Translation and interpretation

Eco, Umberto 2001. Experiences in Translation. Translated by Alastair McEwen. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Intersemiotic translation (and in this lay the most innovative feature of his proposal) occurs when we have 'an interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of non-verbal sign systems," and therefore when a novel is 'translated' into a film, for example, or a fairy tale into a ballet. Note that Jakobson also proposed to call this form of translation 'transmutation,' and the term should give us food for thought - but we shall come back to this point. (Eco 2001: 67)
Eco rightfully puts "translation" here between quotation marks, because the term is under question. And I'm interested to see how Eco addresses transmutation.
First of all, just as rewording exists within a language itself, so there are also forms of rewording (but this would be a metaphor) within other semiotic systems, as, for example, when we change teh key of a musical composition. (Eco 2001: 67)
Yup. In Ducasse's terms, Jakobson ignored reo-real interpretation.
But the most important problem is another. In order to define the three type of translation, Jakobson uses teh word interpretation three times, and it could not be otherwise for a linguist who, while belonging to the structuralist tradition, was the first to discover the fecundity of Peircean concepts. His definition of the three types of translation thus left us with some ambiguity. If all three types of translation are interpretations, did Jakobson not mean that the three types of translation are three types of interpretation, and that therefore translation is a species of the genus interpretation? This seems the most obvious solution, and the fact that he insisted on the term translation could have been due to the fact that he wrote down his reflections for a collection of essays called On Translation (Brower 1959), in which his aim was to distinguish between various types of translation, implicitly taking for granted that they were all forms of interpretation. (Eco 2001: 68)
Eco takes issue with how Jakobson identified translation with interpretation. This move is associated with Jakobson's reading of Peirce, it seems.
Jakobson was simply saying that the notion of interpretation as translation from sign to sign allows us to get round the diatribe about where meaning lies, in the mind or in behaviour, and he does not say that interpreting and translating are always the same operation, but that it is useful to tackle the notion of meaning in terms of translation (I would like to add: as if it were a translation). In explaining Jakobson's position, in a long article on his contribution to semiotics, I wrote: 'Jakobson demonstrates that to interpret a semiotic item means "to translate" it into another item (maybe an entire discourse) and that this translation is always creatively enriching the first item...' (Eco 1977: 53). As you can see, I put 'to translate' between inverted commas, to indicate that this was a figurative expression. (Eco 2001: 71)
To me it just feels like Jakobson didn't fully understand Peirce's theory of sign-growth and "translated" a statement about it into terms he and other linguists could understand.
Paola Fabbri (1998: 115-16) seems to share Steiner's position. He says that, 'if we read Peirce carefully, we notice that according to this author the sign, in relation to the other sign, is not a simple reference; according to Peirce, in fact, the meaning of a sign is the sign into which it must be translated,' and this is naturally beyond dispute. Fabbri admits immediately that perhaps this is a metaphor, but proposes to 'take it seriously.' Therefore, after a reference to Lotman, he asserts positively that 'the act of translation is the first act of signification, and that things signify thanks to an act of translation internal to them.' Fabbri evidently means that the translation principle is the basic motivating force of semiosis, and therefore that every interpretation is in the first place a translation (which is, in fact, a way of taking the so-called Peircean metaphor seriously). (Eco 2001: 72-73)
Nice to see someone take something from Lotman's paper on the semiosphere seriously.
In communications with a practical purpose, the presence of the expressive substance is purely function: it serves to strike the senses, and thence we set of fto interpret the content. (Eco 2001: 93)
That is, practical communication is not poetic but referential.
Let us now ask ourselves what would happen if someone wanted to transpose 'The Raven' from a natural language to an image, 'translating' it into a picture. An artist could make us feel emotions similar to those around by the poem, such as the darkness of the night, the melancholy atmosphere, the mixture of horror and insatiable desire that churns within the lover, the contrast between black and white (and, if this served to emphasize the effect, the painter could change the burst into a full-figure statue). However, the picture would have to forgo rendering that obsessive feeling of the (reiterated) threat of loss, which is suggested by nevermore. Could the picture tell us something of the Lenore who is so frequently invoked in the text? Perhaps, by making her appear to us as a white gloss. But it would have to be the ghost of a woman, not of another creature. And at that point we would be obliged to see (or the painter would be obliged to make us see) something of this woman who in the written text appears as pure sound. In this case, at least, Lessing's distinction between the arts of time and the arts of space holds. And it would hold because in the passage between poetry and picture ther ehas been a change of continuum. (Eco 2001: 95)
Eco himself here uses "transpose" instead of "transmute", although the latter signifies a change of continuum and the former a(n ex)change of place.
The diversity of continuum is a fundamental problem for every theory of semiotics. Just think of the diatribe on the omnipotence or the omnieffability of verbal language. And while we tend to accept verbal language as the most powerful system of all (according to Lotman, it is the primary modelling system), we are nonetheless aware that it is not wholly omnipotent. (Eco 2001: 96)
These random references to Lotman are quite neat.
  • 1. Interpretation by transcription
  • 2. Intrasystemic interpretation
    • 2.1. Intralinguistic, within the same natural language
    • 2.2. Intrasemiotic, within other semiotic systems
    • 2.3. Performance
  • 3. Intersystemic interpretation
    • 3.1. With marked variation in the substance
      • 3.1.1. Interlinguistic, or translation between natural languages
      • 3.1.2. Rewriting
      • 3.1.3. Translation between other semiotic systems
    • 3.2. With mutation of continuum
      • 3.2.1. Parasynonymy
      • 3.2.2. Adaption or transmutation
(Eco 2001: 100)
In the lecture when this came up I proposed that Eco merely made subcategories of each of Jakobson's translation types and didn't dare to mark transcription under 3.
As we have already said, this is interpretation by automatic substitution, as happens with the Morse alphabet. Transcription is strictly codified, and may therefore be carried out by a machine. (Eco 2001: 100)
I'd say Eco is ignoring the fact that transcription occurs between different semiotic systems. And he completely neglects the fact of interpretation in transcription. The process is not very automatic when you think about transcribing an audio recording into a written text (it's a continuum from verbatim to considerable edits). Even transliteration, say Romanization of Russian, requires a decision between systems and standards.
I am tempted to say that cinema directors also 'perform' screenplays, in the sense that the script may say that a character smiles, but the director can make that smile sarcastic or tender, both by instructing the actor and by lighting his or her figure from one angle rather than another. However, I believe that, ever though there are some extremely precise screenplays that intend to be highly prescriptive scripts, there are others than would seem to be more like literary rough drafts and in such cases I would speak of adaption or transmutation. (Eco 2001: 105)
I have tried addressing this aspect in my paper about bodily behaviour and text, but my discussion is limited by the fact that I know next to nothing about film directing and theatre stage directions.
In conclusion, rewriting is certainly a case of interpretation, and is translation proper only in part, if not in the sense in which (on the basis of a critical interpretation of the original text) it has pretensions to conveying, not the letterof the original, but its 'guiding spirity' (whatever that means). (Eco 2001: 117)
When translating my paper on "Somatoception" into Estonian "Kehakujutlused" I similarly felt that the final translation carried what I wanted to say more fully.
It is a matter for debate in such cases as to whether there is not also a change of continuum, but it is assumed that source text and target text manifest themselves within a common continuum that we will call graphic-pictorial. However, I would have no difficulty in taking the 'translation' of an oil picture into a monochromatic engraving as a case of change in continuum, and therefore of adaption or transmutation. (Eco 2001: 117-118)
A hint as to what he might mean by "continuum".
Intersystemic Interpretation with Mutation of Continuum
In these cases there is a decided step from purport to the purport of the expression, as happens when a poem is interpreted (by illustrating it) through a charcoal drawing, or when a novel is adapted in comic-strip form. (Eco 2001: 118)
The continuum part is making this somewhat difficult to understand. The borderlines of this typology are fuzzy.
I cannot find a better term for cases like the one, already mentioned, in which an object is shown in order to interpret a verbal expression that nominates it, a pointing finger that makes clear the expression that one there, a verbal instruction that expresses the meaning of a one-way street sign. In this case, the object held up is certainly intended to interpret the linguistic expression, but in different circumstances of utterance the same object could also interpret different expressions. One example of parasynonymy would be the showing of an empty box of a given detergent to interpret (to make clearer) the request 'Please buy me a box of Brand X detergent,' but in different circumstances of utterance holding up the same thing could clarify the meaning of the word detergent (in general) or provide an example of what is meant by parallelpipedon. (Eco 2001: 118-119)
Ugh, parasynonym makes sense as far as it signifies equivalence between verbal and 'real' signs, but parallelepipedon is just a geometrical term (rööptahukas).
In trying to render the pangs of the narrator in Proust's Recherche when, at the beginning, he is waiting for his mother's goodnight kiss, those things that were inner feelings can be rendered with facial expressions (or quasi-dreamlike insertions of the mother figure, who is only desired in the text and not seen). (Eco 2001: 125)
It would certainly make sense, as even Cicero knew that the face is capable of expressing any and all feelings humans feel.


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