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August 2000, Week 2


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"Shari L. Rosenblum" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 8 Aug 2000 00:04:06 EDT
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I like the way Cheryl Herr says the University of Iowa accomplishes
this, but given that all universities are not equally staffed for or open
to collaborations between departments, I offer these observations
with Mike Frank's quoted below:

> without attempting to offer a "final" answer to this question let me offer a
>  couple of observations . . .
>  first, in at least some respects teaching film today is akin to [and an
>  outgrowth of] the teaching of novels a generation or two ago . . . there
> were, at the time, arguments that only those who read a novel in the
> original  language can ever really "know" it;  nevertheless, the tradition
> of teaching novels in translation has a long and respectable history . . .

I think this is right, but the important thing is how one teaches a
translation.  One who does not speak the language cannot approach
the linguistics of the work -- actual dialogue, scenic punning, etc. --
without at least acknowledging that one is working from a product
at a remove from its originator.  But one can even less fairly ignore
or deny the value of that linguistic angle.

And then the question becomes complicated.  Given that the translation
is a derivative work, with its own audience and a reception and
reputation dependent on its derived dialogue, is that not something
equally essential to study?  Is that not the honest experience of
the film that the students are having?

To translate is to betray, the old saying goes -- but betray what, in this

The only difficulty I see is in representing or allowing the illusion that
the subtitles are equivalent to the original text and that there is nothing
else to be discovered beneath them.

I would add, though, that there is often treasure to be mined between
translations that one rarely reaches in an undisturbed text.  Cultural
associations are often less interesting than the connections and
mis-connections made in the adaptive process.  And there's always
room for insight.

>  second, the reason for this respectable history has to do with the way
>  cultural wealth crosses boundaries . . . most of us would, i suspect,
>  imagine that the bible is part of our own cultural heritage, though few
>  of us read hebrew or greek . . . similarly sophocles, cervantes, dante,
>  flaubert, dostoevsky, and kafka in some way belong to all of us . . .
>  would a department that lacked speakers of all of these varied
>  languages be prohibited from teaching works in those languages?? . . .

Cultural wealth does cross boundaries, thank heaven -- but it does
not always do so intact.  Or rather without significant variance to
account for the boundaries crossed.  We can live by the bible,
and appreciate it well -- but we know that the the King James
version, as rich as it is, is enhanced by just the slightest bit of
awareness of the original languages.

Whether we need them is not what counts -- it's that we be aware
they are out there should we care.  (Of course, if it were I teaching the
course, I'd make a pretty strong argument that we should care.)

>  i would hope not . . . i hope too that i would not be kept from
>  sharing bertolucci with my film students simply because i most
>  likely am missing elements in his films that would be
>  available to a speaker of italian.

And then here's the other point.  Yes, you are likely missing elements
that would be readily available to a common speaker of Italian -- but
you are also likely commenting upon elements that are not quite so
accessible to the common speaker of Italian.

The aim of undergraduate film classes is exposure and preparation.
A teacher's lack of linguistic expertise is not likely to compromise
that aim too terribly.  Moreover, the teacher's self-awareness and
acknowledgment of that lack can set the students looking excitedly
to places beyond where the teacher can show them.  And that's
the second aim of undergraduate film classes.

Of course, I am an idealist . . .  but I like it that way.

Shari Rosenblum

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