Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The Italian Anna Livia Plurabelle

Edna O'Brien has a lovely piece in the Guardian about 'Anna Livia Plurabelle', which Faber is republishing this week in book form. Joyce was more proud of this chapter than any other part of Finnegans Wake. He made a recording of its final pages, published it in various forms four times, and oversaw its translation into French.

Joyce's last publication, in February 1940, was his own Italian translation of ALP – renamed 'Anna Livia Plurabella'.

Here's the front page of the literary magazine, 'Prospettive', which carried the piece. Joyce received it in March in St Gerand-le-Puy, the village he'd fled to from Paris as war engulfed France. 

This was a dark time for Joyce, suffering from the ulcer that would kill him, anxious about his family troubles, and dismayed about critical indifference to Finnegans Wake. Yet he was cheered up by the arrival of 'Prospettive', writing a delighted letter to the journalist, Ettore Settanni:  

'Your postcard as well as the February issue of 'Prospettive' came to me some days ago after having made a little Odyssey on their own account. 
I have much pleasure in learning that my little ladykin*, the Dublin one, has completed her pilgrimage and has so tactfully made her modest curtsy before her August uncle Tiber. Did it amuse that very reverend greybeard at least to hear her unaccustomed silly and extravagant chatter?'

26 March 1940, Letters III 473  
 *'La mia piccola donicciuola' in the Italian original. 

Joyce's delight in the translation is also recorded by Louis Gillet, who met him for the last time the following October. Yes, seven months after receiving the magazine, he was still talking about it! :

'He had discovered much to his surprise that his own prose, and even his verses, could be translated into Italian much better than into any other language....The last time I saw him at the Hotel du Commerce, in the village St Gerand-le-Puy, where he had run aground God knows by what mishaps, he was solely occupied by a new translation of the first pages of 'Anna Livia' just published in Rome or Milan, in a de luxe magazine of futuristic tendencies....The fact is that this version is an outstanding tour de force. If it is ever completed, I cannot too strongly advise the beginners to read Finnegans Wake in the Italian text.'  

'The Living Joyce' in Portraits of the Artist in Exile ed Potts

Nino Frank (1904-88)
Joyce was helped in his translation by Nino Frank, the Italian born French film critic, best known for inventing the term 'Film Noir'.  Frank was a friend of Joyce's in Paris for 16 years. When he first got to know Joyce, Frank was struck by his coolness and reserve. The reason for this, he later discovered, was that they were talking in French.

'Not long afterward we fell into speaking Italian together. Nothing more was needed to bring me closer to Joyce and to discover that he was a totally different person from the one I had imagined....It may seem trivial that, to discover Joyce as he really was, in all of his simplicity and his vivaciousness, we needed only to change languages. Even after this discovery, I myself did not fully comprehend the importance in Joyce's life of his sojourn in Trieste, the attachment he felt for everything Italian.'  

'The Shadow That Had Lost Its Man'  in Portraits of the Artist in Exile ed Potts

In 1938, Joyce asked Frank to help him with the Italian translation of 'Anna Livia', saying:

Joyce in 1938 photographed by Gisele Freund
''We must begin work before it's too late. For the moment there is still one person in the world, myself, who can understand what I have written. I can't guarantee that in two or three years I will still be able to.'
  Thus I was led to spend two afternoons a week for a good three months with Joyce. The fragment of Finnegans Wake that we did was the very one...which ten or so French writers, along with Joyce himself, had taken six months to make a French adaptation of several years before. Joyce and i were proud to have beaten the French team by an ample margin....Joyce – to whom the French language always remained somewhat foreign, although he knew it to perfection – felt the same delight in playing games in Italian as he did with English. Thus I can say without false modesty that Joyce is responsible for at least three-quarters of the Italian text; for the most part I served as guinea pig and fellow-worker.
  A dozen lines an afternoon, such was our harvest. We worked in Joyce's room, a characterless place that I have no recollection of, usually with him stretched out on the divan in his dressing gown....I read and interpreted the text on my own, after which Joyce explained it to me word by word, revealing to me its various meanings, dragging me into the complex mythology of his Dublin. Then began the slow tennis of approximation; we tossed short phrases to each other like slow-motion balls through a rarefied atmosphere. In the end our procedure resembled incantation....
Joyce in his dressing gown in 1938 by Gisele Freund
Two things struck me: first, that the rhythm, the harmony, the density and the consonance of his words were more important to them than their meaning, and that, for example, having written one thing, Joyce scarcely hesitated to put down something completely different in Italian, as long as the poetic or metrical result was equivalent. On the other hand, with each elucidation he furnished me, this is what I noticed: whatever the phrase or word, the key remained his birthplace, be it an occurrence of his Dublin life, a recollection, or a legend....
 This attempt at an Italian translation must have been one of Joyce's last great pleasures, if I am to believe the little book Louis Gillet dedicated to his friend. According to that book Joyce claimed this version was the best introduction to the reading and understanding of the original. Actually, it is perhaps richer harmonically...than the French.  The Italian language is better suited than the others, even than English I sometimes think, to the at once colloquial and epic style that, along with a deliberate break from a certain Cartesianism, was sought by the writer....
  I had the thing typed in well-spaced characters so Joyce could read it, and afterwards he never tired of exhibiting it everywhere.'

During his birthday party, on 2 February 1939, Joyce insisted that Nino Frank read everyone the translation: 

'I believe that this entertainment was as painful for my listeners as for myself, since they scarcely understood Italian and I have neither expressive gestures nor a melodious voice. But Joyce applauded enthusiastically and would not stop until I began again da capo.' 

Eric Rosenbloom has placed Joyce's three versions of Anna Livia side by side on his website, which you can read here. You can also read Frank's original typescript in the National Library of Ireland, which is online here.  I recommend reading the final magnificent lines out loud.


'Dimmi dimmi dimmi elm! Nettenet! Dimmifiaba d'alberoccia. Presse le frusciacque di, le quinquiequindi aque di. Net!'


And then imagine Joyce wildly applauding. 



We’re lucky to have a comparison of the English, French and Italian versions by Umberto Eco, the great novelist, critic and translator. It's in his book, Experiences in Translation, which you can read online here

Eco describes Finnegans Wake as ‘a plurilingual text written as an English-speaker conceived of one. It seems to me therefore that Joyce’s decision to translate himself was based on the idea of thinking of the target text (French or Italian) as a plurilingual text the way a French- or Italian-speaker might have conceived of one.

It may be that the step is an excessive one, that the language cannot stand the experiment, but something has happened in the meantime. (With Italian) Joyce found himself having to render a language that lends itself to pun, to neologisms, and agglutination, as well as English does (which has the advantage of an abundance of monosyllabic terms) into a language like Italian, which resists the formation of agglutinative neologisms….

Let us take a look right away at an example in which Joyce, forced to translate a rhythm proper to English, reformulates a text to adapt it first to the French language and then to Italian:  

Tell me all, tell me now. You’ll die when you hear. Well, you know,  when the old cheb went futt and did what you know. Yes, I know, go  on.   

Here there are thirty monosyllabic words. The French version tries to reproduce the same monosyllabic structure, at least from an oral standpoint:  

Dis-moi tout, dis-moi vite. C’est a en crever. Alors, tu sais, quand le vieux gaillard fit krack et fit ce que tu sais. Oui je sais, et apres, apres? 

Twenty-five monosyllables. Not bad. The remainder consists of words made up of only two and, at most, three syllables. What happens with Italian, a language with few monosyllabic words, compared to English at any rate?

Dimmi tutto, e presto presto. Roba da chiodi! Beh, sai quando il  messercalzone ando in rovuma e fe’ do che fe’? Si, lo so, e po’ appresso?

Sixteen monosyllables, but at least half of them are conjunctions, articles, and prepositions, ‘proclitic particles,’ which have no tonic accent, but are bound to the following word and, if anything, from the point of view of the auditory effect, lengthen it. All the other words are of two, three, or even four or five syllables. The rhythm of the passage is not monosyllabic at all. Where the English text arguably has a jazzy rhythm, the Italian has an operatic flavour. This was Joyce’s decision. If we take a look at other passages from his Italian version, we find some extremely long words like scassavillani, lucciolanterna and pappapanforte, freddolesimpellettate, inapprodabile, and vezzeggiativini — long even for the Italian lexicon, and, in fact, Joyce invented them.  

Of course, Finnegans Wake also uses some very long compound words, but the play is usually on the fusion of two short words. Since Italian does not lend itself to this solution, Joyce opted for the opposite choice: he sought a polysyllabic rhythm. In order to obtain this result, he was seldom bothered if the Italian text said different things from the English text.’

A striking feature of the Italian version, noted by Eco, is the absence of all those river names:

‘No longer playing with the idea of rivers...he was playing with Italian instead. He had spent almost ten years looking for 800 rivers, and he discarded nearly nine-tenths of them to be able to say chiacchiericcianti, baleneone, quinciequindi, frusciacque.’

(The Italian Joyce) 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.'

Here's another comparison of the English and Italian:

‘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?’

‘Dillo in lingua franca. E chiama piena piena. T’hanno mai imparato l’ebro all’iscuola, antebecedariana che sei? E’ proprio siccome circassi io a mal d’esempio da tamigiaturgia di prossenetarti a te. Ostrigotta, ora capesco.’

Eco provides a detailed interpretation of ‘Ostrigotta, ora capesco’ –  a Joycean invention rather than a translation:

‘We have an exclamation of disappointment and amazement, ostregheta (literally little oyster, but also a euphemism for the blasphemous oath in the dialect of the Veneto ‘ostia!’ literally ‘by the host!’), a suggestion of incomprehensible languages, ostrogoto (Ostrogothic: a sylloge of the whole of Finnegans Wake), and Gott (God). Blasphemy pronounced before an incomprehensible tongue. And so it would seem right to end with non capisco (I do not understand). But ostrigotta also suggests I got it, and as Itjoyce writes ora capesco, which is a blend of capisco (I understand) and esco (I get out), Joyce gets out from under the problem, or the meandertale. 
    The truth is that Joyce did not care a whit for any of our translation problems. What he wanted to do was invent an expression like ‘Ostrigotta, ora capesco.’'


Corinna del Greco Lobner in the James Joyce Quarterly Vol 35, No 1 (Fall 1997)

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Waywords and Meansigns Strikes Again!

'It's all so simple. If anyone doesn't understand a passage, all he need do is read it aloud.'

Joyce to Claude Sykes (recalled in a 1954 interview with Richard Ellmann)

'It's often said Finnegans Wake is a book for the ear but it's also a book for the mouth. You'll never utter anything like it.'

Peter Quadrino (PQ) on the RAW Illuminations website

Wakeans owe a debt of gratitude to Waywords and Meansigns, Derek Pyle's project setting readings of Finnegans Wake to music.  It would be difficult enough to do this once, but Derek's done it twice!  The first edition was published on 4 May 2015 (the 76th anniversary of the Wake's publication), and the second on Joyce's 134th birthday last year.

To get a feel of the project, have a listen to Mr Smolin (Barry Smolin)  and Double Naught Spy Car's performance of the first page. Music and voice come together brilliantly in that mighty opening thunderclap, which will make you leap out of your seat.


When I met Derek in London last Bloomsday, before gatecrashing the James Joyce symposium, I was delighted to find that he has this thunderclap tattooed on his forearm.

In the first two editions, each chapter was assigned to a different reader and musician – a daunting undertaking for both. Derek has recently announced that Waywords and Meansigns will be setting the book to music for a third, and final time. But now, contributors 'are taking short passages of the Wake — a paragraph, a page, a few pages — to set to music. The result will be a mosaic of musical readings and performances, plus a few 'non-musical' readings for good measure.'

This is a lot easier for the reader/musician, but a much bigger task for Derek to co-ordinate.  There's a list of the contributors so far on the website, but they're still looking for new recordings. 

We invite you a record a passage of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake for Waywords and Meansigns.
While initially setting entire chapters of Finnegans Wake to music, we are now focused on short passages.
You can take a page or a few pages, and set it to music.
“Music” is defined loosely — we want to hear your voice through your ears, whatever that may sound like.
We are interested in contributions from all kinds of people — musicians, artists, poets, scholars, weirdos, passionate Wake-heads, those totally ignorant of the Wake, and anyone generally adventurous. “Here Comes Everybody” is our slogan, and we take that seriously.
A range of recording styles and methods is no problem.
Having released unabridged musical editions of Finnegans Wake in 2015 and 2016, 2017 will be our final large group release.
If you want more information or to get involved, contact Derek at waywordsandmeansigns@gmail.com.

I've made a recording. Why don't you?

Thursday, 19 January 2017

The Joyce Trail in Pula

Continuing the Joyce trail in Istria, which we visited last September...

From Trieste, we travelled by bus south to Pula in Croatia, where Joyce lived from 1904-5. He hated Pula, then called Pola, describing it as 'a back-of-God-speed place - a naval Siberia - 37 men o'war in the harbour, swarming with faded uniforms. Istria is a long boring place wedged into the Adriatic peopled by ignorant Slavs who wear little red caps and colossal breeches.' (Letter to his Aunt Josephine, 31 December 1904).

Pula is full of Roman antiquities, including a huge amphitheatre, a beautiful temple to Augustus (left), and a Roman Arch. Joyce doesn't mention any of these in his letters. He had little interest in antiquities or architecture (apart from a liking for Gothic churches, which reminded him of his own writing). When he later lived in Rome, he said that the city reminded him of  'a man who lives by exhibiting to travellers his grandmother's corpse.'   (Letter to Stanislaus, 25 September 1906).

When we arrived we found the city full of super fit-looking people wearing shirts carrying slogans like 'Run Swim Ride Repeat' and 'Believe!' It was the Iron Man triathlon, and the streets were roped off for their running race. Here's one of the runners racing past the Temple of Augustus.

Joyce taught at the Berlitz School, directly opposite the Arch. It's now the Boutique Hostel Joyce.

I found this photo on their website.

 There's a plaque on the wall to him too.

The school was run by Almidano Artifoni, whose name Joyce gave to Stephen's music teacher in Ulysses. There's a hilarious memoir of Joyce in Pula by his friend, and fellow teacher, Alessandro Francini Bruni, which you can read in the James Joyce Quarterly here.  Here's a paragraph to give the flavour of it.

This is backed up by Joyce's letter to Stanislaus of 10 November 1904, where he says, 'The Italian they speak is very corrupt'!

Next door to the school, there's a wonderful shrine to Joyce in the form of the Caffè Uliks, which has a great bronze statue of him by Mate Čvrljak. This is one of my favourite statues of him, though it's shame that, like the Trieste and Dublin ones, it shows him as the middle aged writer of the Paris years. Joyce was in his early twenties when he lived here. It was in Pula that he first grew his moustache (and had his hair curled by Nora with tongs, remarking to Stanislaus, 'I look a very pretty man').

Joyce is sitting at the table looking at the Roman Arch.

Photo from the Uliks brochure
We were lucky to get the table, and share a drink with the great man.

'How dare you be so rude about lovely Pula!'

He's a popular photo opportunity, especially for women, who like to sit on his knee.

They sell bottled Guinness, which comes in a Joyce glass. They also do a Joyce cocktail (Jameson’s, Martini Bianco and pear liqueur) and a Nora (Bailey’s, Bacardi and cream).

 The same image is on the table tops.

When we sat down, it was a lovely sunny day. I was wearing my Finnegans Wake Hundred Letter Thunderword t-shirt.

Astonishingly, soon after Lisa took this photo, the sky erupted with a loud 'bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!'  This was one of several thunderstorms we had while in Istria – it struck me that Joyce had chosen a bad place to live for someone with a morbid fear of thunderstorms. Just as the first runners came by, rain started to pour from the sky.

Eventually, we took refuge inside the bar, which has a Joyce collection in a glass cabinet. There's a maquette of an another statue by Mate Čvrljak, showing Joyce walking.

Since Joyce lived in Pula, the names of the streets have all changed from Italian to Slavic. So it's much harder to follow his trail here than in Trieste. But, thanks to a 1910 map on the wall of our apartment, we were able to find Via Giulia, where he first lived, at number 2 on the second floor. It's the street leading down from the Arch, where there's now a Macdonalds.

We couldn't find his second address, Via Medolino, where he lived from January to March 1905.



On 2 February 1905, Joyce and Nora celebrated his 23rd birthday with a boat trip to the little island of Brioni, though in his letter to Stanislaus he only remarked that the place was 'famous for cheese'.  We had a day trip to the same island, where I was struck by this memorial to Robert Koch.

In 1903, the year before Joyce arrived in Pula, Koch had eradicted malaria on Brioni, by draining the swamps where the mosquitoes bred.

This is the same Robert Koch whose methods are promoted in Ulysses by Mr Deasy!