…which is like a book from a footnote.
So a conversation on Twitter got me to thinking. This is not uncommon. The issue? Notes in translations and other works. The players? Myself, 8C, and LowOnHitPoints.
I won’t try to sum the whole thing up, but 8C started things off with the claim (quoted, I think) that notes during a fansub are an admission that the subber is a failure. Hyperbole, certainly, but let’s clean it up a little now that we’re not limited to the old 140. A note in a fansub fails in its very purpose because the point of the translation is to communicate the story / show / plot / what-have-you.
This claim isn’t too complicated. I joked about scholarly editors apparently being failures as well. LowOnHitPoints rejoined that he insists on no footnotes, even in something like Shakespeare.
There’s a lot more, most on their part – I was in class for part of the discussion. But here I am now. Woo hoo!
We’re actually dealing with two separate issues – translations and scholarly works. Obviously. But there’s a signpost for you. Footnotes during an anime sub can distract from the act of enjoying the anime itself. This is true, given that it’s a qualified statement. It can. Footnotes distract me at times, in all forms (book, show, whatever). But I always – always – prefer footnotes to endnotes. Most of the people I know prefer footnotes to endnotes. Endnotes are just sort-of useless. They have the information you need or want, but they’re somewhere else. So if you want to glean it for your phenomenological experience, during the act of reading or watching, you have to either wait until the end or go to the note right then. Most of us wouldn’t wind through a fansub to read a translator’s note at the end. Neither would most of us page through a book to read an endnote.
By the time you get to an endnote, then, your experience with the text is sort-of over. You can add to it, and maybe even rewatch / re-read it, but you’ll never get the same emotional response as you did the first time through. And your lack of knowledge of something will effect that.
My silly example on Twitter was Hamlet. LowOnHitPoints said he wouldn’t mind if he just missed a few puns or something. But the pun on the word “nunnery” is essential to plumbing Hamlet’s mental state. He tells Ophelia to go to a nunnery in the middle of a speech about both he and she are both horrible, sinful people. So we read the line and are content. He wants her to go somewhere clean and pure. Simple enough. Except during Shakespeare’s time the word “nunnery” was slang for a brothel. So he’s simultaneously telling her to go to a whorehouse – in the middle of a speech about how horrible and sinful they are. It’s a pivotal moment in the play. It helps explain why Ophelia kills herself (if she does – see the years of debate on whether she’s responsible for her death).
These, though, are scholarly footnotes. While my example is a translation aid, most scholarly footnotes aren’t so much. So are the two acts different? Yes, but not by much.
A translation footnote is theoretically meant to help one get what has been lost in the act of translating from one language to another. All translation is the act of producing another work. Works in languages are tied to those languages. It’s why I technically teach a translation of Waiting for Godot to my undergrads: the translation is in English, but the author made it. But he wrote the original in French and then translated it. So I’m not teaching the original, even though the author himself did the translation work. He created a new, second work, titled Waiting for Godot, that is really an adaptation of a French original. The act of translation is the act of adaptation. So the footnotes are in a weird position. 8C rightfully points to this fact when he says the translation is where that information is really supposed to appear. Theoretically, anything necessary to the work must appear in the work, or else it’s by definition not necessary.
Here’s my bold hypothesis: fansubbers aren’t only translating / adapting. Those who include translation footnotes are, in a sense, curating the anime in the same way Greenblatt curates Shakespeare. They are including information not vital to following the show, but vital to interpreting it. They are creating a scholarly document of sorts. This actually helps us understand the fansub wars, the bickering over groups, the long posts by subbers on their art and craft – these things are odd in the light of translations, as people usually only have preferred translations, not translations they go to war over. But scholars have scholarly editions they will bicker, backbite, and fight over. A professor once told me of an honest-to-God social snub he got at a conference because he went with one typical copy-text of a book over another for his scholarly edition of a work. Someone felt strongly enough about this to come up to him, in person, with friends, and call him out over it. Sound familiar?
I still haven’t really weighed in on the debate at hand. Translation footnotes during an episode? Yea or nay? I say yea. I take this form seriously, as I think most of us do who are bothering to do this blogging thing, and I don’t find footnotes intrusive – unless they’re huge, poorly typeset, or something else weird. I pick and choose when to read them, when I already know things (just like I don’t have to look at footnotes on the word “an” in a copy of Shakespeare’s plays any longer). I’ve done translation work myself in the past, in Japanese. I can understand others being distracted, though. What the debate has made me realize, though, post hoc, is that anime fansubbers aren’t engaging in the act of translation just as, say Seamus Heaney did when he translated Beowulf. They’re engaging in the act of translation someone like Greenblatt does when dealing with Shakespeare, or with Goethe – not only translating, but building an edition capable of supporting the scholarly debate and criticism that will rest on it in the future. Because at this point the fansubbers are working for the bloggers too, just as the bloggers are working for the fansubbers.