In the modern era, reading as well as writing are often solitary acts. Ulysses of course has its public celebration every Bloomsday, while Finnegans Wake has inspired countless monthly or even weekly reading groups. Has your engagement with Joyce been a solo journey, or do you count yourself amongst other Joycean colleagues and peers?
It has been, as you call it, a solo journey. I am in close contact with Hervé Michel [French translator of Finnegans Wake] as I consider his work Veillée Pinouilles something extraordinary, to say nothing of his “Intraduction”. And the proximity of the French with the Spanish language helps me a lot in the procedure of revising own translation. I always have Hervé’s text at hand. It is my reference, my main guide. What he dares do I will follow, not always but almost always. When I go to France I visit him, I discuss with him and Constance-Hélène, his wife, for hours. And we laugh a lot. Every now and then I send him an email to ask him whether something in the text is okay or could there be an error. And he always comes back with a new proposal. He’s always revising and rewriting his [translation of Finnegans Wake] and has been doing so for years and years and it’s so incredible that there’s not an editor in his country who would take this marvelous thing and get it printed immediately. But yes, he lives 12,000 kilometers away from Bahía Blanca, so I normally work alone in my Joycean ventures.
How interesting that you would look to a French translation for guidance with your own Spanish translation! What about Michel's translation do you find so illuminating?
There is a French translation done by Philippe Lavergne and published by Gallimard in 1982. But it is the equivalent of a “corrected English” version of Finnegans Wake. So it looks like the product of automatic writing or a surrealist text. What Hervé has done is to emulate the astonishment of the English-speaking reader in front of the book. He didn’t straighten, dilute or thin difficulties; let nonsense be nonsense seems to be the key factor. Every language has its own resources, some more, some less, all differing as clock from keys, and you have to dig deep to find them. There they are, words. And thousands of them you must forge, et comme disent les français, c'est en forgeant que l’on devienne forgeron, them words. But if you have timeframes, deadlines and commitments with the publisher then you must rush and finish your translation ASAP. Hervé has been doing his Veillée Pinouilles for more than thirty years without caring about being published. Anyway, it is about time for the French Joycean public to be able to read this wonderful work in Franglische. It is as funny as Mark Twain’s translation and retranslation of his Jumping Frog, from English to French and back to English.
What high compliments. How did you first connect with Michel?
As I used the French Ulysses [translated by Auguste Morel, Valery Larbaud and Stuart Gilbert] as a guide whenever the English text was rather opaque, I thought that I would find a French translation of Finnegans Wake done by the same group of people. I discovered lately that only a few pages of “Anna Livia Plurabelle” were translated by Jolas, Beckett, etcetera with James Joyce.
In the course of that research I came across Hervé’s website and sent him an email asking to meet next month, when I was coming back to Paris. This was early 2012. We spent hours speaking and laughing. His “Intraduction” is very, very funny; it’s the utmost nonsense that was ever heard dump and it is not an imitation of the master at all. It’s just a different text.
Speaking of travel, would you say a little more about your travel agency work?
Oh, sure. A bit of self-advertising wouldn’t do much harm. My son is the owner of the company; we are a family based travel agency with just a few staff and we do sports travel. Our clients are rugby clubs and schools in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay who tour Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the UK, Spain, Portugal and France – and the other way round, schools and rugby clubs from those countries and Canada (Vancouver) coming to South America during the spring break in the Northern shemsfire. My job is to find fixtures and try to find some decent opposition according to the skills of the visiting teams, and to find families to host the boys and girls for a couple of nights in each location, to make sure that the buses are on time, and to see that the coaches do not bring in the big boys (generally way over that league’s age limit) when they realize that a team of lean boys from Argentina or Chile are leading the score with a few minutes to go (welcome, New Zealand), etcetera etcetera. It’s a nice, wonderful job. And it allows me plenty of time to visit libraries and bookshops, where I always find something extraordinary.
Have you always worked in business? When did you interest in translation begin?
Some fifteen years ago, when the Internet was not what it is today, I used to translate documents that were not available in Spanish. Mainly rugby coaching manuals, short stories (French and English), technical manuals and so on. I never did translations for a living; only for myself, and to share with friends and family a few nice things.
When you began translating Ulysses, did you envision eventually publishing the work? or was that also a more personal endeavor?
It was a personal endeavor as you say. Only when I finished the first draft version I started to think that maybe it could be worth contacting publishers. And so I did.
Any other works you hope to translate now that you've completed Ulysses and Finnegans Wake?
Not really. I don’t want to work in the thorough meaning of the word, I mean, contracts or deadlines. During the process of translating Ulysses I became a very good friend with my editor Edgardo Russo and he just died a few weeks ago. It’s very sad. He was the finest editor in Latin America, so they say, but for me was just a good friend.
Sorry to hear of your loss, he sounds like quite the man. Would you say more about Edgardo, and your friendship with him?
I met Edgardo Russo early in 2010 when he agreed to publish my translation of Ulysses. I sent many emails, to almost all the Spanish-speaking editors around the world and he was the only one who replied. He first thought it was a joke and didn’t pay too much attention to the attached file containing the “Circe” episode. Then, tickled by curiosity, he read it and at the same time compared it with the previous translations. He decided that it was not a joke and gave me a call. After our first meeting we started reading, via Skype, one episode after the other. He suggested many changes, some slight, some important but he always respected the main body of my work. We spent almost four and a half years polishing up the text, reading it aloud once and again, until we arrived to the conclusion that the text was ripe, mature, that it was flowing nicely. It must be said that El Cuenco de Plata, that’s Edgardo’s publishing house, is very prestigious; el Cuenco has gained a reputation by the quality of the books they do. So Edgardo was very busy with his daily task but he always had time for Ulysses; he was deeply involved in every single word of the text. You don’t find these days a person like him. The regular editor is more like a hectic fellow who never has time enough for reading anything worth reading. Edgardo was a great man; we will miss him.
Wow. Your story really illustrates the dedication and tireless passion of a remarkable man. Were you able to work with Edgardo for your translation of Finnegans Wake as well?
I did the translation alone and every now and then I would send him a fragment. Edgardo was ready to start reading my translation and then do the final revision with me; he didn’t have the time for it.
Well, I imagine you still carry the lessons learned from working with him, and that his spirit is no doubt contained in your new translation as well. Which relates to what is a good final question—any advice for aspiring translators?
Sure, he became an inspiring memory. I’m very proud of having worked with him these years. Regarding translations and translators I only dare say that the deeper your engagement is with the writer and his work, the brighter will be your translation. One should take the writer’s place so in a certain way you are, you become, the writer himself, rewriting what he wrote. Everything you enjoy doing will end up being a decent piece of work.
Derek Pyle studied at Hampshire College and worked as a letterpress printer for Jubilation Press. He is the co-founder and primary director of the Waywords and Meansigns project, an unabridged musical version of Finnegans Wake, with over thirty hours of music from seventeen different musicians, readers, and performers.