... in TRANSPOSING: ... the story between translation and adaptation - A Typology of Derivatives

A TYPOLOGY OF DERIVATES: Translation, Transposition, Adaptation

By Henry Whittlesey

Published by Translation Journal


What would The Nose be if Nikolai Gogol were an American writing in the twenty-first century?

Certainly we would see a different text: The content wouldn’t include a horse and carriage or cobblestone streets; the form, in all likelihood, would consist of shorter sentences with fewer clauses; the position of the narrator would move closer to the protagonist(s). Similar considerations characterize a genre that is well-known to us from the days of postmodernism and its laggard acolytes today: that of adaptation. Running the gamut from musicians’ remakes of folk songs to literary adaptations of novels by European men or film adaptations of the classics like Emma, Sense and Sensibility, etc., adaptation has enjoyed great popularity in the postmodern epoch. One of its most interesting sides, which we also find, slightly modified in transposition, consists of presenting a different point of view from the original. If we consider Á la recherche du temps perdu and its adaptation Albertine by Jacqueline Rose, the reader confronts two quite different perspectives of Marcel and Albertine. In other cases, adaptation may develop a specific character or point from the original. Generally speaking, there are few to no rules on what forms an adaptation.

Translation, on the other hand, has many rules, at least in the professional sphere. You may not skip a word or sentence or misread the original or the intent of the original. You certainly cannot leave out whole sections or add additional information. As such the original’s content must appear in the translation, and faithfulness to the original must be largely verifiable on the basis of a dictionary.

If Nikolai Gogol entered the twenty-first century to write The Nose or Dead Souls or another of his classics in America on the basis of the original, it might take the form of an adaptation or a translation. Yet should he retain his nineteenth-century mindset while being influenced by his contemporary American surroundings, a third option would be open to him: a controlled shift of the original to the present. A shift that raises the specter of similarities between the ages, similarities obscured by superficial changes like a horse and carriage becoming a taxi. This we call transposition.

In transposition there is an attempt to produce the original as the author might have done if he or she appeared in the given socio-historical time and place of the transposition and retained the consciousness that created each sentence of the original. The central elements of transposition consist of this engagement with each sentence and the shift in content/form. Thus, it resembles translation in the grammatical aspect and adaptation in the alteration of content. It may alter some aspect of the original and retain others. It is not chained entirely to the original like a translation, but does have to track each sentence of it.

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