In the introduction to her 1977 book on James Joyce’s Greek (Τα ελληνικά του Τζαίημς Τζόυς), the poet, critic, and translator Manto Aravantinou refers to the ‘constantly unfinished phrase’ («το συνεχώς ατελείωτο της φράσης») that is found in the Irish author’s work. Aravantinou claims that his writing never comes to a stop, but is rewritten every time: a process that also involves the critic and the reader. The ‘unfinished phrase’ is for the critic less a textual characteristic and more a mode of response which, she suggests, she and other scholars adopt when reading and responding creatively to Joyce’s text. To a certain extent, however, it can equally be used to describe Joyce’s own relationship with his texts, as he constantly edited, rewrote, and added material up to the very last minute. Although references to Joyce’s unfinishedness make us think primarily of Finnegans Wake, I would like to shift the focus to Ulysses because it is not usually discussed from that angle.
Aravantinou believed that her research would provoke other critical approaches to Joyce that would be similarly unfinished and infinite («που κι αυτές δεν θα είναι τελειωμένες ούτε τελειωτικές»). We have, therefore, a Greek critic in the 1970s talking about a modernist author and what has been perceived as a modernist masterpiece from her own peripheral and belated viewpoint and, interestingly, adopting the premise of unfinishedness. Is this a reaction to Joyce’s masterpiece, a way to measure up to it and, in a sense, ‘rewrite’ it? Or is it an effort to rethink an issue that has preoccupied – implicitly or not – most Joyceans so far? This is a question that I have set out to delve into in my own work, in which I explore Joyce’s presence in Greece through the prism of unfinishedness. Taking Ulysses as the most prominent example, as it offers plenty of material in peripheral spaces as well as in central ones, and following the trajectories of Joyce’s texts in Greece can show us, I argue, how productive the concept of unfinishedness, understood in diverse ways, can become. Arguing that Ulysses acts as an open textual space, a process to which critics and writers constantly react, unraveling and developing it, I aim to provide a more general model for the discussion of modernist translation in Εurope’s periphery.
Traditionally, the Greek Joyce reception is considered rigid and delayed, supporting a view of Greece as somehow lacking in the wider reception of central modernism too. But why is that? Is it possible that such views originate from the often prevailing focus on discontinuities and disruptions when it comes to examinations of Greek Joyce reception? External factors such as political and historical events or socioeconomic changes have of course had significant effects on the reception of literary texts but not necessarily determining. Alternatively, such views might be stemming from the broader critical tradition that defines reception of literary texts by looking for origins, sources, influences, targets and destinations. What could alter this picture, I suggest, is to discuss Joyce’s presence in Greece, and therefore his reception, in terms of continuity, fluidity and mobility. In other words, we could shift our attention to more fluid dynamics concerning the movement of literary texts as suggested by contemporary critics like Pascale Casanova (1999), Franco Moretti (2000) and David Porter (2011). I will explain below how concepts such as world literature, trajectory as well as Roland Barthes’s literary ontology, all become crucial in such an undertaking.
Thinking of the presence of Joyce in Greece with a special focus on Ulysses as a continuous trajectory does not mean that we should not consider events such as the appearance of the first full translation, big special issues dedicated to the author, critical expositions or reader’s guides. What it means is that we can reconsider in tandem the key significance of other events such as half-translations, unfinished projects and public debates. Following this path, we could consider three turning points culminating in three periods which determine the long reception of Ulysses in Greece. Specifically, these concern three moments in which Ulysses translations appeared (1935, 1969, 1991), triggering more responses that set the scene in the 1930s, 1960s and 1990s.
What makes the 1930s stand out as a peak in this trajectory is the first introduction and translation of Ulysses from members of the School of Thessaloniki, which has been considered representative of the Greek counterpart of modernism. Specifically, writers such as Takis Papatsonis, Nikos G. Pentzikis and Zoe Karelli introduced Ulysses as an example of European modernism and its narrative techniques. The artistic and literary journal To Trito Mati published the first translated extract from Ulysses in 1936 as part of a theoretical introduction to the literary device of the interior monologue. In the 1940s, the literary journal Kochlias published two more extracts along with critical commentaries connecting Joyce to contemporary movements and attempting an initial presentation and interpretation of Ulysses. Ulysses, therefore, was proposed as an exemplary model of interior monologue which was expected to contribute to the renovation of Greek literature and, potentially, to the development of Greek modernism. The notions of perfection and exemplariness are adduced to the text rendering it an ideal cultural object that can be employed as a manual of modernist composition, in this period of modernism in the making. Unfinishedness, here, far from a sign of incompleteness, becomes a marker of exemplarity. It is because Ulysses can be such a strong model, that the translation of only a brief extract is proposed as the beginning of a long interaction: with this text (and perhaps further translation later on), but also with other Greek texts, that will be modeled on it.
In the long 1960s, Joyce’s work becomes a critic’s life project. Finding in Joyce’s life connections with Greek language and culture, Manto Aravantinou gives prominence to these elements in her critical work. In her book on Joyce’s Greek (Τα ελληνικά του Τζαίημς Τζόυς), based on her doctoral research, Aravantinou discusses the significance of Greek language and culture in the Irish author’s work. She also includes photographs of Joyce’s notebooks which contained notes from his Greek lessons providing thus a glimpse of archives that were almost inaccessible to the wider Greek public at the time. Through her critical work, which includes the above title and a book about Joyce’s life and work (Τζαίημς Τζόυς: ζωή και έργο), Aravantinou projects biography as a method and model of interpretation and translation. This results in a rendering of Ulysses as a text predisposed to Greekness and a localization of the modernist masterpiece. Joyce still remains a rather obscure and seemingly distanced writer for the Greeks at the time. However, Aravantinou attempts and, up to a certain extent, manages to bring the Irish-born and international writer closer to the Greek public by rewriting his text as a Greek literary text. Moreover, she responds to Ulysses by rewriting his text as his biography and, implicitly, as hers.
Last, but not least, the 1990s bring a shift towards contemporary Western Joyce scholarship as there are efforts by Joyce critics in Greece to keep up with the latest developments. Aris Marangopoulos takes on a somewhat educative role by compiling, re-editing and reprinting a reader’s guide to Ulysses in order to familiarize the reading public with what is still considered an impenetrable text and offer readers the necessary tools. In his effort to reconstruct and explain the Joycean universe, Marangopoulos also introduces topography as a critical mode by providing photographs of the Dublin landmarks mentioned in Ulysses and connecting them to the appropriate passages of the novel (see his book Αγαπημένο Βρωμοδουβλίνο. Τόποι και Γλώσσες στον Οδυσσέα του Τζαίημς Τζόυς). It seems that, in this period, the participation of the reader is one of the central issues for Greek Joyce criticism, in an attempt to establish a well-informed readership without fear of the ‘unreadability’ of Ulysses. Towards the end of the twentieth century, Marangopoulos, along with Aris Berlis, another Joyce critic and translator, give shape to a contemporary reception for Ulysses and Joyce. Ulysses becomes more than a text as it is viewed as a space to be discovered and mapped, which includes several layers for the reader to unravel. The novel is, therefore, promoted as an interactive game which requires the participation of the reader to achieve a non-existent completeness.
In all these periods, instead of a finished and finalized textual manifestation, I would like to suggest that Ulysses acts as an open textual space which is constantly retranslated, added to, commented upon; it is a textual field with which writers, translators, critics identify, a space they constantly revisit and unravel. One could see such responses as reactions to Ulysses’s unfinishedness which, at the same time, intensify it, eventually making it look more and more ‘unfinished’. Examining Ulysses through the prism of retranslation and unfinishedness and considering the novel’s translations and criticism as part of the text, places it in the context of other modernist masterpieces that carry a similar history (such as texts by Proust and Eliot).
Taking these observations into account, I would like to consider Ulysses as a paradigmatic case of modernist translation in the periphery, attempting to develop a theoretical argument that can be placed under the heading of the ‘unfinishing masterpiece’. Talking about an ‘unfinishing masterpiece’ means that, rather than the finished translation of a work, it is the identification of the modernist masterpiece as a constantly reworked field that becomes crucial, perhaps even more so in peripheral modernisms. As a result, I would like to examine whether the ‘unfinishing masterpiece’ can become a way to interpret and possibly translate Ulysses. The possibility of it becoming a theoretical concept of its own is also something I want to consider.
The way I propose to use this term draws from Roland Barthes’s literary ontology and his distinction between ‘work’ and ‘text’. In his essay ‘De l’ oeuvre au texte’ (1971), Barthes states that the text is an experimental field which remains open and fluid rather than a concrete, non-changeable object. Barthes defines the text as a network, as a woven entity, and he opposes that to the concept of the work, understood as a living, graspable and autonomous organism, that can be attributed to a ‘father’, to an author. For Barthes, the text is established as a space, a field to which there can be contributions and additions, which can become the subject of infinite transformations and cannot be attributed to a sole creator. An example of this distinction, which is based on the reader’s interaction with the literary texts, can be found in Hans Walter Gabler’s Corrected and Synoptic Edition of Ulysses (1984) which includes a synopsis made of several pre-publication documents (such as manuscripts, proofs, etc.) and an apparatus. Unlike other scholars, Gabler did not try to correct a specific version or to choose a particular edition of Ulysses he considered authoritative. He attempted instead to form a ‘manuscript’ by assembling diverse pre-publication material. He tried, therefore, to present the synchrony and the diachrony of the text and called this a ‘continuous manuscript’ through which the reader would not experience the final product of the writer’s art, but the totality of the writing process. Editions like this highlight the compositional process of a text, that is, the writing practices that reveal the text itself as a process rather than a finished, unalterable product. This particular edition, reflecting Gabler’s definition of Ulysses as a ‘continuous manuscript text’, caused a significant conflict among scholars who brought to the surface the ongoing quest for the ‘authentic’ text, for ‘what Joyce wrote’. Despite the growing effect of the idea of textual instability and inexistence of the original, the academic public seems to be still demanding ‘authenticity’ and ‘finished’ texts. However, I believe that, as is the case here, Gabler is in tune not only with Barthes, but most of all with Joyce’s accretive writing practice. Ulysses is far from finished and that characteristic is brought even more to the surface in its trajectories in peripheral literary spaces through translations and critical responses. The term of ‘unfinishing masterpiece’, which I am attempting to explore and establish, is a concept akin to Gabler’s ‘continuous manuscript text’ but which includes translingual forms and critical work from other literary spaces, particularly peripheral. I am not suggesting that this term addresses only peripheral responses; it can be applied to translations and criticism from other central spaces as well. But it is the periphery’s reaction that adduces to the unfinishedness as a literary characteristic, possibly as a result of anxiety over the literary center.
Exploring and establishing the ‘unfinishing masterpiece’ also requires to be broken down to its components, including the twofold meaning of the word ‘unfinishing’ and how it defines the word ‘masterpiece’ with which Joyce’s Ulysses is usually received. As an adjective, ‘unfinishing’ can mean ‘endless’, ‘inexhaustible’ and ‘incomplete’ but in a positive way, signifying that which constantly requires completion. On the other hand, taken as a gerund, it can mean ‘unfinishing the masterpiece’, a synonym to ‘unraveling’ or ‘unfolding’: while the former meaning suggests a quality that applies to Joyce’s text, the latter signals an active process with Joyce’s text as its object. This second meaning also implies that the masterpiece is in a constant process of developing and expanding. Upon closer consideration, these two meanings complement each other: the ‘unfinishing masterpiece’ provides endless material and is in constant need of completion while its incompleteness is intensified by the translators, critics, writers and editors who continue to unfold the text more and more away from authorial intention. In this examination, we should also question the idea of the ‘masterpiece’ itself and how a text is established as such. While a masterpiece is usually idolized, expected to be a complete, finished and finalized cultural product, in my research I aim to challenge that notion by suggesting that a masterpiece can be quite the opposite: a text as a process, a text reflecting its writing practices, an unfinished text. It is exactly the characteristic of incompleteness and continuous unraveling that transfuses this quality of a masterpiece into a text.
In conclusion, the concept of an ‘unfinishing masterpiece’ can, I believe, provide a dynamic theoretical lens. In the case of Ulysses in Greece, this concept offers us a lens to discuss not only modernist translations in the periphery, but also the reception of Joyce as a writer of central modernism. This concept, and the theory it can generate, concern not only the quality of unfinishedness that is found in Joyce and Ulysses, but also the effect of this characteristic on the peripheral trajectories as well as how it is transferred to the translators’ and critics’ responses. A similar research could be done for Finnegans Wake, Joyce’s ultimate ‘unfinished’ novel and the obvious point of reference for such a discussion. However, if we are to include translingual forms in the concept under discussion, the case of Greece presents a serious lack of material. Of course, this gap is also an interesting issue to address by research in the future. For Manto Aravantinou, who first put forward this idea in a simple way, this triggered her own interpretative approach and, as she suggested, the same happens with other critics who respond to Joyce. As the issue of tackling unfinishedness has been expressed, implicitly or explicitly by many Joyceans, I believe this area is worth exploring. If anything, it is an alternative way to discuss Joyce – and Ulysses – in Greece.
Aravantinou, Manto, Ta ellinika tou James Joyce (Athens: Ermis, 1977)
Aravantinou, Manto, James Joyce. Zoe kai ergo (Athens: Themelio, 1983)
Barthes, Roland, S/Z (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1970)
Barthes, Roland, “De l’œuvre au texte”, Revue d’esthétique, 3 (1971)
Casanova, Pascale, The World Republic of Letters, trans. by M. B. DeBevoise (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004)
Joyce, James, Odysseas, trans. L. Nikolouzos, G. Thomopoulos (Athens: Pairidis, (circa) 1969-1976)
Joyce, James, Odysseas, trans. Sokratis Kapsaskis (Athens, Kedros, 1990)
Joyce, James, Odysseas, trans. Eleftherios Anevlavia (Athens: Kaktos, 2014)
Joyce, James, Ulysses. The 1922 text, ed. by Jeri Johnson (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 2008)
Kapsetakis, Lambis, ‘Stoicheia schetika me tin tychi tou James Joyce sti neoelliniki logotechnia’, Molyvdokondylopelekitis, 6 (1998-1999): 187-218
Lernout, Geert and Van Mierlo, Wim (eds.), The Reception of James Joyce in Europe (London: Bloomsbury, 2004)
Marangopoulos, Aris, Ulysses: Odigos Anagnosis (Athens: Delfini, 1996), republished from Kedros (2001) and Topos Publications (2010)
Moretti, Franco, ‘Conjectures on World Literature’, NLR, 1 (2000): 54-68
Moretti, Franco, “More Conjectures”, New Left Review, 20 (2003), 73-81
O’Neill, Patrick, Polyglot Joyce: Fictions of Translation (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005)
Porter, David, “The Crisis of Comparison and World Literature Debates”, Profession, 11, 1 (2011), 244-258
Tziovas, Dimitris (ed.), Greek Modernism and Beyond: essays in honor of Peter Bien (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997)
“Ulysses”: A Critical and Synoptic Edition, ed. Hans Walter Gabler with Wolfhard Steppe and Claus Melchior (3 vols.; New York and London: Garland, 1984, and rev. pbk. edn., 1986)
Voyiatzaki, Evi, The Body in the Text: James Joyce’s Ulysses and the Modern Greek Novel, (Maryland: Lexington Books, 2002)
Trisevgeni Bilia holds a BA in Philology (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens), an MA in English Literature (Royal Holloway, University of London), and an MSt in Comparative Literature and Critical Translation (St Anne’s College, University of Oxford). She has now started a DPhil in Modern Greek at Oxford and her academic interests concern modernism in Modern Greek, English and Irish literature, comparative literature, as well as translation studies. For her doctoral research, she is examining James Joyce’s presence in the Greek literary space with a focus on Ulysses.