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Translations in Episodes 1-3

Monday, September 7, 2009; 05:28 am Leave a comment Go to comments

Post-discussion edit:

One point that was brought up in class on Monday was the difference between linguistic translation and the sort of translation that involves the movement of something from one context to another.  I didn’t really pay attention to the latter definition in the first three episodes, but did notice that not all of the non-English words/phrases were translated for us by Joyce–meaning that they aren’t translations at all, but rather phrases (often of cultural or religious importance) placed into the context of Buck Mulligan’s mockery of Catholic rituals or Stephen’s private thoughts.

The isolation of Stephen from the reader which occurs particularly in the third episode is achieved in part through the use of a plethora of non-English allusions, references, or in some cases plain phrases from everyday conversations.  Not only is Stephen isolated physically and mentally from other people and creatures in this episode, but Joyce also achieves a certain alienation of the reader from his protagonist through translation.  I am curious to see if this isolation, in both senses, of Stephen continues throughout the whole book.

Original post:

Throughout our reading of Ulysses, I will be tracking the “translations” obsession. There is a plethora of non-English words in the first three episodes of the book; the range of languages includes Latin, French, German, Italian, and Homeric Greek. Most of these occur within the third (Proteus) episode.

While most of the translations occur in the third episode, the first contains a couple. The first in the book is actually an ironic usage of the original Latin: Mulligan satirizes the rituals of Catholic mass and opens his shaving ritual with “Introibo ad altare Dei (I will go up to God’s altar)” (3). Mulligan continues this satire on page 11 when he serves breakfast to Haines and Dedalus, saying “In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.” Mulligan’s mocking uses of ritualistic Catholic phrases fits nicely with his continual criticism of Dedalus for being a “fearful jesuit” (3). Buck’s ironic criticism of Stephen’s denomination is interesting when considered alongside his criticism of Stephen for not praying for his mother.

Another important translation that occurs throughout the first three episodes is the single word “omphalos (Greek: navel)” (7). This word refers to Homer’s Odyssey (specifically, the island of Ogygia), the oracle at Delphi, and a later conception of the navel as the “center of self-consciousness and the source of poetic and prophetic inspiration” (Gifford and Seidman 17). The omphalos as a center of poetic inspiration is particulary relevant to Stephen’s career pursuits, and its status as a translation ties in to the large number of translations in the Proteus episode.

The concentration of translations in the third episode seems to have something to do with the stream-of-consciousness style that Joyce utilizes to give us insight into Stephen’s thoughts. I found Joyce’s different (apparent) reasons for using translations to be of particular interest within this episode. In some instances, translations seem to simply reinforce a sentiment already expressed by the narrator or Stephen himself, as in the case of: “Hear, hear! Prolonged applause. Zut! Nom de Dieu!” (18) Similarly, translations are also used to paraphrase ideas expressed in English–an odd use of language, given the status of languages used such as Homeric Greek or Latin. For example, Joyce rephrases and intensifies “Lord, they are weary; and whispered to, they sigh” with the Latin “diebus ac noctibus iniurias patiens ingemiscit” (41). I am interested to know to what extent this device was effective for Joyce’s readership–or if it is effective for any of us, given that I needed to look up almost every non-English word or phrase to get a grasp on Joyce’s point.

Many of the non-English words that Joyce uses are related to Stephen’s musings and reflections conceptually or through his past lived experience. His memories of studying in France are full of conversations written out entirely in French, for example. And when Stephen imagines a phone call to Eve, he uses the words “Aleph, alpha” to start his dialing–an interesting use of alphabets. Both being first letters of their respective alphabets (Hebrew and Greek), the correlation between the story of God’s creation of the world and original sin is clear. The word “Alpha” is also used as part of the phrase “alpha and omega,” which refers to God as the “beginning and the end.”

I also noticed that there are generally more translations or non-English words present in passages in which Stephen’s stream-of-consciousness loses a good deal of its coherence. Not only is the English stilted and grammatically incorrect, but non-English words are used with very little reference–the progression of thoughts disintegrates, leaving us to put the pieces together. One example of such an instance is on page 35: “Hunger toothache. Encore deux minutes. Look clock. Must get. Ferme! Hired dog!” I’m not sure how traceable this pattern will be throughout the work, but it seems apparent in the progressive increase of non-English words and phrases throughout the first three episodes, anyway.

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