... in TRANSPOSING: ... the story between translation and adaptation - about


Transposition is a genre invented for us to explore the present against the past. Here we have outlined some of the most general aspects. If you are interested in learning more, please have a look at the essays and excerpts of specific transpositions on our site or order the first collection of transpositions titled From Wahnsinnig To The Loony Bin.

In general

A transposition shifts at least the content of an original narrative to a new context, with each segment of the transposed text standing in direct relation to its commensurate segment in the original. As such, transposition lies between adaptation and translation.

In transposition, the story is shifted from its original sociotemporal context to the contemporary environment in which the transposition appears. This causes a foreign setting to become local, a means of transportation such as a carriage to become a car, a telegraph to become an email. It may even result in more extreme shifts like a locksmith being transformed into a glass blower, a cigarette turning into a piece of gum or a phlegmatic landowner transubstantiating into an efficient businessman.

Comparison of translation, adaptation and transposition

Below you can see an example of the differences between a translation, adaptation and transposition of Russian writer Nikolai Gogol's short story The Nose:

By Gogol

Он поспешил в собор, пробрался сквозь ряд нищих старух с завязанными лицами и двумя отверстиями для глаз, над которыми он прежде так смеялся, и вошел в церковь. Молельщиков внутри церкви было немного; они все стояли только при входе в двери. Ковалев чувствовал себя в таком расстроенном состоянии, что никак не в силах был молиться, и искал глазами этого господина по всем углам. Наконец увидел его стоявшего в стороне. Нос спрятал совершенно лицо свое в большой стоячий воротник и с выражением величайшей набожности молился. «Как подойти к нему? — думал Ковалев. — По всему, по мундиру, по шляпе видно, что он статский советник. Черт его знает, как это сделать!»

By Volokhonsky/ Pevear

He hastened into the cathedral, made his way through a row of old beggar women with bandaged faces and two openings for eyes, at whom he had laughed so much before, and went into the church. There were not many people praying in the church: they all stood just by the entrance. Kovalev felt so upset that he had no strength to pray, and his eyes kept searching in all corners for the gentleman. He finally saw him standing to one side. The nose had his face completely hidden in his big standing collar and was praying with an expression of the greatest piety. “How shall I approach him?” thought Kovalev. “By all tokens, by his uniform, by his hat, one can see he’s a state councillor. Devil knows how to go about it!”

Adaptation (for opera)
By Shostakovich

Scene Four 7. Kazan Cathedral There are several worshipers of both sexes. It’s gloomy. CHOIR, SOLO SOPRANO, SOLO TENOR A... A... A... The Nose enters in the uniform of a State Councillor. He prays fervently, kneeling down repeatedly. CHOIR, SOLO SOPRANO A... A... A... Kovalev enters. He is covering the absence of his nose with a handkerchief. He recognizes his nose amongst the congregation. He coughs. He prays. KOVALEV (to himself) How can I approach him? Everything, his coat, his hat, shows that he’s a State Councillor. The devil knows how to go about it!”...

By Whittlesey

He hurried toward the bank, squeezed through the horde of illegal nannies with spoiled children and two holes for eyes, whom he’d previously mocked, and entered the bank. There were not many clients inside. They solely operated the ATMs in the foyer. Bill was in such a distracted state that he did not even think to check his account, instead searching for the man, looking in every direction. Finally, he saw him standing in the corner. Mr. Nose had his face completely shielded by a wide teller partition and, with an expression of the greatest concentration, banked. …..“How should I approach him?” Bill wondered. “By everything, by his suit, shoes, it is evident that he is a senior manager. God only knows how he did that!”

What does a transposition consist of?

  1. In transposition, the form of the original is retained, but the content is moved from its original context to a modern-day equivalent.
  2. Form primarily refers to the sentence; in other words, each sentence of the original must appear in the transposition. The inclusion of each original sentence can either a) attempt to retain the syntax of the original, i.e. the position of the words, the number of words, nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc., or b) adopt different syntax while retaining at least one function of the original sentence.
  3. Content means the plot, description, action, surroundings, environment, etc. Parallel content for each aspect of the original sentence is to be sought for the transposition in order to incorporate the entirety of the original in the transposition. If the content of the original applies in the context of the transposition, it may be copied.
  4. One of the central premises of this genre is to explore the parallels between the world of the original and the given contemporary society (in our case America). For this reason, wherever the content and form of the original can be integrated without alteration into the new context, this is to be done. 
  5. You are searching for parallels in transposition. The assumption is that the structure of the story selected for transposition bears relevance in our contemporary environment. Whatever is outdated, old-fashioned, implausible in the contemporary context is replaced by something appropriate.