Erika Mihálycsa
Babes-Bolyai University Cluj, Romania | Published: 15 March, 2013
ISSUE 8 | Pages: 65-78 | PDF | DOAJ |

Creative Commons 4.0 2013 by Erika Mihálycsa | This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access.

The essay articulates the specific translation problems encountered in translating Flann O’Brien’s ludic novel At Swim-Two-Birds (1939) into Hungarian in a framework of translation studies, also drawing on research on Joyce in translation. It tackles issues such as the necessity to invent literary styles for the book’s embedded style parodies, especially where the ‘originals’ are unknown in the TL culture; and the choice of idiom/ minor language(s) (Hiberno-English, as well as the Finn/Sweeny translatorese), for which a form of the TL that could function as a translated idiom had to be invented. As a possibility, harnessing Transylvanian Hungarian is explored – somewhat similarly to A. Oţoiu’s Romanian version of ASTB (2005), which also resorts to Transylvanian Romanian accents for rendering the same idiolects. Further points of interest are the issue of Gaelic red herrings and direct translations from the Gaelic; the possibilities of foreignizing language use, especially in the frame of Latinate pedantry; the strategies for rendering the (mis)quotes, literary references, Joycean allusions; and, last but far from least, the translators’ adventures with Flann O’Brien’s vicious puns. The essay also explores the four-handed translation process, resulting in a dialogic, and multilayered, Hungarian text that attempts to speak in as many styles and voices as the original.

El ensayo se centra en los problemas específicos de traducción encontrados al traducir la novela lúdica At Swim-Two-Birds (1939) de Flann O’Brien al húngaro dentro del marco de los estudios de traducción, así como de investigación sobre la traducción de la obra de Joyce. Se abordan aspectos como la necesidad de inventar estilos literarios para verter las parodias de estilo insertadas en el libro, especialmente cuando los ‘originales’ son desconocidos en la cultura de la lengua de destino; y la elección de modismos/lengua(s) minoritaria(s) (el hiberno-inglés, así como las traducciones artificiales de Finn y Sweeny), para los cuales ha sido preciso inventar una forma en la lengua de destino que funcione como giro traducido. Una posible camino a explorar es recurrir al húngaro de Transilvania, como hiciera A. Oţoiu en su versión rumana de ASTB (2005) al verter los mismos idiolectos en la modalidad rumana de Transilvania. Otros puntos de interés son la cuestión de las pistas falsas y traducciones directas del gaélico; las posibilidades de estranjerizar el uso de la lengua, especialmente en forma de pedantería latinizante; estrategias para verter (falsas) citas, referencias literarias, alusiones Joyceanas, sin olvidar las aventuras de los traductores con los maliciosos juegos de palabras de Flann O’Brien. El ensayo explora asimismo el proceso a cuatro manos de la traducción que da por resultado un texto húngaro dialógico e intrincado que intenta hablar a través de tantos estilos y voces como el original.

Flann O’Brien; estudios de traducción; intertextualidad; traducción cultural; parodia estilística; intraducibilidad lingüística /semántica / cultural; modismo / idiolecto / lengua minoritaria.

My tale begins with two translators and junior Flanneurs, the present party and Gábor Csizmadia, who in the privacy of their respective bedrooms — situated at quite some 800 miles’ remove from each other in the farthest East of Transylvania, Romania, and the wild West of Hungary, but whose respective washstands proudly held up for inspection several indispensable, if somewhat tattered, volumes by the venerable De Selby — committed themselves to the translation of a book curiously entitled At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), into their own mellifluous Hungarian. As soon as the two parties, then both PhD students writing their theses on, or partially on, the very difficult pieces of puzzledom in the books of the very revered Irish author Flann O’Brien, bumped into each other on the Red Swan premises, they decided that counterpoint was an even number and united their twin texts, entwined with laughters low, into one odd translation under the frighteningly unhyphenated title Úszikkétmadáron (literally, On Swim-Two-Birds).1 The text — complete with annotations, afterword and a chronology, and published, after two years of delays, inside orthodox green covers bearing the countenance of the Dublin Diversion by the bilingual publishing house Koinónia, Cluj/Kolozsvár, Romania — took its shape in about two and a half years, during which the present party kept weaving the webs of the two initial versions into successive new translation variants, into which Gábor then invariably stuck a tobacco-free fingernail, so that in the course of our contrapuntal chirping-together an umpteenth Excellence evolved from two Futilities.

We worked the text into successive stages of a translation-palimpsest and, at the end of each stage we shared our doubts about the current version, which then served as a starting-point to a next stage of elaboration. Our objective in writing a joint version was to create a seamless text where each discourse parody appears as distinct, yet allowing for internal hybridization. Throughout this process, the two continuously rewritten initial translations, with their poignant differences and less conspicuous common denominators, read and re-read each other, often resulting in the creation of a third (sometimes even tenth), inherently dialogic text variant for a certain passage, rather than the substitution of one of the initial versions in a patchwork-like ensemble. Cases when a lengthy passage was inserted unchanged from the one version into the joint translation were few and far between (such as the pomes of Jem Casey, the Poet of the People and of the Pick — who in our version bears the sprightly dactylic Homeric adjective “Kétkezi Költő” [Handworking or, Menial Poet] and whose attribute is changed to “Kalapács” [hammer] — transplanted from Gábor’s version). As a rule, it was mostly words, turns of phrase, inflections from the one version hybridizing the syntax, phrasing, or rhythm of the other variant to such extent that in many passages of the final text it becomes well-nigh impossible to distinguish the one, or the other, initial translation. In so doing, we feel we have furthered a strategy at the heart of the text: of adding, and appropriating, entangled voices and forked idioms in order to emphasize the fact that texts always generate meaning in dialogue — and indeed in polylogue — with other texts, a polylogue that inevitably eschews authorial control. The blending of the two initial translation versions is illustrated by the example below:

Example of a passage from the Finn Mac Cool parody, in the initial translation versions (violet: Erika Mihálycsa, green: Gábor Csizmadia) and in the middle, in the final, joint version. The colour coding illustrates the extent of blending of the two translators’ initial texts; the phrases and words in light blue signal translation solutions found in the final, joint version only.

With that he rose to a full tree-high standing, the sable cat-guts which held his bog-cloth drawers to the hems of his jacket of pleated fustian clanging together in melodious discourse. Too great was he for standing. The neck to him was as the bole of a great oak, knotted and seized together with muscle-humps and carbuncles of tangled sinews, the better for good feasting and contending with the bards. The chest to him was wider than the poles of a good chariot, coming now out, now in, and pastured from chin to navel with meadows of black man-hair and meated with layers of fine man-meat the better to hide his bones and fashion the semblance of his twin bubs. The arms to him were like the necks of beasts, ball-swollen with their bunched-up brawnstrings and blood-veins, the better for harping and hunting and contending with the bards. Each thigh to him was to the thickness of a horse’s belly, narrowing to a green-veined calf to the thickness of a foal. Three fifties of fosterlings could engage with handball against the wideness of his backside, which was wide enough to halt the march of warriors through a mountain-pass.

I am a bark for buffeting, said Finn,
I am a hound for thornypaws.
I am a doe for swiftness.
I am a tree for wind-siege.
I am a windmill.
I am a hole in a wall. (ASTB 10-11)

Azzal felemelkedett teljes szálfenyő-magasságában, dallamosan megszólaltatva az éjszín macskabél húrokat, melyek kordbársony zekéjének szegélyére erősítve tartották ágyékának díszét, kapcaposztó bugyogóját. Nem látsz termetre hozzá hasonlót egész Erinben. Akár százados tölgy dereka az ő nyaka, mit izomkötegek és karbunkulus inak csomóznak: válogatott lakomákon és bárdok társaságán edződött. Szélesebb az ő mellkasa egy jó harckocsinál, állától köldöke kútjáig férfiszőr sűrű rétje növi be és kitűnő férfihús borítja, csontjait-fedőn, iker mellbimbóit jobban duzzasztón. Az ő karja, mint vadállatok nyaka, barna inakkal és vérerekkel dagadó labda: hárfa húrjainak pengetésén, sok vadászaton és a bárdokkal való versengésen edződött. Combjainak vastagsága egy ló hasának vastagságával vetekedett, lábikrájának formája csikóhasnyira sudarasodott. Másfélszáz pulya kényelmesen eljátszadozhatott roppant hátsójának terjedelmén, mely akár egy csapat hegyszorosban vonuló harcos útját is el tudta zárni.

Ütésre fának kérge vagyok, mondta Finn,
Tüskemancsnak véreb vagyok,
Gyorsaságra őzsuta vagyok,
Szélostromra fának koronája vagyok, Szélmalom vagyok,
Falban lyuk vagyok én.

Azzal felemelkedett teljes szálfenyő-magasságig, dallamos feleselésre összependítvén az éjszín macskabél húrokat, melyek redőzött kordbársony zekéjének szegélyére függeszték lápigyapot bugyogóját. Irdatlan vala az ő nagysága álltában. Akár százados tölgy dereka az ő nyaka, mit izomkötegek és kárbunkulus inak csomóznak, nem másért, mint helytállni tivornyázásban és az énekmondókkal való vetekedésben. Szélesb vala az ő mellkasa egy jó harckocsi rúdközénél, állától köldöke kútjáig fekete férfiszőr sűrű legelő rétje borítá s alatta húsnak több réteg kitűnő férfihús, nem másért, mint elfedni csontjait és megformálni ikermellbimbói párját. Az ő karja, mint vadállatok nyaka, barna inakkal és vérerekkel dagadó labda, nem másért, mint hárfajátékra, vadászatra és bárdokkal való versengésre. Két combjának vastagsága egy ló hasának vastagságával vetekedett, lábikrájának formája csikóhasnyira sudarasodott. Másfélszáz pulya kényelmesen eljátszadozhatott hatalmas hátsójának terjedelmén, mely feltartóztathatott akár egy hegyszorosban vonuló harcos alakulatot.

Vagyok bárka hullámverésben, mondta Finn,
Vagyok véreb tüskemancsnak,
Vagyok őzsuta gyorsaságra,
Vagyok terebély fa szélostromra, Vagyok szélmalom,
Falban lyuk vagyok én.

S avval felegyenesedett szálfa magasságig, miközben a koromszínű bélhúr madzagok, amelyek hozzáfogták lápigyapot-gatyáját redőzött kordbársony zekéjének szegélyéhez, dallamos feleseléssel összependültek. Irdatlan vala az ő nagysága álltában. Az ő nyaka oly vastag vala, mint órjás tölgyfarönk, göcsörtös, s kusza izomcsomók dülledő kötegei fogák körül, nem másért, mint helytállni tivornyázásban és az énekmondókkal való vetekedésben. Az ő mellkasa szélesb vala, mint jó harci szekér rúdköze, ütemesen emelkedett-süllyedt, s álltól köldökig fekete férfiszőrzet dús legelő mezeje borítá, s alatta húsnak több réteg finom férfihús nem másért, mint elfedni csontjait és megformálni ikermellbimbói párját. A karjai őnéki olyanok valának, mint vadállatok nyaka, dinnyényire duzzadt izomnyalábokkal és erekkel, nem másért, mint hárfajátékra, vadászatra és bárdokkal való versengésre. Combjai egyenként olyan vastagok valának, mint ló hasa, amely egy csikó vastagságú zölderes lábikrába keskenyedett. Háromszor ötven rajkó labdázhatott ülepe széltében, amely elég vala ahhoz, hogy feltartson egy hegyszoroson átvágni akaró harcoló alakulatot.

A hányatást bárkaként viselem – szólt Finn,
Karmos mancsokra kopóként ugrom
Fürgeségem szarvasünőé
Szél ostromát faként állom
Szélmalom vagyok
Lyuk vagyok a falban.


Translating Flann O’Brien’s “vertiginous extravagance,” “anatomy of a novel” (Donohue 2002: 23, 24), “parodic symposium of textual strategies and stylistic conventions” (Imhof 1985: 13) into any language undoubtedly means to venture on premises where poetic, linguistic and stylistic license is the conditio sine qua non. In the following, I will try to take untranslatability by the (t)horns and explore a few of the poignant translation problems we encountered, as well as present our strategies for coping with them.

Arguably the greatest translation problem is the rendering of the “manivaried” parodies of style, most of which have no stylistic “original,” nor any, diachronically analogous stylistic relatives in the target language literary heritage on which to rely. This task necessitates a double invention in the target language (TL): firstly, of linguistic-stylistic forms that would function as equivalents of the original’s parodies and pastiches which could rely on the reader’s recognition of some pre-existing stylistic framework in the source language (SL) cultural memory; and secondly, the transfer of O’Brien’s parodic effects. In other words, the translator has to create a specific locus of foreignness within the TL where style and its marked idiosyncrasies consistently frustrate the reader’s expectations of domestication to native discursive and linguistic norms, yet evoke by “faking” a (nonexistent) tradition — for instance, that of medieval Irish legends — which is to become subject to parodic manipulation. In this respect, the road to Flann O’Brien’s prose leads through the Joyce of Ulysses (1922) perhaps even more than that of A Portrait(1916). One of the “control texts” on which to draw and from where to depart, should thus be the TL version of Ulysses, which already established a framework for parodying (Irish, English as well as Anglo-Irish) prose styles that can, by definition, be only evoked in the TL — and which, in its turn, is parodied in At Swim-Two-Birds. For the Hungarian translator, this means to signal the relation of one’s text to Miklós Szentkuthy’s canonic Hungarian version of Ulysses (1974), with its explosive, Gargantuan humour, whose excesses of language and disseminative language poetics fuelled the so-called postmodern “prose turn” of Hungarian fiction in the 1970s to a degree probably unparalleled by any other translation text.2


“Too abstruse to follow intelligently”

O’Brien’s strategy of parodying writing, of creating a book-web of stylistic found objects, relies partly on the treatment of English as a dead language. One gets the impression that the author drew the most grist to his own metafictional mill from the murmuring meadows of Joyce’s “Eumaeus” and “Ithaca,” and the “high falutin stuff” of “Aeolus”, where the text foregrounds its own rhetorical artifice. Reading becomes an act of internal translation forcing the reader to supplement meaning by correction and to a fresh reconceptualization of language. The translator would have to aim at creating an effect of puzzlement by delayed understanding: (s)he is given the green light to play on Latinate jargon, mixed (dead) metaphors, and shopsoiled literariness to such extent and in such concentration as to turn them into the text’s principal stylistic marker, blatantly defying norms of fluency and communicative readability.

Stylistically, the student-narrator’s fiction strains to emulate his literary models in the shape of Joyce and Huxley with rather lagging footsteps; however, most of the time it becomes an accumulation of preformulated grooves of a decidedly miscellaneous collection, of syntagms of the clichéd persuasion, sporting an impressive array of borrowed stylistic plumes: tropes meticulously pointed out, classical (mis)quotations, formulae or dandy choice words going occasionally askew in comic instances of sliding signification.3  This offers ample playground for translators to operate with pedantry driven ad absurdum, inviting lapses and slips of the pen — always bearing in mind that translation is an opportunistic trade, so that some of the translips would necessarily occur, and aim elsewhere than O’Brien’s originals. In the description of the uncle and Mr Corcoran’s operatic rapture, for instance, the narrator infers that the uncle and Mr. Corcoran were “likewise situated” (92) — meaning, singing in the baritone voice in the Rathgar and Rathmines opera society. The Hungarian version [“hasonlóan szituált”: Ú 121] plays with the contextual inappropriateness of “situated” — a mildly pretentious word used in Hungarian exclusively for social and economic standing; similarly, the infelicitous figurative in the sentence “my uncle took a stand near the fire” (90) is conveyed with an equivalent mislaid idiom, “nagybátyám a kandallónál foglalt állást” (Ú 117), standing for the expression of one’s opinion in a debate. In rendering the descriptive phrase “Adjacent stools bore the forms of Brinsley and Kelly, my two true friends” (34), we made recourse to a conspicuously pedantic turn-of-phrase “a szomszédos székek Brinsley és Kelly, két igaz barátom mivoltával voltak terhelve” (Ú 45) [were laden with], whereas the two friends’ forms are supplanted by an obsolete term for self-identity [mivolt(a)], approximately “whatness”. We also chose to do a bit of discursive leg-pulling on the side and sprinkled our translated student-narrator with a good pocketful of extra recondite Latinisms barely understandable for the Hungarian reader — certainly far less so than for the English one. In the original, Brinsley expresses his relief over the exit of the uncle with a “pious ejaculation” (26); our translation text lets off an “ájtatos ejakuláció” (Ú 35) in purest classical idiom. Since “ejakuláció” as a Hungarian Latinism is only used for the natural phenomenon situated at a considerable downwards remove from the organs of speech, the Hungarian reader will have to back-translate the term into pristine Latin while the text winks at him with a rolling eye: honi soit qui mal y pense

In a similar vein, the “Memorandum of the respective diacritical traits of Messrs Furriskey, Lamont and Shanahan” penned for the benefit of doubting Brinsley, is a hilarious exercise in academic clowning, its main source of humour being the use of (mock-)medical terminology to classify and describe physical features and objects that are singularly banal and down-to-earth — thus situating form at the farthest possible remove from content:

Head: brachycephalic; bullet; prognathic.(…)
Unimportant physical afflictions: palpebral ptosis; indigestion; German itch. (159)
Fej: brachycephal; golyóbis; prognát. (…)
Mellékes szervi panaszok: palpebrális ptosis; emésztési rendellenességek; pikkelysömör. (Ú 211)

The strategy behind such presumptuous verbiage is, again, delayed understanding: the reader first has to translate the foreign terms into a more “homely” language. Hungarian, not being part of the family of Indo-European languages and therefore accomodating foreign terms to much less extent than English, has obviously far narrower possibilities to play upon the difference of register between “palpebral ptosis” (meaning, a hanging of the eyelids) and “German itch,” with its suave touch of vernacular xenophobia. The Hungarian translator here either performs the transfer that would be required of the reader — that is, makes intelligible at once what the English-language reader has to work out, also levelling the difference of register felt in the sequence — or, by preserving the Latin term, as we did, makes it markedly less accessible and therefore of an even more defamiliarizing effect than in English. Without the intimidating Latin diagnostic (Hungarian medical jargon uses a descriptive, homely Hungarian term) the banality of the symptom loses its inherently comic effect.


“Melodious is your voice…”

However, the penchant for academic clowning in the frame narrative and in Orlick’s book-web is relatively straightforward in comparison with the linguistically more remote parodies of style which in the SL function as double translations — of Gaelic originals and of their English translatorese, none of which have any possible linguistic or stylistic analogy in the TL. One of the most explosively comic threads of such parody in the novel is the one centred around the Hercules-like mythological figure of Finn Mac Cool, some of whose early Fianna legends — the ones best preserved in oral tradition — already contain the grain of hyperbolic descriptions and mushrooming catalogues. As Joycean scholar Maria Tymoczko shows, Joyce’s parodies of “Irish discourse” already continue a comic tradition within Irish literature, at the core of the early Irish texts themselves which abounded in scatological humour, grotesquely overblown descriptions and hyperbolae, and were often demonstrably already pastiches, ridiculing even the greatest epic heroes (1994: 54-58). O’Brien’s Finn parody should be compared to both the tame English translation versions circulated by the Revival and to Joyce’s Finn-style portrait of the Citizen; the constitutive difference brought by At Swim-Two-Birds is, on the one hand, its greater proximity to the medieval Irish originals (especially to the nature poetry of Buile Suibhne, as a comparison with Seamus Heaney’s modern English rendering, Sweeny Astray, 1983, reveals), and on the other hand, the sweeping, unbuttoned comedy of language.

In rendering the valences of the Finn parody’s Gaelicizing prose, the translator can resort to archaic variants of the TL. A major problem is the invention of formulae and turns-of-phrase which could create an effect similar to the defamiliarizing phrasing of the original, functioning as a “translatorese” from Gaelic studded with calques: ‘The neck to him was as the bole of a great oak… Each thigh to him was to the thickness of a horse’s belly…” (11). Whereas Gaelic-type compound words (“wheyface,” “ball-swollen”), for instance, come almost naturally to Hungarian with its vast synthetic possibilities, the rendering of “foreign” prepositional phrases is much more problematic: an agglutinating non-Indo-European language, Hungarian has no prepositions but expresses spatial and temporal directions by postpositions (suffixes) attached to the qualified word, and these as a rule have a narrower semantic field than prepositions in English. The solution we adopted was that of stylizing in excess, departing, where possible, from the (contemporary, or archaic) linguistic norm; of carrying language effects over the top and occasionally risking a grammatically odd adverbial suffix that could “fake” or create the semblance of a translatorese with calque from Gaelic. For example, in the phrase “Azzal felemelkedett teljes szálfenyő-magasságig” [(Ú 14), “With that he rose to a full tree-high standing,” ASTB 10], the adverbial suffix highlighted and literally meaning, “to a height” is strikingly non-standard, whereas the possessive used for the much-pierced nipples of the Irish birdman of sorrows becomes “mellbimbaja” (Ú 114) — a “faked” archaic form of the normative “mellbimbója,” which thus carries extra ironic valences.  Our version thus uses alliterative cadences in excess (internal alliteration included), often resorts to antiquated inflections, word forms, occasionally even tenses, and capitalizes on rhythm and musical effects that nicely clash with the grotesque imagery — as shown on two examples below from the Finn prose, and from the Sweenyfied journey of the assembled company to witness Orlick’s birth:

The knees and calves to him, swealed and swathed with soogawns and Thomond weed-ropes, were smutted with dungs and dirt-daubs of every hue and pigment, hardened by stainings of mead and trickles of metheglin and all the driblings and drippings of his medher… (ASTB 12)

Az ő térdeit és lábikráit, melyeket vaskos pólya pólyált és hatfonatú hajókötelek kötöztek, százféle árnyalatú szityek és szutyok színezte, méhsör folyása és mézbor csermelyei edzették keményre és csupra csurranó cseppjei… (Ú 16)

On the brink of night they halted to light faggots with a box of matches and continued through the tangle and the grasses with flaming brands above their heads until the night-newts and the moths and the bats and the feelicaun-eeha had fallen in behind them in a gentle constellation of winking red wings in the flair of the fires, delightful alliteration. (ASTB 128-9)

Az éjszaka mezsgyéjén rőzsetüzet gyújtani megálltak egy doboz gyufával, és továbbhaladtak a fű és az ág-bogak között lángoló üszkökkel a fejük fölött, míg az éjjeli molyok és éjjeli lepkék, denevérek, papillelangók felsorakoztak mögéjük ragyogó rőt röpték kecses konstellációjába a láng-keltette illat mellé, felette kellemes alliteráció. (Ú 169)

[papillelangó – playing on pillangó (butterfly) explained in a note 53, Ú 301]

The Finn parody is also a unique terrain for linguistic carnivalization and for the eventual coming-into-being of additional meanings, language effects, and of translatorial metaphormosis. Finn’s catalogue of birds, for instance, is made up to a considerable extent of fanciful names (“maritime wren, green-lidded parakeet,” 10) playing on ornithological terms, with a fair share of sexual punning. Among these names Gaelic red herrings occur, turning the reader’s expectations upside down and poking fun at an audience that enthusiastically embraces the cause of the ancestral tongue, while it has presumably lost touch with it to such extent as to take these items of doubtful pedigree for winged specimens. Accordingly, much of the linguistic comedy derives from the ludic interplay between languages, “Irish and English being woven together in a knot more complex than any Celtic tracery” (Donohue 2002: 67). The list’s passepartout, the pilibeen (pilibín) is certainly a “quare sort of a baste”: the name of a common sea-bird, lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) and the diminutive of Philip in Gaelic, it also metonymically stands for a small man or thing and, mutatis mutandis, for a diminutive male organ of procreation. In addition, it encapsulates an echo of Joyce’s ironic revision of the myth of Icarus and Daedalus with whom Stephen Dedalus enthusiastically identifies in Portrait, only to bitterly dismiss such identification after his unheroic exilic venture: “Fabulous artificer, the hawklike man. You flew. Whereto? Newhaven-Dieppe, steerage passenger. Paris and back. Lapwing Icarus. Pater, ait. Seabedabbled, fallen, weltering. Lapwing you are. Lapwing he” (Ulysses 9.952).

In the overall translation of the bird catalogue our version chose to add a metamorphic twist to the language games of the original, “sinning” on the side of alliteration and over-the-top sexual punning, rather more explicit in the Hungarian version that covers the whole arsenal of male and female genitals in mild slang terms, than in the original. Thus, our Hungarian birds’ directory includes such items as a stuttering alpine “red-necked chough”: “vörösgalléros havasi csocsóka” [combining “csóka”, chough with a slang term, “csocsó(zik): (to) masturbate]; a rigorously alliterating, womanly-male “Mohar gannet”: “mohari mufftafa” [combination of an effeminately lisped “Mustafa” with “muff” (muff, slang for vagina)] and a stammering “maritime wren”: “tengöri tökörszöm” [“tengeri ökörszem” hybridized with “tök”, testicles]. The cream of the chirping jest are undoubtedly Gábor’s contrivances for the Gaelically demure pilibeen, tucked away in the annotations for readers of a scholarly disposition:4  “füttyfiritty” is based on “fittyfiritty” [trifle, nought], “fütty” [whistle] and “fütyi” [mild slang for penis]; “fitymallat” plays on the obsolete, both lyrical and folksy-sounding word for dawn, “pitymallat,” and the anticlimactic “fityma” [prepuce]. The fact that many of these creatures come packaged in portmanteaux in Hungarian is a further deferring gesture to the “Hungarian voice of Joyce” — Szentkuthy’s pronouncedly Wakean appropriation of Ulysses which occupies a hardly negligible role in Hungarian cultural memory and whose text serves as principal subtext, as well as context, for the Hungarian version of At Swim-Two Birds.5


“It’s a quare one and one that takes a lot of beating”

Perhaps the highest ambition of our joint work was to translude (Finnegans Wake, 1939, 419.24) our protean author’s text, meaning that we took occasional liberties in the sense of driving self-parodic stylistic bends over the top, stylizing in excess, sprinkling our parodies with extra alliterative phrases or resorting to recondite 19th century prep-school Latinate Hungarian with often a slippery contingency. As a side-kick “off the toptic” (Finnegans Wake 419.24), we were not above introducing, when the occasion presented itself, some intertextual byplay into the invented comic-archaic language of the Finn and Sweeny passages. In the Hungarian description of Finn’s eyeballs, for instance, oblique echoes from Toldi (nineteenth-century Hungarian national verse epic by János Arany) surface, heightening the effect of bombast and grotesquely underlining the epic quality of the Finn prose and its critical stance towards the Revival’s rediscovery and appropriation of Celtic legend and lore — all the more so, since the historical hero of the Hungarian epic (a 14th century knight) achieved fame through his legendary strength rather than for his wits or sophistication:

Mint növendék cserfaerdőé, olyan a szemét strázsáló szőrök sudársága, mint hóban lemészárolt hadak, szeme pillantása. (U)[To each of the two eyes in his head was there eye-hair to the fashion of a young forest, and the colour to each great eyeball was as the slaughter of a host in snow.] „Mint komor bikáé, olyan a járása,/ Mint a barna éjfél, szeme pillantása.” [Like of a sullen bull’s, so is his stride,/Like the gloomy midnight, so is his glance.]

(János Arany, Toldi, 1846, my translation)

In addition, the repetitive verses recited by Finn whose robust imagery speaks of universal self-identifications (“I am a bark for buffeting… I am a doe for swiftness… I am the breast of a young queen”: 11-12) are ghosted in our Hungarian version by the repetitive cadence “Vagyok —vagyok,” coming from one of the programmatic pieces of early modern poetry in Hungarian by poet Endre Ady: in his poem with Symbolist leanings, Vision on the Marshland (Vízió a lápon, published in his breakthrough 1906 volume Új Versek [“New Poems”]), the poetic self, heroic, solitary, hypersensitive and rather in the shape of Baudelaire’s albatross, is set in sharp contrast to the backwardness and general paralysis of the mythologized Hungarian marshland.6  The miscegenation of Finn’s melodious Irish verse with the heroic upbeat of Ady’s manifesto of decadent-modern sensitivity adds a touch of irony not very far removed from the ironies generated around Joyce’s hawklike alter ego Stephen Dedalus.

Among the myriad-minded other parodies of style and discourse in ASTB we may find a wide range of savoury low-brow entertainment books, mainly westerns, populated by herdsmen imported into Dublin suburbia (Shorty, Slug) and genuine representatives of the Plain People of Ireland (Shanahan, Lamont, Furriskey). In conveying these styles the translator ought to consider the nearest correspondences of such traditions and discourses within the TL literary heritage. In the case of Hungarian, the latter is synonymous with Jenő Rejtő, alias P. Howard, prolific author of savoury, self-parodic pulp fiction, whose grotesquely improbable adventure stories have become classics for generations of readers.7 In the battle scene between third-rate writer Tracy’s hirelings and the bandit Red Kiersay, a character invented by another author of westerns, or in Shanahan’s account of Sergeant Craddock’s jumping bravado, we could liberally draw on turns-of-phrase reminiscent of Rejtő’s burlesques.


“But the man in the street, where does he come in?”

Another issue related to the Ringsend cowboys’ lingo, a juicily undereducated version of the brogue of the Plain Peope of Ireland, is into what language to translate. Flann O’Brien’s PPI brogue is a very distinct brand of Hiberno-English, a minor variant within the (Deleuzian) minor language consecrated in literature mainly through the agency of the Revival and having as direct precedent, among others, the pub-dwellers’ lingo in Joyce’s “Cyclops”. This jocose, ex-centric language abounding in Gaelic inflections and verbatim translations from the Gaelic, with recognizable inflections of Dublin speech, is a minor dialectal version of (Hiberno)-English and certainly has no equivalent in Hungarian, a language that lacks dialects or minor languages with their own established literary traditions, having only subdialects — regional variants or accents. Even more importantly, for the translation of Hiberno-English one would need to find — or rather, invent — a language that could function as a translated idiom, founded on hybridity and linguistic miscegenation, within the standard version of the TL. What our translation proposed was a deliberately eclectic, invented Hungarian “brogue,” both urban and rural at the same time — which also provided a common denominator for the two translators’ differing linguistic luggage, since in my initial version the cowboys speak an undereducated Hungarian with recognizably Transylvanian inflections, while in Gábor’s translation, a mix of slightly dated urban slang with touches of German and Yiddish, reminiscent of Rejtő’s Budapest lingo.

The inflections of Transylvanian Hungarian have, for the ears of the average Hungarian speaker, a distinct non-standard ring, owing to the region’s long-standing historical, cultural marginality within the Hungarian-speaking area; Transylvanian regional dialects have, accordingly, become stereotypes of archaic, folkloric picturesqueness. Whereas a parallel between the two marginal idioms should always be taken “with a grain of salt,” to quote learned Shanahan, Transylvanian Hungarian — which, due to the multilingual history of the province, sports a vast repertory of linguistic cross-breeds and hybrids — has nevertheless been used in translating Irish plays using Hiberno-English by authors such as Brian Friel or Martin McDonagh.8  A close parallel here is Adrian Oţoiu’s congenial Romanian translation of At Swim-Two-Birds, where the cowboys’ idiom is a savoury mixture of Transylvanian —  thus, poignantly non-standard Romanian —  verbiage and turns-of-phrase, ardelenisme, their table talk at the same time evoking end-of-19th century comic playwright Ion Luca Caragiale’s characters, half-educated upstarts from the outskirts of the Romanian capital  who speak a corrupted lingo teeming with hilarious malapropisms and misnomers. Besides the use of subdialectal vocabulary, often of German and Hungarian extraction, Oţoiu’s translation also harnesses stylistic correspondents available in Romanian folklore and literary tradition. Thus his renderings of the Sweeny lays and of Finn’s mushrooming celebrations of nature are, in effect, cultural translations that ring with the cadence of the Romanian folk doina de jale, a lament expressing sorrow or melanchoy, and of doina de dorrespectively, a characteristically melancholy form of folk love song (Oţoiu 2007: 64, 69).

Rather than ear-marking our cowboys with such, culturally charged labels as typical Transylvanian Hungarian collocations and inflections, we tried to imbue their talk with a note of extra rhetorical flourish, excessive verbal over-elaboration, aphoristic gravity and a general playfulness that Transylvanian Hungarian shares with Hiberno-English, which nicely clashes with the low colloquial upbeat of their pleasantries. Within the final version, the querelle of rustic bogmen with citified pub-dwellers might be exemplified by the idiomatic solutions for translating “This is all my bum”: of “here’s a pocket(ful) of plum jam” (i.e., here’s something entirely worthless, grab it) with its suave Transylvanian couleur locale, and the Budapestified “go feed your nanny” –i.e., go tell this yarn to your nanny.  The only conclusion the translators arrived at in striking a balance was to (mis)quote gentleman Lamont on the art of fiddling: The ear is the main thing and the aspiring translator can wear the last tatter of skin off his/her knuckles and still won’t get as far as his/her own shadow if s/he hasn’t got the ear. But “have the ear and you’re half-way there before you start at all” (152).

Putting a Transylvanian touch on the conversation of the Furriskey-Lamont-Shanahan triumvirate also generated an unforeseen layer of semantic instability and extra textual allusions. Lamont’s story of sergeant Craddock, champion at the long jump is one of the most richly comic instances of contrapuntal stylistic incongruity in the book, since it punctuates Finn’s narrative of Buile Suibhne, the medieval Irish verse legend of the madness of Sweeny —  being at the same time a grotesque replica of the boxing match rendered in gigantic prose parody in the “Cyclops” episode of Ulysses:

Go to Russia… go to China, go to France. Everywhere and all the time it is hats off an