Nida: Day 10

Today was the final day of the conference. There were two Associate presentations this morning, and then Venuti's third presentation followed by a closing ceremony. What an amazing experience this has been. I have posted photos on Facebook, so contact me there for those, or if you'd like to learn more about the Nida School of Translation Studies.

Lawrence Venuti, "The Trouble with Subtitling is a Matter of Interpretation"

Venuti's final lecture was an application of the model that he developed throughout the week, the implications of a "hermeneutic" versus "instrumental" approach to translation for both translators and readers—well, in this case readers and viewers. He argued that subtitles have been understood by producers, viewers, and critics as an essentially instrumental phenomenon, "whereby the subtitle is assumed to reproduce or transfer an invariant contained in or caused by the speech on a film soundtrack, whether its form, its meaning, or its effect." In looking at the ways in which subtitles condense, reduce, recontextualize, and constrain the meaning of the film, it becomes clear that we need a more nuanced understanding of subtitles-as-interpretation.

In surveying the work of Jan Pedersen, Henrik Gottlieb, Henri Béhar, Larry critiqued the common assumption that subtitles can be reductive with only "minimal loss of information" because what is lost is mostly redundant. Henri Béhar, for instance, describes subtitling as "ventriloquism," in which the translator seeks to keep the focus on the puppet and not the puppeteer.

Anyone familiar with literary criticism will be instantly suspicious of such claims, and Larry seeks to bring a more careful interpretive focus to the ways in which subtitles "work." He showed a clip of Psycho and examined the ways in which the subtitles support a particular interpretation of the characters and plot in the scene.

He ended with an interesting discussion of the translation of Alvy's paranoid pun between "Jew" and "didjoo" ('did you') in Annie Hall. The French version attempts to create the ambiguity but in a way that is not plausible, and so Alvy's paranoia is completely unbased. The Spanish version, however, creates a pun between judías, a food in peninsular Spanish (green beans) and also a term that signifies Jewish women). The Jewish interpretation is activated by the subject matter of their conversation. However, the pun works differently in Spanish because the word "Jew" is actually uttered whereas in English it is only a sound that Alvy hears in his paranoia. In this way, the translation interrogates the way in which anti-semitism is treated as only a matter of (paranoid) perception in American culture.

{% blockquote %} "I'm a teacher, and want to teach everyone about translation." ~ Lawrence Venuti {% endblockquote %}

Venuti said that his main concern is to teach people how to read translations more carefully and critically. He admitted that he has been accused of being elitist in his desire for educated and "model" readers. He insisted on the difference, however, between "elite" and "elitist." He does not seek to be exclusionary but rather to elevate people to higher levels of appreciation and analysis.

In the Q/A period, he made an interesting observation about "elitism" and popular culture. It is the case that there can be "elite" appreciation of "popular" culture (as in underground hip hop), and "popular" appreciation for complex and "elite" culture (as with fan participation in showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show). The idea of "culture" is oversimplified, and Venuti wants to shape Bordieau's "elite" readers who engage culture in a critical way, rather than simply in "enjoyment," which erases the boundary between art and life (e.g., in devotion to 'soap operas').

He ended with this statement, that is one that I think we can all embrace: "I'm a teacher, and want to teach everyone about translation."