To translate the untranslatable- Finnegans Wake by James Joyce

My feelings to James Joyce are as ambivalent as feelings can be. I admire and hate him at the same time. I always thought that reading is supposed to be pleasure and a book to bring this pleasure should be well balanced between form and content. I imagine that a literary critic would say that the form can also be the content but I would like to leave these dilemmas aside for a moment and focus on my Joyce-reading experience.

While Dubliners (1914) occurred to me as a perfectly balanced masterpiece, Ulysses (1922) and especially Finnegans Wake (1939)  gave me the impression that Joyce went too far. After publication of Ulysses it seemed that his radicalism in linguistic experiments cannot go any further but in 1939 with Finnegans Wake he crossed another borders. He created a BOOK regarded by some as literary metaphor of humankind and as gibberish by others. Nevertheless, the translation of it appeared a rather impossible task irrespectively of one’s attitude towards it. However, there were several “daredevils” who apparently succeeded in it; Finnegans Wake has been translated into, for instance, French, Dutch, German or Japanese.

The cover of the  Polish translation

The cover of the Polish translation

Krzysztof Bartnicki, a Polish translator, joined this elite group this year. Since he spent over ten (very long) years of his life (1998-2008/2009) working on the translation, it is not surprising that he calls it “the beast”. What is interesting, however, is his disappointment with Joyce’s work. In many interviews Bartnicki underlines that before he started the translation process he considered Finnegans Wake as a complete masterpiece, a holistic literary depiction of humankind, mythology and history of languages. Surprisingly, after ten years of struggle not only with the text itself but also with hundreds of its interpretations, he reached rather dispiriting conclusion that Joyce under the cover of linguistic riddles wanted to hide his sexual preferences.  He admits he felt so tricked by Joyce that  in order to “punish” the author he wanted to leave the book unpublished. Fortunately, he did not.

I personally think that Joyce definitely owes something to Mr Bartnicki as he is the first human being who, by his daring translation, encouraged me to return to this painful experience of reading Finnegans Wake

The Polish version- Finneganow Tren


Virginia Woolf- Beyond literature..

During my university course I had to write an essay on the following subject “Words no longer have any vital significance for me. Words have killed images or are concealing them. The fact is that words say nothing” (Eugene Ionesco). How do Modernist writers confront this sense of linguistic failure? The book I chose to exemplify this battle with language was Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. I remember that I did not give one unequivocal answer whether she won this battle or not. And I was probably right since as linguistic failure is identified with the inability of language to express human experience, the reader (who cannot grasp the author’s mind) will never be able to judge if particular text is the expression the author actually wanted. However, now, especially after reading Jacob’s Room, I would say that she was much closer to a victory than to a failure. Woolf seems to use language to create something beyond novel writing or even beyond literature, something that belongs to different form of art like poetry or painting.

The Waves appears to be written as a poem with symbols build on images ( that do not describe the emotions but stir them) and the unifying power of rhythm. Each character is expressed by his or her perception. For example, the first thing Bernard sees is the ring which symbolizes his desire of wholeness.  As for the rhythm, the characters’ monologues seem to be reflected in the rhythm of the interludes describing the waves. The narration of this short fragments changes from rather slow, when personalities of the characters are not distinctly outlined,  to more dynamic, when they are fully developed andfinally, slow at the end of the book.

Virginia Woolf by Vanessa Bell (1912)

In Jacob’s Room, on the other hand, Woolf appears to create small paintings that like puzzles build  the character of Jacob. These paintings, however, resemble the portrait of Virginia by Vanessa Bell- we know it’s her but we can’t exactly see her face. Similarly, we get to know Jacob by series of incidents and other protagonists’ perceptions but our knowledge about him is never full, never definite. The dialogues  seem like insertions and the descriptions (like impressionist paintings) are supposed to give impressions and stir emotions rather than precisely  reflect reality. Everything we know about Jacob is not for sure, we only get fragments of reality, never the whole picture.  Like the image of Bonamy holding Jacob’s shoes in the last scene of the book- there is no direct statement telling us Jacob is gone but we obviously feel it and if we add the other elements of the puzzle we will find out why…

Anne Frank’s Diary – Reflections

I have finally found some time to write about Anne Frank’s Diary which I finished some time ago. Paradoxically the most distressing part of this book is the epilogue, not even written by the author, when we find out in almost journalistic sentences that majority of the characters, including Anne, die. This short fragment is so contrasting to Anne’s narrative that almost unbelievable. Ann, despite living in really difficult circumstances, does not write a story of a refugee but rather a story of a teenage girl. She focuses on her loneliness, relationship with her parents, Peter or other occupants. She obviously mentions the trouble of living in the hiding but it seems to be only the background to her spiritual struggles. That is why the book advertised as “a heartbreaking testimony of Holocaust” might be  little disappointing as it was for me. I am not trying to say it is not worth reading because it definitely is. Nevertheless, I guess after reading Nalkowska’s Medallions every testimony of Holocaust is not heartbreaking enough.

Resources Box

As you have probably noticed in the bottom right corner of the page there is The Resources Box where I will add some longer essays and notes.

Some time ago I uploaded two of my essays “The Origins of a Diary” and “Dreams in The Meaning of The Night by Michael Cox”.

From today I will be adding some  notes on the history of literature.

I hope you will find it usefull.

The History of Anne Frank’s Diary

Historical Background

In 1940 Holland became one of the countries invaded by Hitler. Nazi occupation led to gradual isolation of Jewish people and in 1942 first call-ups for “work” camps started to be sent. On the 5th July 1942 one of the call-ups was received by Margot- Anne’s sister. This was the moment when Frank family decided to go into hiding.

The Diary

It was a present. Anne Frank got the diary for her thirteenth birthday (12th June 1942) shortly before going into hiding. She kept it till the 1st August 1944. Three days later the Secret Annex was raided by SS sergeant Karl Josef Silberbauer along with the members of the Dutch security Police.  All the occupants and two helpers (Victor Kugler, Johannes Kleiman) were arrested. The dairy was found  and kept by Miep Gies and Bep Voskulij. After the war Miep gave the unread diary to Otto Frank who, not without doubts, finally decided to publish the it in 1947. The first edition (version C) was a compilation of  the original version of the diary (version A) and the one corrected by Anne (version B).  While editing the diary, Otto omitted several fragments concerning sexual matters and unpleasant opinions about other members of the family.  In 1986 the Critical Edition of the dairy was published by the Dutch Institute of War Documentation which compares all three versions.

Anne Frank’s Diary

In 1999 Cornelis Sujik- a former director of the Anne Frank Foundation and president of the U.S. Center for Holocaust Education Foundation-  claimed to be in the possession of few additional pages of the dairy which have been included in the new editions since 2001.

More about Anne Frank’s Diary:

Anne Frank Museum

BBC series based on Anne Frank’s history

h2g2 page about Anne Frank