EVENT Apr 04
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Tel Quel's Politics in a Translation of Joyce

Organization: Program of Comparative Literature, UMass Amherst
Categories: Literary Theory
Event Date: 2021-04-04 Abstract Due: 2021-02-01

In a 1973 issue of Tel Quel, Stephen Heath and Philippe Sollers’ published a French translation of portions of the concluding chapter of Finnegans Wake. Heath’s accompanying essay reveals the translation to not only represent a significant moment in the reception and translation of Joyce’s notorious work, but a critical site of ideological struggle in the tumultuous history of the journal. Throughout many upheavals in the course of Tel Quel’s existence, Joyce’s work remains a focal point and is, indeed, continually reappropriated in support of numerous ideological shifts. Nonetheless, engagements with Joyce were relatively scattered and superficial until the mid-70’s. Geert Lernout declares Stephen Heath’s 1972 essay “Ambiviolences” to introduce the first proper extended “telquelian reading of Joyce” (123). Heath’s 1973 translation is a site of tension in the journal leading up to a break from Derrida and Althusser that would be finalized three issues later with essays critical of the thinkers. Therefore, references to Derrida in Heath’s previous essay are replaced with citations of Lacan in his translation’s preface. Heath invokes Lacan’s “Moebius strip” in describing how writing produces “une representation topologique” (14), as part of a discussion of the Wakes’ creation of simultaneity. Kristeva’s concept of intertextuality also figures into Heath’s account of the relations of textual elements. Her theory came to prominence around this period, partially articulated in an essay appearing two issues later. The importance of this aspect of Joyce for Heath is evident in his excoriation of previous Wake translator André de Bouchet for his inattention to Joyce’s intertextuality. Consequently, it is apparent that Heath depends on the theories of his colleagues to conceive his supposedly superior translation of Joyce and distinguish it from the misconstruals of the author in previous attempts. I endeavor to show the influence of this context on Heath and Sollers’ translation.


Sarah Al-Dawood