Albert Bonniers förlag, 2012.
Reviewed by Martin Murrell in SBR 2012:2
‘In my craft or sullen art... I labour...’ sings the poet. ‘And so do I,’ sighs the translator, unlike Thomas starkly aware of the difference: craft is necessary, but no amount of technical brilliance on its own will produce art. As publisher Barry Cunningham puts it in a recent New Books in German: ‘When I first started buying books to be translated I was amazed by how different samples by different translators could sound, and that trying to find the right voice for the translation is crucial... Once we’ve got the translation, we treat it almost like it’s an entirely new book’.
I should hope so! For works such as James Joyce’s Ulysses, with its babel of accents and myriad linguistic dimensions, the translator needs command of an impossibly large number of voices. Simply understanding the different dialects, idiolects, and the styles and registers of Dublin in 1904 with ever-potentially present parodies, subtexts and puns may provide the starting-point, but the translator needs to be capable of much more – of understanding also the reasons for the author’s choices and so becoming the author’s spiritual conjoined twin, with a remarkably similar voice.
I was surprised to learn that it took Erik Andersson only four years to translate Ulysses, the best known and most notorious of modernist English classics, and perhaps the one least read in its entirety. We must hope that this new translation (February 2012) will be received as a unique, ‘original’ work and find a new public in the Swedish-reading world.
Dag ut och dag in... is a collection of Andersson’s reflections on his experiences while translating the novel and a report of his visits to Ireland during the years leading up to its completion. It is divided into eighteen unnumbered sections that parallel the eighteen episodes of Ulysses. Despite its brevity, it is an entertaining read that also points to some of the major difficulties and frustrations that any literary translator may occasionally experience. It could usefully be read before embarking on the great novel for the first time, reassuring readers that they are not alone in their bewilderment or wonder, and that even experts on the text will never crack its codes to everyone’s satisfaction; the Joyce industry has a long history. But there will be disappointments too. The final episode, Molly Bloom’s 24,000-word soliloquy – almost as long as this book – is accorded, for no obvious reason, fewer than 100 words.
Andersson mulled over the very first sentence of Ulysses for three years before finding a satisfying solution: Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead... Mulligan goes on to burlesque the Mass. Knowing this is art that follows literary conventions, we are immediately on our guard, note the sound play – the assonance, the bilabiality and alliteration, the iconic effects, the rhythm. These are features which the translator will try to capture or imitate. Neither Thomas Warburton, translating the novel into Swedish for the first time (1946, revised 1993), nor, at first, Andersson, realised that ‘stately’ is an adjective, not an adverb. When a friend draws his attention to this fact, Andersson tries, half-heartedly, to defend his conclusion by referring to pre-seventeenth-century usage. He is fully justified in doing so, as there is no doubt that Joyce himself worked with dictionaries of older, not to say obsolete, English alongside him. Unfortunately, it reads as a nominal modifier here. Once aware of this, Andersson finally produces a sentence that conveys a comparable musicality and semantic suggestibility: Buck Mulligan, ståtlig, småfet, trädde ut från trapphuset...
Frustratingly, Andersson mentions the English sentence three times in his book but fails to reveal the final Swedish version (qv above) – as is true of all his quotations; his translation of the novel is an essential companion! Furthermore, he fails to refer to a couple of other relevant uses of the word ‘stately’. They occur in a later episode and, in the second instance the word could, ironically, be construed as a quasi-adverb! How he failed to spot this, or discounted it, is not at all clear.
Andersson does show how much serious thought he gave to certain details,and how he arrived at solutions to the problems. However, what may appear to present a difficulty of interpretation to the translator may in fact be quite straightforward to the average native reader. Mrs Breen shows Bloom a postcard bearing the letters U.P.; no page reference is given but I can reveal it’s about a quarter of the way through episode 8. After due consideration and looking up the German and French translations, Andersson hits upon the meaning which I’m sure most English readers will attribute to it immediately and chuckle at before passing on. As Mrs Breen comments: ‘Someone’s taking a rise out of him’; her husband has been doubly sent up. Andersson mentions other interpretations but, correctly in my view, wastes no space discussing them. But we do not learn how he dealt with this visual-linguistic polysemy himself. The message once again, reader is: Buy the book!
Traduttore traditore say the Italians.This is grossly unfair. Translators are authorised code-breakers and successful mimics, not traitors, and the best are Daedalian artificers in every sense, as this book overtly demonstrates and subtly emphasises. However, Dag ut och dag in... has no index, vague references, no sample translations and, generally does not go far enough to be of more than passing interest to a professional translator. Many of the author’s perceptive observations deserve to be developed – after all, as translator of over fifty other works, he has masses of experience to draw on. It would be interesting to learn, in a year’s time, how well both this book and his Ulysses have sold and who, indeed, has bought them.