During the 10 years spent on translating Finnegans Wake, Krzysztof Bartnicki managed to write the strangest Polish book and translate into English about a hundred poems by Bolesław Leśmian. And he's not through with Joyce.
Who is Krzysztof Bartnicki? An academic lecturer – as the biographic notes state it? A translator of Joyce's Finnegans Wake – as he is presented by the media? Or maybe rather a graduate of the International School of Banking and Finance in Katowice – as his Facebook profile informs – and the author of Prospectus, a bizarre text, in which he offers to sell himself? Or maybe he's a translator of Leśmian's poems into English?
The translation of Finnegans Wake (Finneganów tren in Polish) quickly brought Bartnicki some fame. For a few weeks almost all of the major newspapers wrote about the publication of the 'most difficult book in the world', to which Bartnicki devoted 10 years of his life. In an interview he said:
I estimated the progress not in pages but in lines – five, six per hour. I would get frustrated, when something delayed me in a line, some exceptionally mean invention made by Joyce, which I couldn't omit. Then I had to make up for the lost time, not eat my dinner or not see my kids for the whole day
Although the translator often said that after ten years he's had it with Joyce, soon two voluminous Joycean publications by Bartnicki will be issued by Ha!art. The first one is entitled Finneganów bdyn ('bdyn' is an ancient Polish synonym for 'wake'). The title corresponds to the content, because the different variations of the text envisioned by Joyce (there is over a thousand of them) are the main topic of the work. The book is to be a complement to Finneganów tren – as Bartnicki puts it – 'for the more hardcore fans'.
The person representing the author of Prospectus
Prospectus is a unique story describing a world ruled by a Text, which is a parasite feeding off men. A world, in which one may legally sell, buy or kill a man. A world, in which God is a Number and Money is his Prophet. The main character offers to sell himself, however not in a slave market, but in a more modern form, although equally as cruel – through issuing shares – wrote the publishing house Ha!Art on its website.
Bartnicki isn't formally the author of Prospectus, but the person representing the author.
One may guess that Bartnicki's book is a pamphlet directed against the commercialization of interpersonal relations. It is as if the author had deeply understood Horkheimer's and Adorno's Philosophy of Enlightenment and expressed his thoughts in the language of economy. Bartnicki's style is so impeccable that it is hard to see parody in it. The literary qualities of the work may provoke associations with the later prose of Leopold Buczkowski: one may be under the impression of reading something completely incomprehensible, but at the same time beautiful and giving a promise of some beauty (in the form of sense).
Potential translator of Leśmian
The translations of Leśmian were never printed. For a certain time Bartnicki ran a blog, where he published them alongside various translations of other authors. They were 'texts chiefly in English, but also Leśmian's works translated into Russian, solitary pieces translated into German, Spanish and also the poem Murk on the Stairs in a dozen language versions (interesting comparative material)'.
In 2007 a journalist from the newspaper Życie Warszawy discovered the blog – this took place an even 70 years after the poet died - and came up with a far-fetched idea that there is a Leśmian boom in popculture (he was supposed to be the main character of comic books and an inspiration for musicians and roleplaying fans). The page the journalist quoted, in which 'real aficionados' were to post their translations of poems was actually Bartnicki's blog.
After decades I'm less stupid in the sense that I know that my attempts at translating Leśmian into English brought more harm than good. From over a hundred of 'translations' (quotation marks required) only five seem to be of any worth – Bartnicki sums up his experiences with Leśmian.
Discoverer of Joyce's code
In the summer of 2012 Krzysztof Bartnicki once again returned to Joyce and to Finnegans Wake. The translator wanted to crack the code of the most difficult book in the world. 'Disheartened by literature, I'm searching for Music' – he explained. 'If one takes from Joyce's original text only the letters ABCDEFGH (which may denote musical tones), the text ceases to 'mean' and begins to play music. This way literature changes into music (and that's very good!)'.
For more about music in Finnegans Wake see Secret Code in Joyce's Finnegans Wake Cracked...
If one changes Joyce's text into musical notation (Joyce emphasized that in Finnegans Wake the sound and music of the words and sentences plays an exceptional part) one may discover an ocean of music. In it there are melodies created before Joyce was born, and, what is interesting, also melodies composed after his death. Examples?
On page 394, in the space of approximately 3 lines, the theme from 'Harry Potter' composed by John Williams is hiding. On page 551 I found Williams' theme from Star Wars. Of course, it's only 2 examples, but I have tens of them and I intend to discover/decipher/compose many more.
Did the Polish tranlsator finally crack the code of Finnegans Wake? He certainly proved that in Joyce's text (as in any other one) one may find actually anything, that Finnegans Wake read by Bartnicki may play Hendrix and the theme from Harry Potter. One may find anything if only one wants to.
What we derive from Joyce is cooler than what Joyce wants to impose – says Bartnicki. And considering Star Wars: I found out that the Imperial March is encoded in tens of places in Finnegans Wake: I bet it's Joyce's favorite melody (in a manner of speaking).
For the whole possible music in Finnegans Wake go to Bartnicki's page on Soundcloud...
Author of 'Fu of War'
The book Fu wojny (Fu of War) was issued by Ha!Art (premiere: 17th of August 2012). It is a treatise on the art of translation. It certainly isn't a typical work in the genre as the author uses ancient Chinese texts on the art of translation as a starting point (and main part of the book). Bartnicki provides the oriental literature in Polish and adds annotations. His decade-long struggle against Finnegans Wake provided plenty of interesting material for the comments.
I want to show that translating isn't always a friendly activity. We're not always friends with the author, nor do we always like him. We may indeed hate him and that is when translating becomes a certain kind of a war.
Works by Krzysztof Bartnicki:
- Prospekt emisyjny, Ha!art, Kraków 2010
- Fu wojny, Ha!art, Kraków 2013
- Da Capo al Finne, Sowa, 2013
James Joyce Finneganów tren, translated by Krzysztof Bartnicki Ha!art, Kraków 2012
Excerpts from the original Polish text by Mikołaj Gliński, September 2012. Translated by Marek Kępa.