Nida: Day 5

Today was a day of transition in the Nida program. Tim Beal finished his third lecture and will be traveling with his spouse in Croatia next week, and a few faculty are heading home (Piotr Blumczynsky, Bob Hodgson, and Rosemary Arrojo) and Lawrence Venuti will arrive soon for next week's lectures. The meal last night had a celebratory feel, enhanced no doubt by the excellent grappa made by the family who runs the hotel.

We had two fascinating faculty lectures as well as two excellent Associate presentations. I'm running behind with my summary, since it's already Day 6, so these will be quick.

Edwin Gentzler - "Traveling Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream in Germany"

Edwin presented a discussion of the "translation" of Shakespeare into different languages, printed editions, performances, movies, and music, focusing specifically on Germany and the US. He started by showing how Shakespeare himself was a "translating author" who was a "voracious user and adapter of existing translations." In the 17th century, traveling English comedians and performers exported narratives and plays into the Continent, even through the Puritan period in which Shakespeare's plays were banned in London. Before "copyright," they considered themselves to be the "owners" of these stories, and they adapted them significantly to new languages and cultures. Shakespeare was kept alive through translation and traveling performance through the 18th century, and it contributed significantly to the development of national language and identity in Germany and, along with the Bible, in the US.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream was adapted into a variety of theater productions, Mendelssohn's overture (1826), Britton's opera (1960), ballets from Petipa (1876), Balanchine (1962), and Neumeier (1977), and influential films from Reinhardt (1935) and Hall (1968). It has been adapted in an extended corpus by Neil Gaiman in Sandman 19 [yay for a Gaiman shoutout!], and adolescent fiction and urban fantasy literature.

Tim Beal, "Word Processing: Translation as Media"

Tim's final lecture explored in more depth the relationship between translation and media. One idea that sparked conversation was his contention that the Bible IS translation and IS media all the way down; there is no "original Bible" behind these media, and no Bible apart from translation and media. What one thinks of as "The Bible" is an effect of canonization as "fixed moment," by "fiat," the command of "let there be an original." Biblical studies (and the church!) must reckon with this complex situation viz. the text and tradition.

In applying his notion of translation as "transpace," as travel and not arrival, as making space for the Other, he unpacked the concepts of "word processing," "everyware," and "lossy" translations.

First, consider this IBM video (by Jim Henson) that promotes the notion that humans can do the "thinking" while machines do the "work." One of my favorite new quotes: "I don't do much work anymore, I'm too busy thinking."

The concept of "word processing" was introduced by IBM in the 1960s as part of the marketing for its Selectric typewriters. They termed their new class of smart machines "input processing equipment." Processing in this case means the translation of ideas and input into digital data, from one medium to another. And so, work and writing are like meat processing: the transformation of raw materials into consumable products.

Adam Greenfield coined the term "everyware" to refer to the increasing integration between humans and technology. In the same way that technology is everywhere, translation is everywhere and invisible (Cronin). There are several effects of the increased role of technology in the way that people experience and process culture/thought. Cronin identified three: "translation prosumption," i.e., crowdsourced and participatory translation; "post-print translation literacy," i.e., power-browsing and gist-translation; and "translation as plurisubjectivity," i.e., translation as interactive and political rather than a monadic activity. To these, Tim added "visual literacy" and "processuality," by which he means the way in which hypermedia resists closure.

In his discussion of the "lossy" in translation, Tim pointed out how translation inevitably loses data in its transfer of meanings from the "cloud" of knowledge to the translated text. (Compare this to his discussion of the reduction of the Other to sameness, via Levinas.) He discussed as an example the difficulty of translating Job 42:6.

This final point was very interesting to me. What would an intentionally "low-fi" look like? Most Bible translations brag of their "high fidelity," but their crystal clear representations are still reductive and lossy. In music, the "low-fi" artists intentionally leave space and noise in their recordings through the use of analog technology. There is new and serendipitous meaning found within the noise and the ambiguity of low-fi recordings. An initial place to apply this model to translation would be biblical poetry, in which existing translations strive for clarity at the expense of the rich and mysterious evocations of the source. It's rather like digitizing vinyl and "cleaning up" the pops and scratches; it is loss through enhancement.