13 - Adaptation - fourth part
«[...] para describir al personaje tomé y adorné y recompuse algunos rasgos físicos de la persona, y eso indujo a confusión sin duda a los superficiales»1.
"[...] in order to describe the fictional character I selected and embroidered upon and shifted around certain physical attributes of the real person, which must have been what led superficial readers into confusion"2.
In unit 11 we saw that in a culture cultural meta-awareness can be or be missing: citizens living in a culture (be it a tavern, a factory, a school, a club, a union) can either be aware of living in a corner differing from the rest of the world for the many features acquired, or can think that all the world is made in the same way, just a territorial extension of customs, uses, and implicit data present in their own microcosm.
The two factors having greatest influence on the attitude toward either of these poles in the isolation-communicative awareness continuum are ignorance or knowledge of cultures differing from one''s own and the need and the greater or lesser desire to communicate with the outside. If one wishes to, it is possible to trace in the elements of intercultural relations common to interpersonal relations: at one end one can see the autistic trend to be interested only in what is within the group, solipsism, hermeticism. In these cases, alien culture is denied or minimized. With the improvement of the degree of sociability, there are more and more strategies aimed at adapting one''s culture into alien culture and vice versa.
All members of a group working to make their culture known on the outside and to make outer cultures known on the inside perform translational functions, and impersonate the culture of the border3. Such translational function is not only linguistic, but it is often also linguistic, because each group has their own lexicon, their own vocabulary, reflecting the peculiar unsaid in the specific culture of that group.
Meant in this much broader sense rather than the narrower, technical one, translation is a tool for growth and reciprocal enrichment between cultures. Reading a single reality from different points of view hugely enriches cognitive abilities and suggests still different readings and problem solutions. An example can be for a U.S. citizen reading news from U.S.A. in an Italian newspaper. Of course such a reality is read in a much different way as compared to how that reading is done from within, filtered by categories and value systems of Italian culture. The same type of defamiliarization would occur to the Italian citizen reading Italian news in a U.S. newspaper. Such defamiliarization results from the adoption of an unprecedented point of view, and it is one of the main literary devices pointed out by Russian formalists4.
The presence of a centrifugal or centripetal tendency in the relations between two groups, i.e. curiosity or appropriation, depends also on the power relationships existing between the two groups. The greater or lesser levels of reciprocal interest is caused both by the Self-view that the group has and on the consideration of alien elements. It is well known that to the Greeks the other peoples were bárbaroi, "stammerers", "barbarous", while to the Slav German populations with which they had a Western border were nemcy, i.e. "mute". The Greeks had a high - maybe not unmotivated - opinion of themselves, so they tended to consider less evolved and inferior cultures that did not have comparable social and political traditions. The Slavs thought that non-Slavic peoples spoke not a different language but, taking their point of view to the absolute, were outright unintelligible or incapable of speaking. In such cases, how does any adaptation occur? I leave it to the reader to decide if it is adaptation of transparent curiosity toward the difference or assimilation.
There are also those cases where hegemonic cultures exert very strong influences on satellite cultures. In the present, Italian culture is in some respects lead by the United States'' culture. Books and films originating in the United States are in wide circulation in Italy, much more than vice versa. A similar analysis can be formulated observing the quantity of English words used in Italian and vice versa.
They are phenomena that, as we see, result in strong consequences also in the way of cultures adapting to one another.
The very first translational adaptation of cultural phenomena is preventive, and consists of the expectations that a culture has of an outer phenomenon. Such expectations sometimes grow to the status of undeclared and not completely conscious prejudices. A Russian three-hours film is preventively considered boring, while Gone with the Wind, in spite of its 222 minutes, is generally considered a cult movie. Transferring our analysis from the length of films to the length of sequences, the length of a frame is enough to make the viewer inpatient, as she is unconsciously used to the U.S. canon of fast frames.
One can speak of "periphery" or "center" of the cultural polysystem referring to the marginality/centrality of one culture in respect to another one. In the U.S. example, we used a national culture, but similar examples could be made referring to book culture compared to cinema or theater culture, and so on. The more marginal a culture, the less stable it is because of its greater exposure to alien influences. Contrarily, the more central, the stabler.
There is a variable degree of innovation in a cultural system within culture as a whole. The innovative character can derive from one of three conditions of the receiving literature: 1. 1. it is still an uncrystallized system, a young culture open to outer stimuli deriving from other cultures; 2. it is a peripheral culture when compared to those dominant on a global level, or fledgling, or both things; 3. it is going through a stage of renewal, of crisis, of emptiness5.
An example of peripheral or central collocation of a system within culture is translation science itself. For a long while translation research had been considered an aspect of the wider heading of linguistics. Translation was considered just as a transposition of a text from one language into another (Jakobson''s "interlingual translation"). As a consequence, the position of translation research was peripheral as compared to the central system of linguistics.
When Jakobson opened the path for the study of translation in a not purely linguistic but more generally semiotic perspective, also including in the basic notion of "translation" transfers of non-lingual or non-interlingual nature, translation has remained a peripheral concept, but relating to the periphery of many systems, not just the linguistic. In this way an autonomous physiognomy started to form. In the last two decades of 20th century there was a huge increase in the production of texts that have translation itself as a central subject. It is not by chance during the same period the discipline has started to look for denominations6.
With the new century, attempts were made from many directions to insert the translation notion in the center of the semiotic cultural system: On Lotman''s trail, Gorlée and Torop spoke about "translation" as a fundamental notion for the very definition of semiotics. So translation has covered all the distance from periphery to center of the culture of communication.
Beyond the many theoretical reasons to encompass extra-lingual aspects in the sphere of "translation", there are also practical reasons7. In Eugene Onegin, Pushkin for example, speaking of the Nevà''s shores, writes "tam nekogda gulyal i ya" that more or less, from the strictly linguistic point of view, means "I used to stroll there myself". However, if one considers the meaning of the verb gulyat´ in the culture of Pushkin and his contemporaries, one realizes that the merely linguistic translation is limited. "Gulyat´" can also mean "to have fun", "to have a great time", "to laze": The narrator''s sentence therefore acquires new meanings according to the linguistic or cultural approach followed by its translator.
It is not always easy to be aware of the implicit content of one''s own culture. The cultural unsaid is a sort of collective unconscious (although not universal like the one postulated by Jung), and only a relation with different cultures can contribute to its emergence. A young man waiting for the elevator with his hands in his trouser pockets scandalizes a Russian lady of the high society. Until someone tells her that, in Italy, a male having his hands in his pockets is not considered rude, the lady does not think of clearly expressing an unwritten rule: "when ladies are present, a gentleman shouldn''t have his hands in his pockets".
According to the power relationships existing between two cultures, the reciprocal interest varies. For example, a peripheral culture is much motivated to understand, even in detail, the functioning of the "central" culture to which it is a satellite. In this case, the adaptor/mediator has an interested model reader, and has the possibility of explaining what is not immediately evident. When, on the contrary, a peripheral culture''s text is translated into a central culture, the model reader tends to be much less interested in discovering differences and novelties.
In the previous units we have seen that there are two basic attitudes in the relations between cultures: there are dominant cultures that exert a strong influence on the others and tend to be less interested in what happens outside them, or to read what happens in different cultures through the parameters and the categories of their own culture. And there are satellite cultures that owing to many reasons are very focused on one or more dominant cultures and tend to import with pleasure models from these cultures, adopting them as alien elements.
In the relation with an element which is alien to one''s culture, the two attitudes can be synthesized in this way: when the alien element is appropriated denying it the identity of alien element, appropriating it as if it were born in the receiving culture, the mediator''s main preoccupation lies with the acceptability of the element for the receiving culture; when the alien element is imported preserving its identity as an element coming from an outer culture, the cultural mediator''s main preoccupation lies with the adequacy of the imported text in relation to its identity in the source culture8.
An adaptation focused on the acceptability of the text to the receiving culture risks erasing its identity, the origin of the text, not considering it is an imported, translated text that in its source culture has a precise identity. In this way, all the features of the text that might make it appear different are erased or blunted, and the receiving culture is not enriched by new elements, new categories, new ways of viewing the world.
The adaptation focused on the adequacy of the text to the source culture risks making its fruition by the model reader laborious, but, when successful, is a very important channel for importing alien elements into one''s own culture, enriching it. All the features and intertextual links of the original are brought into the receiving culture as alien elements, are thus compared with local elements and, as we know, from the comparison, awareness of identity and of differences develops.
EVEN-ZOHAR I. Polysystem Studies, in Poetics Today, 11, 1, Tel Aviv, The Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics, 1990, ISSN 0333-5372.
MARÍAS J. Negra espalda del tiempo, Punto de lectura, 2000 (original edition 1998), ISBN 84-663-0007-7.
MARÍAS J. Dark Back of Time, New York, New Directions, 2001 (translated by Esther Allen), ISBN 0-8112-1466-4.
TOROP P. Translation As A Working Principle Of Culture. Cultural Semiotics: Cultural Mechanisms, Boundaries, Identities. Tartu 26.02-2.03.2002.
TOURY G. Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond, Amsterdam-Philadelphia, Benjamins, 1995, ISBN 90-272-1606-1.
1 Marías 2000, p. 41.
2 Marías 2001, p. 34.
3 unit 29 of part one.
4 unit 39 of part two.
5 Even-Zohar 1990.
6 Traductologie, Übersetzungwissenschaft, Translation Studies, perevodovedenie.
8 Toury 1995.