Both Ireland and Norway are small countries on the fringes of Europe. Oppressed by the British since the 12th century, the Irish movement toward independence had never ceased until the founding of the Republic of Ireland in 1949. As for Norway, it became an independent kingdom in 1905, following its own history of being given to Sweden by Denmark in 1814.
James Joyce was a pious boy at 16. In later years he gradually gave up the Catholic faith given to him by his family and schools and began to search determinedly for new values and pursuits. A voracious reader, he came upon Ibsen’s work and was thrilled by it. On April 1st, 1900, at the age of 18, he published, in the English magazine Fortnight Review, a review entitled “Ibsen’s New Drama”. This review was praised by the over-70-year-old Ibsen, which gave Joyce the courage and will to embark on his literary journey.
Of all the plays by Ibsen, Joyce was partial to Peer Gynt. On January 10, 1907, Joyce’s brother Stanislaus wrote in his diary “Jim told me that he intends to expand his story Ulysses into a short book, turning it into Peer Gynt of Dublin”.
In February of 1983, Sichuan People’s Publishing House published Xiao Qian’s Chinese translation of Peer Gynt. In May that year, the play was staged by China’s Central Drama Academy under the direction of its president Mr. Xu Xiaozhong. Ms. Wang Guangmei, widow of China’s late chairman, Liu Shaoqi, came to view it with others.
When Xiao Qian and I collaborated on translating Ulysses into Chinese from 1990 to 1994, how the intoxicated Stephen fooling around with prostitutes in Chapter 15 struck us like Peer on the academy’s stage ten years earlier!
20 years have gone by since our translation of Ulysses saw publication. I remember only too well the sensations that the news caused in Chinese and international press.
After Ulysses came out, I fancied the idea of translating Finnegans Wake as well, but Xiao Qian told me “Ulysses might be called book of enigma, but Finnegans Wake is the real book of enigma. No matter how difficult, Ulysses is translatable whereas Finnegans Wake alters language too much and places too high a demand on translators”. Not willing to back down at the time, I attempted one page and gave up. However, it was my belief that Joyce would find kindred spirits among China’s younger generations.
果然，我的忘年交冯建明用英文写的The Transfigurations of the Characters in Joyce’s Novels（《乔伊斯长篇小说人物的变形》）于二〇〇五年由北京外文出版社出版。博士生导师李维屏在该书前言中写道：“……冯建明博士撰写的《乔伊斯长篇小说人物的变形》一书为我国乔学的发展起到推波助澜的作用。这部著作具有两个明显的特点。首先，这是一部由中国学者用英语撰写的有关乔伊斯的学术著作，而且这表明中国学者已经可以与外国乔学家平等地对话与交流。……乔伊斯曾经说过，《尤利西斯》将迫使教授和学者们‘争论几个世纪’，而《芬尼根的苏醒》则‘将使批评家们至少忙上三百年’。……我明白了这样一个道理：从事乔学研究者不但要执着，而且也要创新。……”
Not surprisingly, in October 2005 Beijing Foreign Literature Press published Transfigurations of the Characters in Joyce’s Novels written originally in English by my young friend Feng Jianming. Mr. Li Weiping, the dissertation advisor, wrote in his preface for the book “… Dr. Feng Jianming’s Transfigurations of the Characters in Joyce’s Novels will make a great boost for our country’s studies of Joyce. It has two obvious features. It is the first scholarly study on Joyce written by a Chinese scholar in English, thereby demonstrating that the Chinese scholars are capable of discourse and exchange on par with foreign Joyce specialists. Joyce had said Ulysses would force the professors and scholars to ‘argue for several centuries’, whereas Finnegans Wake ‘will keep critics busy for at least three hundred years’… I came to the understanding that Joyce researchers not only need to be persistent but innovative…”
Finally I want to reflect on how I have felt since the days of rectifications. The Chinese people did stand up in October 1949. However, during the unceasing political movements countless innocent lives were sacrificed.
The March 28th edition of Liberation Daily this year published an essay entitled “Conversations Across Borders Ignited Countless Sparkles” which quoted Mr. Mo Yan telling Mr. Yang Zhenning that he (Mr. Mo Yan himself) could win the Nobel literary prize was due to this epoch; without the progress and changes in China in the last thirty years, there would not be a writer like him. Yang replied that he has returned to China for more than nine years now, and he felt that the greatest changes in China was not in building many skyscrapers but in the countryside and how farmers thought about things.
As for me, the present time period is truly the best. I was born in 1927 and experienced the July 7th Incident of 1937 and the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. In February, 1979, Mr. Xiao Qian was given a decree of rehabilitation, which bettered a lot for our whole family.
From the 80’s on, many groups of talented and young PhDs from Shanghai volunteered to go to the boundary lands and other remote, difficult territories, dedicating their youth and sweat in order to improve the lives of the local populace, better the environment and benefit the masses. It is these young people, group after group of them, with their lack of concern for material return and honorary titles, who beautify our time with hope and make it better still.
James Joyce was pessimistic more often than not. If he met these young Chinese intellectuals of the 21st century, I believe he would feel greatly relieved and pleased.