Is literary translation really useless in the digital field

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Titre : Is literary translation really useless in the digital field ? MBCBFTW as a case study.
Auteur : Gilles Rouffineau
Lieu : Conference ELO - Porto, Portugal
Date : 18 juillet 2017

Résumé / Abstract :

While commun sense takes a wide range of translations for granted in order to find a broad reader audience, electronic literature seems to be stuck in ASCII mode. No Latin accents required, neither Czech, nor Cyrillic, no Greek or Arabic glyphs are useful in the literary digital writing space.

At the age of Unicode fonts – a format allowing more than one hundred of script languages to be encoded into the computer since the 1990s – authors, critics and literary theoreticians commited to computer and code should probably be aware about translation. But is it really useless, as I've been told ? Did seriously English language already became the digital literary lingua franca ? Isn't it actually an oxymoron ? Can we really access literary feelings in a foreing language except after some decades of immersion, or deep and intensive speaking/reading which is far to be ordinary ? Nevertheless, ELO committee's recommandations are following this trend not to give key importance at this point. They encourage submissions to go “ Beyond interlinguistic translation : emulations, virtualizations, re-readings, and interpretations… ” Who's afraid of translation per se ? What about e-literature outside english uniform ? If language is part of the imaginary landscape for human beings, we should no longer avoid this question.

Olia Lialina's work untitled “My Boyfriend Came Back From The War” (MBCBFTW), a 1996 online short hypertext narrative, is a quite famous and pionnering net-art project. According to the translation point of view, it can be seen as a main exemple of quite a stange situation. For beginners, the story could be played here : After few minutes and multiples subdivisions using framing split screen – a Netscape new feature at the time – the reader consultation ends with Olia signature, uploading year 96 and a curious web link to the “MBCBFTW museum”. Over there, she gathered since 2000 many projects related and inspired by her story, listed and linked to various contributors web sites in the so-called Real Net Art Museum.

No one is a strict textual translation and faithful release, but all of the 30 projects displayed in this web page are free adaptations, from a simple html copy, to variations, remakes, visual transpositions including a single gouache frame, video files backup, hi-jacking video game, conceptual description or real products inspiration… Four of them are already lost, but still linked as a memory HTML relic. Mark Wirblich's sold an ironic T-shirt. With a very close spanish translation but new pictures, Ignacio Nieto shifts the story to pay a tribute for Chilean missing soldiers. Roman Leibov’s variation also deals with translation. Today, only Internet archive can give you access to his text file, adding Russian stage directions to Olia's textual story. Who can really read this English and Russian mix ? For me, Google french translation is strictly required.

A long time ago, Olia said “If something is in the net, it should speak in net.language.” She explain later that net.language means medium specific. Does it need to be necessarily English because underling programs are using this language structures and commands ? Some French translations expected may substitute Olia's text itself, they should mimic movies subtitles, or computer help pop-ups, but graphical frames and chunk sentences must also be part of the play…

Did English language became the inescapable digital literary lingua franca ? How to avoid the pressure of computer programming domination ? Olia Lialina's MBCBFTW is a case study to confirm that adaptations, free interpretations, remixes and other distant productions are of great interest. But do they prevent translation per se ? This art work may be an opportunity to try others approaches dealing with graphical constraints.