Wilson, Rita and Maher, Brigid (eds) (2012). Words, Images and Performances in Translation.
London, New York: Continuum, pp. 240, $44.95, ISBN: (paperback) 978-1-4411-7231-0.
Translation Studies (TS) more and more frequently resonate with insistent and sometimes anguished calls for a renovation of their theoretical scope and analytical practice. In recent years, such calls have become louder, often manifesting a degree of dissatisfaction with tried and tested methodologies and approaches. It is an altogether familiar story. Defensive reactions to new developments and the tensions between these two positions emphasize the problematic (inter)disciplinary positioning of TS. Often polemically constructive and aimed at a radical overhaul of the field, voices advocating more substantial interdisciplinary investments have promoted the emergence of a widespread need for correcting and revising conventional delimitations. By the same token, these contributions reveal a disciplinary area that is progressively demonstrating its centrality to a number of other fields, a point which constitutes the fundamental premise of Words, Images and Performances in Translation.
Its straightforward title qualifies this book as a significant instance of how TS successfully deal with verbal and non-verbal cultural objects, as well as with their intersections and interactions. Probing the disciplinary aptness of TS for unlocking and illuminating a variety of textual and non-textual phenomena, its editors and authors take the pulse of a variety of current developments. In this respect, this volume is a timely and highly commendable contribution to existing scholarship. In the introduction, the editors invoke the effects of cultural globalisation, as well as outlining a complex semiosphere of coexisting and competing media. Their reflections centre on the notion of ‘interference’ which specifically (though not exclusively) affects the electronic media in view of their polysemic nature, yet more generally (and productively) “perturbs” the field of TS, one which, as the introduction intimates ( 1), is all too often stubbornly set in its ways. The volume, then, represents a ‘good’ form of interference and disturbance, as its various essays tend to look beyond translation as interlinguistic and intertextual transposition to investigate a series of exemplary case studies in which it features as a productive operation aimed at transforming image and text and converting a ‘static’ script into a moving spectacle through the translational potential of performance.
A welcome exploration of new avenues for research, the volume sets up some interesting challenges for the familiar methodologies of TS. However, prospective readers should be warned that most of this work is done by the essays themselves, since the introduction is far too short to offer any in-depth problematisation. As most of its pages are taken up by the customary chapter-by-chapter description of contents, the introduction has little space left for any extensive reflection on the book’s central issues and concerns. Even so, it must be borne in mind that the volume is primarily a collection of case studies offering a significant sample of the enormous variety of inter- and trans-disciplinary approaches available to practitioners of TS. As such, it is a testimony to the difficulty of including all of these approaches under a limited range of clearly delineated headings. What the book provides, therefore, is a series of exemplary cases that confirm the variety and liveliness of the editors’ chosen field of study.
Among the generally excellent contributions in the volume, some stand out either for their peculiarly provocative theoretical positions or for their methodological perspectives. In either case, the essays throw up a multiplicity of stimulating suggestions. Chapter 1, Margherita Zanoletti’s “Translating an Artwork: Words and Images in Brett Whiteley’s Remembering Lao-Tse,” analyses the interconnections of words and images in a contemporary work of art that specifically invests in self-depiction as ‘an interartistic, intermodal and intertextual phenomenon’ ( 8). Imbued with the concepts and cruxes typical of intermodal perspectives on translation, this contribution explores the contours of what it suggestively terms the “imagetextual” (20). In chapter 3 (‘Mediating the Clash of Cultures through Translingual Narrative’), Rita Wilson focuses on intratextual translational mechanisms and thus on issues of hybridity within source texts viewed as linguistically ‘impure’ artefacts. Usefully revising familiar protocols for dealing with translation and literature, her chapter problematises this well-worn nexus so as to avoid any unnecessary frictions between TS and literary studies. Throwing light on how translation works inside fictional narratives, Wilson usefully interrogates the clashes or encounters of cultures and the transnational perspectives they open up. Chapter 4, Geraldine Brodie’s “Theatre Translation for Performance: Conflict of Interests, Conflict of Cultures,” belongs to the well-established area of theatre TS, yet reveals a fascinating range of new insights. In particular, it assesses the impact on the process of translating for the stage of such conditioning forces as the extra-textual context of “visual and commercial exigencies’ and thus the variety of ‘agents and narratives” that bear on the production (textual and performative) of translating for the theatre (64). Attending to these “physical and signifying structures” through selected case studies, Brodie investigates the relevance to this type of translation of ‘publicity materials, programmes and reviews, set design, costumes and direction’, as well as the institutional and economic networks in which the theatrical fact originates (78). Another notable contribution looking at a specific type of translation is Roger Baines’s Greenaway-esque “The Journalist, the Translator, the Player and His Agent.” Its main topic is extremely specialised, and not everyone may be interested in the subject of mis/representation and mis/translation in British media reports about non-Anglophone football players. Nonetheless, the issues it raises are among the most relevant and frequently debated in certain areas of present-day TS. Exploring the problem of ‘who speaks for whom’, this essay reflects on representation as an intricate intersection of forms of mediation (both as figuration and as professional or legal representation; and thus both as the preserve of cultural mediators and of legal representatives). In the process, Baines touches on questions such as major and minor languages, the market and its conditioning power or translation as part of a circulation of texts and people, among others. Chapter 10, Alfio Leotta’s “Translating Place,” offers a series of original insights into the spatial aspects of translation. To do so, it concentrates on Jane Campion’s The Piano and its transition from screen to tourist brochure. Adopting a welcome metaphorical angle on translational mechanisms, Leotta considers how tourist authorities in New Zealand have capitalised on the film’s spin-offs by consistently and insistently ‘“translating” the story’s appeal from film to tourist language (176). Even more valuable in this piece is the way it expands the metaphorical focus to examine how this form of translating the Piano relates to physical and geographical translations – in other words, how the transposition from film to tourist language has promoted actual displacements of people. In chapter 11, ”Bad-Talk: Media Piracy and ‘Guerrilla’ Translation,” Tessa Dwyer opens up another crucial perspective by making a convincing case for dismantling “fixed notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ [translations], engaging instead with the messy diversity of the media piracy landscape” (.201). The ‘bad-talk’ of pirated media is a fertile, multifaceted and controversial manifestation which – as Dwyer notes – shifts paradigms and modifies points of view. Thus it constitutes a major feature in the boundless and largely uncharted media landscape of the “non-Western, Majority World” (212) to which “the broader AVT community” should start to “tune in” (212).
Though brief and necessarily selective, this overview of some of the outstanding essays in the volume confirms its value as a collection that challenges its readers’ assumptions. The most stimulating of its suggestions emerge from those contributions that do not shy from straddling the fault line between literal and metaphorical notions of translation. In this fashion, they consistently disclose the theoretical, analytical and applicational benefits that may accrue from integrating different approaches. The volume as a whole emphasises the hybrid nature of translation in contemporary cultural and media environments by looking at local examples in a global perspective. Its interdisciplinary and culturalist approach bears out the need for a translator’s exposure to cultural experience in its broadest and most inclusive range of acceptations. This book, in other words, seems to work within the scope of Raymond Williams’s definition of culture as an all-encompassing matrix that amounts to ‘a whole way of life’ comprising all forms of signification viewed in their actual conditions of production. It is precisely in this sense that the volume has something important to say about the disciplinary cohesion of TS. Seen collectively, its essays indicate that, when its interdisciplinary inclinations are cultivated and promoted, TS do not slip inevitably and without appeal into the undifferentiated cauldron of Cultural Studies. The book’s most valuable contribution lies precisely in its insistent invitation to ‘tune in’ to the wealth of theoretical, methodological and applicational possibilities arising from a jointly literal and metaphorical concept of, and approach to, translation.
Diego Saglia, Università degli Studi di Parma