From the newsletter (“Circularundbev”) of The James Joyce Society of Seden and Finland, #1 January 2010

Translated from Finnish by Lauri Niskanen

Finnish original

Poet, translator and publisher Leevi Lehto undertook the task of re-translating James Joyce’s Ulysses into Finnish in 2001. As the project is now entering final editing phase, Lehto reflects upon it in relation to Joyce and the earlier Finnish translation by Pentti Saarikoski (1964).

1. How did the process of a new Finnish translation of Ulysses begin?

I was one of those to whom the question ”How many times did you not read James Joyce’s Ulysses?” applied. I remember buying Pentti Saarikoski’s translation in the summer of 1967 with the prize-money I won in a poetry contest of literary magazine Parnasso. I read until the so-called ‘turning point’ of page 200. I later begun again several times, but something always came up, and I never finished it. Around New Year 2001–2002 I once again picked up the book, and this time I finished it nearly without blinking an eye. I remember especially, how the book sucked me in after page 200.

Having worked as a professional translator for 15 years, I was naturally intrigued by the translation aspects. It was also around that time that, as a poet, I was becoming increasingly fascinated in the sound and phonetics of language (today one of the areas of poetry identified with me is sound poetry): therefore the ‘Sirens’ episode, balancing – as it does – on the boundary between language and music, became the focal point of my study of the translation. After reaching Molly’s final “yes” I put down my Saarikoski, located my Joyce, and sat down to translate the ‘Sirens’. After about ten pages I showed it to my wife. “It’s a new text altogether,” said she, having read her Saarikoski years ago, and added: “Why don’t you translate the whole book?” I remember how strange the notion seemed to me at the time. I was rather thinking that my translating days were behind me, and that it was (finally) time for me to concentrate on doing “something of my own”. The idea stuck, however, and by the next New Year I found myself making finishing touches on the ‘Sirens’. In January and February of 2003 I made first drafts of episodes 1-3 and sent all the four episodes to Gaudeamus publishing house to be looked over by Tuomas Seppä. Tuomas sent them to Professor Hannu K. Riikonen, who gave his support to the enterprise. The process of a new translation of Ulysses had begun.

1.1. Why is it, in your view, that a new translation is needed?

My motives are partly pedagogical: I wish to illustrate that anything can be translated in several ways, and that discussions about correct and incorrect translations are futile at the best. This doesn’t mean, however, that all translations are equally good, and Ulysses is one book on which we certainly needed a better translation. Saarikoski’s translation is a readable novel, but it has a record-number of simple mistakes and misconceptions.

Saarikoski’s translation is also clearly influenced by certain basic aesthetics of Finnish modernist prose, and its particular concept of realism. The leading theoretician of Finnish modernism, Tuomas Anhava (1927–2001), was one of the cursory readers of Saarikoski’s translation, and, as I like to say, the result is what Joyce’s Ulysses might have become if Joyce had let Ezra Pound have his way with it. As a result, Saarikoski’s translation is a paradox: in many ways it’s like a Reader’s Digest edition, yet it is not easier, but rather harder to read than the original. In a way, the translation makes the book stranger than – as I understand – was Joyce’s intention (that intention, by the by, Anhava explicitly said he never understood). All in all the Odysseus of 1962 has probably had less influence on modern Finnish prose than modern Finnish prose had on it. One aim of my translation is to see if I could turn this influence around in the 21st century.

1.2. Your translation is called ’Ulysses’, while the earlier Finnish translation by Pentti Saarikoski was called ’Odysseus’. Why is this?

Contrary to common Finnish assumption ’Ulysses’ is not ’Odysseus’ in English. In English, both are used as the name of Homer’s hero, but ‘Odysseus’ is more common. The origins of the variants are in Greek (‘Odysseus’) and Latin (‘Ulysses’): ‘Ulysses’, therefore, is already a translated title – and I believe Joyce used this choice to highlight the otherness of his book in regard to Homer’s epic. In a way, the title of ‘Ulysses’ is “already” translated – and I have an interesting opportunity to highlight this, paradoxically enough, by not translating it again.

2. Would you describe your method of translating?

After my first experiment with the ‘Sirens’ I reverted to using Saarikoski’s translation. I scanned it episode by episode, and placed it in the right column of a two-column text file. On the left column I placed the original. Then I began a systematic “destruction” of Saarikoski’s text with the help of the original. I like to jest that I had it easy, I had the rough translation as a given. Another way to look at it would be to say that I’m translating Ulysses from Saarikoski to Joyce.

2.1. Which edition/editions of Ulysses are you using as your source text?

I have used the Hans Walter Gabler edition of 1985. The synoptic edition of it (Garland Publishing, 1984) will play a large part in the final editing of the translation.

2.2. Are you using additional sources (translations into other languages etc.)?

The most important additional text has been Gifford and Seidman’s ’Ulysses Annotated’ (University of California Press, 1988) – not that it is particularly accurate or exhaustive – but its nearly obsessive urge to explain the oddest details appeals to me. It has been very helpful in identifying intratextual allusions. At times I have consulted the second Swedish translation of Tomas Warburton (Bonnier Alba, 1993), which is a solid and fairly flawless text, although it has a problematic way of steering clear of troubled waters. Thus it rarely offers concrete solutions. In the editing stages I plan to consult at least the latest German and French translations.

2.3. What would you say is the main challenge in translating Ulysses, and is translating Ulysses very different from your earlier translation works?

This may sound odd, but I have found Ulysses to be my easiest translation thus far! The most demanding and yet the easiest. The only way I can explain this is to say that, unlike all other translation works, every sentence of Ulysses has “something to translate”. The usual case is quite different: usually most of any given text seems to say: “convey only my meaning”. Only at times it asks to “convey how I am”. This makes translating difficult, since conveying meaning as such is not possible, as it would require exact correspondence and assume a single correct translation. Conveying the how, on the other hand, is always possible and in a myriad of ways – not one of them is correct, but one can be better than the other. What follows is that the more strictly I try to repeat what Joyce has done, the more freedom I have. Translating Ulysses became for me the point in which the constantly ambivalent borderline between writing and translating vanished entirely. I would no-longer consider this work secondary to my “own original” writing.

2.4. Can you point out a single section in the book, which causes most difficulty for the translator? Is it, for example, the complex allusions of Stephen Dedalus, the word-music of the Sirens, the intertextuality of the Oxen, or perhaps the unpunctuated inner monologue of Molly Bloom?

Referring to my last answer: I’d say the hardest were the early ”initial style” episodes. In the first chapters there is a constant threat to assume that something is written in “Joyce’s own style” and forget that they are pastiches as much as the rest, only in a different, miniature, preliminary way (consequently I would like to question the dualistic paradigm that has been central to the stylistic debates on Ulysses since Karen Lawrence in 1981: There is no such stylistic shift in Ulysses as has been suggested).

I would say however, with unbridled sentimentality, that for myself the most challenging episode was chapter 15, ‘Circe’. I translated it in two weeks in April 2008, alone in the countryside, spending practically every wakeful moment on it – and if writing it caused Joyce a kind of constant state of nausea, translating it caused me, so to say, a belated “second” sexual awakening. In all honesty I haven’t been the same ever after. ‘Circe’ is the most thorough and honest text in the history of literature – ahem, I’m still a beginner in Finnegans Wake, so I have to make a reservation for that. I would say that ‘Circe’ is  honest up to the point of revealing honesty itself for what it is – or rather that there is always something even behind honesty and ‘truth’. In ‘Circe’, that something is  no longer an ambivalent relativity, absence or emptiness, but instead something most unambiguous (although infinitely complex), most present, most rich and most positively active: it is desire. I “always” knew this in an abstract sense – translating Ulysses made it concrete.

The most exhilarating episode to translate was 16, ‘Eumaus’, where I enjoyed re-entering the myriad grammatical, syntactical, and semantic errors my predecessor had “corrected”.

3. In episode 14, ‘Oxen of the Sun’, you have decided to translate the ‘embryonic development’ of English prose by going through the history of Finnish prose style instead of, for example, alluding to those English writers Joyce parodies. Why is this?

Interesting question! This decision is an example of how there is no one single correct way to convey the how-aspect of translation (cf. 2.3. above). In the ’Oxen of the Sun’ my technique is, so to say, categorical domestication, whereas in other parts of the novel I categorically refuse to domesticate – for the most part I don’t translate Irish/Dubliner idioms into their Finnish/Helsinkiner correspondents, because I consider Joyce has meant his idioms to be foreign to an average English reader. (My rule of thumb has been to abstain from domesticating if Gifford & Seidman consider it necessary to add an explanation to their English readers.) In the ’Oxen of the Sun’, in my view, Joyce’s aim is slightly different: Instead of alienation he is striving for, shall we say, maximum recognition: the exact way they wrote in such and such time at a given part of the British Empire (presuming a reader with maximum of education and imagination, as Joyce always happily and shamelessly presumes). In this exact way aspect Joyce is not, in fact, content with imitation – ’Oxen of the Sun’ has more direct quotation and plagiarism than pastiche and parody. One proof of this is that Joyce’s “parodies” stop at the point of history, in which copyright laws become a factor (on this, cf. Paul Saint-Amour’s excellent book The Copywrights: Intellectual Property and the Literary Imagination, Cornell University Press 2003). Again, I aimed to “do what Joyce did”: where he had his manuals of English prose style, I had Paavo Pulkkinen’s book on the development of modern Finnish language (Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1972), with its excellent text appendices.

Another note on domesticated idioms: Whereas Saarikoski – largely due to his limited knowledge on the English language – uses mostly categorical foreignization, Warburon uses categorical domestication – which is why his translations are no help in translating: if there is a word in an Irish idiom of Ulysses I don’t know, I won’t find its direct translation in Warburton.

3.1. The history of English and Finnish languages, not to mention prose styles, are very different. On what grounds did you choose the correspondences between those writers Joyce alludes to and the Finnish prose styles in your translation?

At this point I allowed myself a certain degree of freedom – the correspondences are largely associative. This was required by the temporal difference alone, since the history of written Finnish begins hundreds of years later than that of English. I considered the styles and characters of the writers – for example a natural correspondence for John Bunyan (1628–88) seemed to be vicar Henrik Renqvist (1789–1866), who wrote on the evils of alcohol. I punished August Ahlqvist (1826–89) with Oliver Goldsmith (1728–74), while the decision to assign Aleksis Kivi (1834–72) to Laurence Sterne (1713–68) was one of the most memorable moments of joy in the translation process. These examples should not obscure the fact that the correspondences are in the end arbitrary – the histories of the languages do not run parallel, if for no other reason, because the history of a language is not in “reality” the kind of continuums Joyce in this episode makes it seem to be. Joyce does this on purpose, fully knowing the illegitimacy of his purpose, I should suspect. I on my part try to stay aware of the bastardy of my stylistical implantations.

4. Your coinage of the Finnish feminine third-person pronoun ‘hen’ in your translations has caused some discussion earlier. You have chosen to use it in Ulysses. Why is this?

The non-gender-specificness of the Finnish third-person pronoun is a problem in almost any prose or poetry translation into Finnish. In Ulysses it presented unprecedented problems because the novel is – not exclusively, but at several levels – a study on “the mystery of femininity”. This theme, too, culminates in ‘Circe’, in which a Finnish reader of the Saarikoski edition can – for example – easily miss the fact that in his crucial encounter with Bella Cohen, Leopold Bloom turns into a woman and Bella turns into a man – and even after that you are left with the question how to translate the terms ‘hirs’ and ‘shirs’!

I used the feminine form ‘hen’ – which is not my coinage; it was put forth by at least playwright Tauno Yliruusi years ago – in my translation of John Ashbery’s Flow Chart (Jack-in-the-Box, 1994). It nearly ruined the reception of the book – the few reviews it got almost unanimously denounced it for “violence against the Finnish language”. This time I have found the feedback much more relaxed, although there are still those who are taken aback by it – and the more of them the closer one gets to the pinnacle of the literary elite. The writer of Finnegans Wake, I believe, would not have been shocked by ‘hen’.

Lehto is currently editing his finished manuscript of the translation and its 2500 notes. He hopes to have the work ready for publication in fall 2010.

Lauri Niskanen (BA), is a student of Comparative iterature and English translation at the University of Helsinki. He is currently working on his Master’s Thesis on dynamic and formal equivalnece in Leevi Lehto’s and Pentti Saarikoski’s Finnish translations of ‘Ulysses’.