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The Trieste Joyce School - Day 3

Participant Diary, June 25th – July 2nd, 2016

Not everyone is privileged to read Joyce’s texts in the original and, having that in mind, we have to prepare ourselves for a yet another journey – the journey of translating. It sometimes seems an almost impossible undertaking to translate Joyce’s texts into any language, since they are so intricate and so deeply steeped in Irish history that it is almost impossible to retain the meaning by trying to transform the words to their nearest synonyms. Still, the translators need to do their job, and some would say they can do it quite well. One wouldn’t normally be able to understand why it should be so difficult, but if we only see the example of a “moocow” in The Portrait, or all the nuances of Finnegans Wake, we get to appreciate all the effort someone has invested just to try and make them available to all the people of a certain community. What we have to understand is that when we are reading Joyce, we do not read only the surface layer of the paper and some strange arrangements of letters, we read sediments of time accumulated in words. He loves to play with the vitality and flexibility of language to such an extent that it sometimes becomes even impossible to trace the word back to its roots (he plays with the name of Saint Nicholas until it becomes Santa Claus; Leopold Bloom thinks of renewal and Mr. Kenney and remembers the synonymous word for metempsychosis which is reincarnation, his, or to be more honest, Milly’s kettle boils long before Boylan enters the scene). All these peculiarities need be translated properly if we want to have the same meaning. As it has already been said, in translation, everything has to be changed, and yet remain exactly the same.

A beautiful insight into all these details was provided in a class of close reading of the chapter entitled after the Homeric reference “Calypso”. Only with a keen eye and a patient mind can we see all the subtle plays included in this chapter: Bloom’s half-closing his eyes to the evident truth of him being cuckolded, the seductive power of Calypso’s soul which has been reincarnated in many female characters, the two of them being Molly and Milly, Molly’s excellent understanding of how Bloom functions (she can take the advantage of the fact that he would elaborate on virtually anything if there seemed to be the tiniest ray of interest) used as a smokescreen for her affair, etc. When we first read the chapter, we would not even notice all of these subtleties, and yet they are there, just waiting to be spotted.

Trieste, Day Three

Immediately after the inspiring seminar, we roamed the streets of Trieste just to learn more about Joyce’s unusual life and strange ways. Who would have thought that, while trying to survive as a teacher, he was of a custom to get drunk (during class) and go on rambling about whatever seemed to occupy his interest? Or that he would rather spend time in the opera than do anything of the domestic persuasion? Or that he ended up in jail not more than two hours after setting his foot on Triestine soil? His connection with Trieste is such that even the very name of Leopold Bloom comes from the names of two Triestine citizens, both of whom were Joyce’s friends (or in his case, better to say acquaintances); it is such that, thanks to the Triestino Italo Svevo, his manuscript of The Portrait saw the light of day instead the light of a fire; it is such that, thanks to his powerful Triestine friends of Greek origin, his family was safely evacuated to Switzerland during World War II.

The connections are so numerous that all the pages of this journal would not be enough for them to fit. Yet this illustrative sample is here to prove the case that Joyce truly lived and thrived on Triestine soil. This thence significant port offered a wide variety of walks of life as opposed to, for example, Pula’s uniformity, which was of vital importance to all of Joyce’s works. Without Trieste, it is highly dubitable whether we would have such opalescent characters, like Leopold Bloom.

The day ended with the reading of Finnegans Wake in Italian and we were amazed to find out that even without understanding the language, the melody and the meaning could be still inferred.

Such is the magic of Triestine air.

The photo is courtesy of Danijela Mitrović.


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