A Study of Anthony Burgess's Italian Version of "Finnegans Wake"'s Incipit

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A translator attempting to render Finnegans Wake (from now on: FW) must be aware he is undertaking a “babelian adventure” (1984, 153), to quote Derrida. Joyce’s revolutionary use of language makes FW an atypical source text (ST). Its polysemy, multilingualism, syntactical dislocations, puns and distortions bend the language to an endlessly dynamic recreation of sense and meaning. Stephen Heath defined FW as a “permanent interplication”, the open text par excellence, asking the reader to take an active role in it, “to become its actor” (1984, 32). Reading FW is therefore a matter of re-encoding the text by means of one’s cultural and linguistic possibilities. It could be said, in other words, that an attentive reading of Joyce’s last work implicitly demands a translational act on the reader’s part: “Joyce is involving himself and us in a stupendous act of retrospective translation, whereby the distinctions and differences between words and languages are collapsed into a basic, originary speech native to the subconscious, not the conscious, mind” (2004, 65). 30 Schenoni’s version has been the only systematic approach to a complete Italian translation of FW so far, while Wilcock, Celati, Diacono, Sanesi have provided their version of only some fragments of the book. So did Anthony Burgess, who published his translation of FW ’s incipit in an article for the Times Literary Supplement, dated 1975 (1975, 1296). The purpose of this paper is to offer a close study of some of Burgess’s translational strategies, an undertaking that can be better accomplished by making constant reference to his thorough study of Joyce’s language, Joysprick (1973). Burgess’s deep and keen commitment to the study of Joyce’s works needs not to be further detailed here, while a possibly daring parallel may be drawn between his treatment of Finnegans Wake, and Joyce’s self-translational strategies, as employed for the Italian version of Anna Livia Plurabelle, on which Risset, Eco and Bosinelli have provided the most complete studies so far (1979 & 1996).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-38
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • James Joyce, Anthony Burgess, Translation, Finnegans Wake


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