helpers have nothing more to do.