Thursday, March 15, 2007

Translatorial Censorship

In the last post, I quoted from Dr. Marjorie Garber’s book Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life, in which she mentioned some translatorial/editorial changing/censorship (or “gender bowdlerization”) of work featuring homosexuals and bisexuals. Unfortunately, this is not a unique or altogether rare phenomenon.

In the special Translating Humour issue of The Translator magazine from 2002, in an article entitled “Francoist Translation Censorship of Two Billy Wilder Films,” Jeroen Vandaele writes about how, during Franco’s regime, translatorial censorship took place of work that was considered inappropriate or immoral. For example, Some Like it Hot might be considered amoral because of issues relating to its portrayal of cross-dressing, the potential gay implications of the movie, and other sexual topics (especially, it might be noted, sexual issues that are outside the realm of what is accepted as “normal”). Dr. Vandaele says that some of the sexual humor in Some Like it Hot and The Apartment was “changed or deleted because of immorality” or “replaced by morality,” and one can assume that if this sort of censorship happened to films, it was part of a general view of culture and society that also affected literature.

Whether for political or other reasons, translators and editors (and other people with power, such as teachers) sometimes censor or change material that they consider improper or otherwise unsuitable. I remember someone who grew up in Iran telling me about seeing foreign films in Iran and then, once she had moved to Europe and later to America, seeing the same movies and being surprised at how much longer they were; in other words, “inappropriate” material had been deleted or changed before the films were deemed acceptable in Iran.

Personally, I’m a strong believer in having as little as possible come between the audience and the text (or film or whatever) as the author (or director or whoever) envisioned it, and I hope that we translators will be cautious about (ab)using the power the wield.

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