Academic, literary critic, translator of works such as Antigone
, Donaldo Schüler is now under the spotlight for his attempt to translate James Joyce
's Finnegans Wake
to Portuguese. It's actually not over yet, and every few months a few more chapters are released.
Translating Joyce is a tricky job. It's almost impossible not to compare his efforts with those of Antonio Houaiss, who translated Ulysses in the sixties, a translation notorious for its complexity. Critics often argue the original is an easier read than the translation. I agree somewhat. Academics will probably spend the next thousand years arguing over that.
Enter Schüler, who took an even worse task: how can one translate a book which was written in its own language? Other translations of Finnegans Wake have been more or less "translations of ideas"; Schüler has taken the longer road, more dangerous and hopefully more rewarding, creating a full reimplementation of the original work for the Brazilian culture.
Let's take a look at the opening of the book. In English it spells:
riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.
Schüler's recreation is:
rolarrioanna e passa por Nossenhora d'Ohmem's, roçando a praia, beirando ABahia, reconduz-nos por cominhos recorrentes de Vico ao de Howth Caste Earredores.
Notice how he changes the reference to Eve and Adam (meaning in part the church near the Liffey) to a more familiar Brazilian church. He translates "bay", to "ABahia", something that reminds us of the state of Bahia, where the Portuguese first arrived. This trend goes on. References to the English become mostly references to the Portuguese. Words that come from German, Dutch, Nordic and dead Germanic languages become words that come from Spanish, French, Italian and Latin. All this while keeping the Wake in its eternal Dublin.