Adaptation/Translation/Intermediation

  • Sherry Simon (Editor), Kathy Mezei (Editor) and Luise Von Flotow (Author)
    Translation Effects: The Shaping of Modern Canadian Culture.(purchase at Amazon.ca)
  • Daniel Fischlin (Editor)
    Outerspeares: Shakespeare, Intermedia, and the Limits of Adaptation. University of Toronto Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Alana Fletcher

Daniel Fischlin and the contributors to Outerspeares use Eric Vos’s concept of “intermedia”—those “artistic phenomena that appear either to fall between established categories [of media] or to fuse their criteria”—to examine adaptations of Shakespeare’s works in a range of cultural forms. Outerspeares is written from a Canadian perspective and privileges Canadian adaptations, though not with the nationalist concern of Brydon and Makaryk’s A World Elsewhere (2002), for which both Fischlin and contributor Mark Fortier also wrote. The collection addresses a wider range of media than previous volumes on adapting Shakespeare, using the concept of intermedia to describe both media-to-media transpositions (play text to film, to Twitter feed, or to object) and the multiple-media nature of many of these adaptations.

The volume is divided into four parts: the first includes pieces on Shakespeare in new media; the second is on film adaptation; the third section concerns TV, radio, popular music, and theatre adaptation; and the fourth section, “The Limits of Adaptation,” explores community theatre and the Shakescrafting movement and ends with a short meditation by Fortier on what is beyond adaptation. In addition to this smart conclusion, which suggests three unlikely alternatives to adaptation—the unmitigated newness, total static, or absolute oblivion of a work—other standout contributions include the interview by Fischlin and Jessica Riley with director Tom Magill about Mickey B, Magill’s 2007 film adaptation of Macbeth set in a Northern Ireland prison and cast with inmates. Another high point is Sujata Iyengar’s piece on “Shakescraft,” the production of consumer objects inspired by Shakespeare. Her explanation of how remaindered editions of Shakespeare are revived in these crafts recalls the point made by Christy Desmet about the way YouTube mashups disrupt the chronological concept of cultural capital that is “one of the tacit assumptions of appropriation studies:” in these cases, the value of Shakespeare derives from the currency of handmade crafts and popular shows, and not the other way around. There is little left unaddressed in Fischlin’s collection, though I found its insistence that “intermediality” also connotes cultural transposition disappointing; the term could be much more powerful if confined to media-related aspects of adaptation.

Kathy Mezei, Sherry Simon, and Luise von Flotow’s Translation Effects“starts from the ubiquitous nature of translation in Canada, and explores events that mark the presence as well as the effects of this activity.” This collection is comprised of thirty-two brief articles, each examining a particular “event” of translation under a journalistic “headline.” The shortness of contributions leaves little room for complexity; instead, pieces describe a particular instance of translation with the conclusion that “this was a significant translation event.” Rather than a collection of positional essays, Translation Effects is thus a kind of encyclopedia of significant translation events in Canada. Given this style, the standout contributions here are those that succinctly describe how a given act of translation was undertaken and identify its significance in shaping Canadian culture. Rebecca Margolis’s essay on the 1992 translation of Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles-soeurs into Yiddish provides a clear delineation of the translation’s contribution to “intercultural dialogue” or “rapprochement” between Jewish and French Quebecers. A number of contributions pinpoint instances of political translation via linguistic translation: Brian Mossop’s delineation of the way self-empowering rhetoric was translated into the gay rights movement in Germany’s Weimar Republic from a socialist context and then from the Weimar movement to Toronto’s in the 1970s, for example, is clear and insightful (and novel in a collection with no other German-language content).

The volume is divided into five sections: Translating Media and the Arts, Translating Politics, Translating Poetry, Fiction, Essays; Translating Drama; and Performing Translation. These divisions seem somewhat unsatisfactory; the section on “Translating Politics” concerns only French-English issues, which is strange given the highly-charged politics of translations between other languages—for instance, between Indigenous languages and English, to which contributions by David Gaertner and Sophie McCall (in a recycled version of a 2003 article) attest. The collection could perhaps have been better served with two broader categories—Political and Socio-Cultural Translation, on the one hand, and Textual Translation, on the other. This would have allowed contributions on specific linguistic acts of translation to converse while gathering together contributions treating translation more metaphorically, as a shift from one context to another—that is, more as adaptation.

This question of where translation ends and adaptation begins unavoidably emerges when these two collections are read together. Both translation and adaptation concern movement from source to target contexts and both bring to the fore the political and cultural issues that attend such movement. In my own view, the lens of “adaptation” seems to place more weight on cultural, generic, and media-related shifts, while “translation” takes language as its starting point. The resistance of these categories to easy definition, however, is part of the appeal of both Outerspeares and Translation Effects, in which various interpretations of each concept collide.



This review “Adaptation/Translation/Intermediation” originally appeared in Agency & Affect. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 223 (Winter 2014): 145-47.

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