("James Joyce" in Arabic- or at least that's how I'd spell it!)
I am trying to work on a short oral presentation about James Joyce...in Arabic.
It’s not easy, especially when I spent much of yesterday in the gigantic Sayyida Zeinab mosque in south Cairo. (Interesting experience).
So if someone asked me what “Ulysses” is about? I’d take a deep breath, search my inner university memory for some pretentious phrases and let loose with something like...
“Well its Joyce’s masterpiece, a day in the life of a city and its inhabitants told in microscopic detail but in so doing the author sketches the outlines of the macro universe with his genius- it is the grand achievement of literary modernism, and with its utilisation of deep subjectivity and knowing narration, it serves as a death knell to classic nineteenth century realism and is the harbinger of much of what could be called post modern literature.”
After saying that (or something like that), I would sit back chuffed with myself, although pondering a little whether I actually understood all I said- or in fact does it make any sense at all?
But in Arabic- there are no such problems for me.
My vocab is limited in the extreme.
So in Arabic I could maybe just about say...
“ “Ulysses” is about a day in the life of 3 people from Dublin- a Jewish man Leopold , his wife Molly and a young writer called Stephen.”
Actually reading back on that, maybe the restricted vocabulary serves as a good discipline, because the second description is far more accurate and less weighed down with bull :)
(My attempt at writing 'Ulysses' in Arabic)
As it happens there is a student in my Arabic school who is half Irish, half Egyptian. The first time I met him a couple of weeks back, within a minute I found out his mother was from Sandymount- and 30 seconds later he quoted from 'Ulysses', “Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount Strand?”...obviously this is not completely typical of conversations I have with Irish people abroad!
But it was nice to briefly mention Joyce on the west bank of the River Nile (I actually discussed Joyce with a protester in the West Bank, Palestine once, but that is another story which I’ve written about before).
Anyway Cairo in 2012 is as far away from Joycean Dublin as I could possibly imagine. And I've briefly missed living in my city this weekend with its friendly faces... so on this overcast Saturday afternoon it’s nice to look at this short extract from John Huston's adaptation of Joyce’s “The Dead”. (You Tube clip at the end).
The final internal monologue is changed a little bit from Joyce’s final few paragraphs in the story.
But still they are among the greatest four or five paragraphs ever written- utterly intimidating and heart breaking in their sweep from the particular to the universal in just a few lines.
I suppose I have to concede that theoretically there could be some writing, somewhere in the universe, more breathtaking than the final passages from “The Dead”, but it is hard to visualise. Kind of like attempting to visualise infinity or eternity......oh hang on, Joyce did visualise that along Sandymount Strand.
The finale of “The Dead” is one of the reasons why every Irish writer trembles (or least should tremble) anytime they pick up a pen, or tap out the first few letters on their lap-top.
How could you not sweat buckets with this guy sitting on top of the national literary canon behind you?