Finnegans Wake, James Joyce, Translation

Interview with Marcelo Zabaloy, Spanish translator of James Joyce

A two-part interview by Derek Pyle with Marcelo Zabaloy, Spanish translator of Finnegans Wake and Ulysses. First published by the Massachusetts Review Blog (to read on their site: Part 1 and Part 2).

“If I did that shamething it was on pure poise”

Marcelo Zabaloy must be a remarkable man, with no shortage of literary ambition and ability. Having completed an unabridged translation of James Joyce’s Ulysses (published in 2015 by el Cuenco de Plata in Buenos Aires), Zabaloy is in the final stages of his next translation. The book? James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.

While Ulysses is a certainly a difficult book to read, it nonetheless retains a modicum of accessibility in its native tongue—the language may seem rather dialectically Irish, but at least it is more or less a form of English. We might imagine a dedicated translator working on Ulysses as his magnum opus. To translate Finnegans Wake, however, is much more difficult to imagine. How does one translate a book in which the original text already appears as some idiosyncratic kind of language? What inspires someone to even attempt such an undertaking?

In an attempt to answer these questions, I interviewed Marcelo Zabaloy over the course of numerous e-mail exchanges. We discussed his interest in Joyce; his translations of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake; his professional life, working for his son’s travel agency; and his collaboration with Edgardo Russo, the highly regarded late editor of el Cuento de Plata.

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Madness, Social Issues, Violence

Informed Consent, Suicide, and the Ethics of Agency

If you use the internet, then you saw a lot about Robin Williams this summer. Or perhaps more accurately, you first saw a lot of people speculating about the impiety of suicide while posting links to crisis hotlines, and then after that a lot of people mourning the loss of a great actor. I don’t know Robin Williams–I never even met him briefly in a San Francisco park–so I can’t say much about him personally. However, to take the general case, say a man has struggled with a depressed outlook on life alongside drug and alcohol problems for many, many years. He has also created a prodigious body of work and positively affected the lives of millions. (Yes, there may be a debt to the world that we inherit by virtue of being born, but he has paid his.) He begins to develop Parkinson’s, a non-fatal but neurodegenerative disease that greatly affects one’s daily life in the long run. I would think that such a person has really tried to beat his demons, and lost. In my mind, his suicide seems like a sad but nonetheless thoughtful, informed decision. It is not my place to say he should have chosen differently.

Romeo and Juliet, on the other hand, were not practicing informed suicide. In their case–and in the case of most non-adults–I would think anti-suicide intervention not only reasonable, but necessary. Hospice care, on the other hand, is predicated on the idea that a person suffering from a terminal illness–including the illness of life, which shows symptoms of getting old–should be permitted to make their own end-of-life decisions. For example, a family member of mine has recently decided not to pursue additional treatment for his aggressive brain tumors. Surgery to remove the tumors could cause serious loss of cognitive functions, and he doesn’t want to spend his final days constantly traveling to and from the hospital in mentally diminished states. By declining the available “treatments”–which may or may not be effective in the battle against cancer–he chooses to end his life earlier than what otherwise might be possible. This seems like another informed kind of suicide. Continue reading

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Bible, Pioneer Valley, Social Issues, Violence

On Being an Angry White Dude

I was in the fifth grade when the Twin Towers fell. Living in California, I had never been to New York, nor had I even heard of the World Trade Center prior to that Tuesday morning. Before the start of school that day, I walked around the blacktop with my two best friends. A kid ran up to us and blurted out, “Did you guys hear what happened?” I think it was Jack who replied, “Shut the fuck up.” National tragedy would not occasion reprieve from our manly forbearance. Perhaps, as young kids with a penchant for cruelty as well as compassion, we did not have the combination of empathetic rationale required for processing such an event. Despite how cognitively, relationally, and socially removed we were from across the country, it may still sound blasphemous against the cause of humanity to admit that I don’t remember feeling emotionally upset. I deferred to Jack, keeping the pact of nihilistic silence–there’s nothing we can do, so who gives a fuck?–but internally my response was a single thought. What the fuck did you expect?

As a 10-year-old boy, I was not particularly versed in world politics, but nonetheless I believed that our imperialistic nation had bought this fate a long time ago. I remember being surprised that this had not happened earlier, and more frequently. At the time, my direct reasoning was something like this: if your nation does enough fucked up shit–from slavery at home to unnecessary invasions abroad–you’re gonna get attacked sometimes. I still see a truth in this cynical response, but looking back on my young perspective now, I am puzzled. At such a young age, I wonder, where did I come up with this political perspective? And, perhaps more importantly, how and why did I lack basic empathy for the people killed? Continue reading

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Music, Outlaw Country, Social Issues

If You Don’t Like Hank Williams… Country Music Hating Bigots

by Derek Pyle Online dating is fraught with unabashedly unaware tools, creepy Nice Guys, and other egregious offenses of personality–and it is no surprise that many of the problem profiles belong to white dudes. I would like to draw attention to another moral infraction, prevalent but hitherto unaddressed, marring the world of online dating. “I like all music. Except country.” Plaguing numerous profiles, this sentence stands for that deplorable bigotry, the close-minded hatred of country music. Yes, you think that country lyrics are riddled with chauvinistic nationalism, and the music’s pop production value reeks of mainstream, unadulterated capitalism. If you also happen to have an expensive liberal arts degree, you also hate country music simply because it’s cool to rag on the rural, working class. You think that songs about hometown families fighting, falling in love, getting drunk, and going fishing are the markers of an uneducated people valuing stupid shit. You don’t have time for that. You dream of changing the world. Well, in the words of Kris Kristofferson: Continue reading

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Finnegans Wake, James Joyce, Madness, Psychoanalysis

Monism, Humpty Dumpty, and Finnegans Wake: In Defense of the Arcane, Pt. 2

by Derek Pyle

Finnegans Wake is concerned with the primordial. James Joyce’s book is an expository dramatization of the cosmic elements, as if depicting the sands that give rise to Ozymandias, only to collapse again later. As I suggested in the first section of the current essay, Finnegans Wake is about how ocean turns to desert, desert turns to Las Vegas, and Las Vegas eventually runs out of water and collapses back into desert–a land which in turn births the great T. S. Eliot epic, “The Wasteland.” Continue reading

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Finnegans Wake, James Joyce, Pioneer Valley

Big Foot, Loch Ness, and Finnegans Wake: In Defense of the Arcane, Pt. 1

by Derek Pyle

The crown of Hipster Creation, I guess: nonsensical, witty, I-don’t-give-a-fuck cool. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce is the ultimate “shit on canvas and call it art.” An honest admission of admiration for the book seems too arrogant–because after all, I really don’t know what’s going on–and yet I can’t simply write off the work as gibberish. Mirroring this internal conflict, when discussing the book with others I unwittingly slip into a pretentious yet self-effacing brogue. As if arcane is equated with cool, I say stupid shit like, “It’s the most difficult book in the English language.” From Wikipedia:

The entire book is written in a largely idiosyncratic language, consisting of a mixture of standard English lexical items and neologistic multilingual puns and portmanteau words… Despite these obstacles, readers and commentators have reached a broad consensus about the book’s central cast of characters and, to a lesser degree, its plot. Continue reading

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Music, Outlaw Country

Previously unreleased Johnny Cash, Out Among the Stars

by Derek Pyle

Lately, there’s been a lot of really good Johnny Cash on my Sirius/XM satellite radio, but it took me a few weeks to figure out why: the Man in Black has released a new album. It is a record endowed with a few duds, but some fantastic takes as well.

Like many posthumous releases, Out Among the Stars compiles various hitherto “forgotten” songs, which where recorded in the early 1980s with producer Billy Sherrill. But this is not merely a collection of unwanted B-sides. While featuring overdubbed instrumental parts, the album’s production is spacious and certainly showcases Cash. Chronologically the album stands between Cash’s earlier country success and his later, final music, which was marked by darker themes and grim-sounding vocals. (The most famous cut from this later period is Cash’s cover of the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt.”) It is a time of searching for Johnny Cash, as the man was grappling with addiction and recovery, and marooned in between periods of public acclaim. Trigger, a reviewer from Saving Country Music, described “the song material on this album [as] somewhat indicative of [Cash] searching for direction. It is sort of the take of two Johnnys—one introspective, dark, and even disturbed at times, and the other the more ‘aw-shucks’ Arkansas boy.” Continue reading

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