Fan-Translation and heterogeneity: Venuti’s theory of foregnisation applied to the phenomenon of fan-translation In this essay I set out to explore the extent to which Lawrence Venuti’s theory of foreignising translation can be usefully applied to explain the practices of fan-translation communities. Fan-translation (hereafter, FT) is a relatively recent phenomenon. O’Hagan , following Flew’s definition of User Generated Content (Flew 2008 in O’Hagan 2009, p. 7) derives the term ‘User Generated Translation’ (hereafter, UGT) in order to describe a “wide range of translation, carried out based on free use participation in digital media spaces where translation is undertaken by unspecified self-selected individuals” (O’Hagan 2009, p. 97). The user in question is therefore somebody who “voluntarily act as a ‘remediator’ of linguistically inaccessible products and ‘direct producer’ of translation on the basis of [his] knowledge of the given language as well as that of a particular media content or genre, spurred by [his] substantial interest in the topic (O’Hagan 2009, p. 7). UGT then could be applied to all those translations carried out by non-professional translators, often for non-financial motives. The term FT in this essay will be used more specifically to describe the practice of those users whose interest is directed towards a particular genre: that of Japanese cultural commodities or, more specifically, Japanese graphic novels (Manga), and animated movies (anime). The question that I would like to address in this essay is whether Lawrence Venuti’s influential theory of translation (Venuti 1995,1998)can help further understanding the phenomenon of FT.
The intention of this essay is to claim that some aspects of Venuti’s ‘foregnisation’ theory do indeed serve to characterise fan-translators activities, despite the obvious contextual differences. These differences are easily summarised: FT is not carried out by a single individual or even by a single group of individuals (unlike the cases cited by Venuti, where he either refers to a group of romantic intellectuals in 19th century Germany, or later isolated cases (Venuti 1995, pp. 9-147, 187-272), but a practice carried out on a wider scale, embraced by a greater number of individuals working together as a community of practice, mostly composed of non-professional translators, often very young, not always sharing the same national identity, and mostly lacking the clearly defined cultural agenda that Venuti exposed as a justification for advocating the adoption of foreignising translation practices (Venuti 1995, pp. 6-17). Fandom Fan activities have gathered scholarly attention in recent years due to the opportunities for community building and the ease of sharing content that the recent incarnation of the World Wide Web, or Web 2. 0, offers (see for example (Diaz Cintas and Munoz Sanchez 2006; Lee 2009; Sanchez 2009; Koulikov 2010; Watson 2010; Denison 2011; Lee 2011; Castells and Cardoso 2012).
The reason for such scholarly attention is that fan activities, in the form of sharing digital content online, can be said to occupy a ‘liminal space’ (Denison 2011) that is dangerously close to what is often called (but not often clearly defined) ‘piracy’: fan texts that are at the “liminal edge between fan creativity and piracy. Essentially…text augmented by, rather than created by, fans” (Denison 2011, p. 450).

For this reason, fan activities built on the relationship that is constituted in the reception of a particular form of literature have been the subject of academic interest: “Anime texts have become nexus points for discourse around ownership and rights”(Napier 2007 and Thornton 1995 in Denison 2011, p. 450). Within the wider spectrum of fan-related practices, some individuals play the role of ‘prosumers’: producers and consumers of products, rather than passive spectators (Tapscott and Williams, 2006 in O’Hagan 2009, p. 9). Prosumers not only consume cultural products, but also manifest agency by responding creatively to their favourite text or medium. Some examples of fans creative response analysed by legal scholars could be the theatrical audience participation to showings of The Rocky Horror Show, Town bands performing free concerts, the American musical tradition “the blues” (Madison 2007, pp. 87-703), amateur fan actors producing new episodes of Star Trek, fan produced Harry Potter Lexicon, fan-made flash based animation derived from music, fan-created version of commercially created virtual mascot Miku Hatsune (Noda 2010, pp. 149-158), which are all forms of participation that sit uneasily with the notion of intellectual property rights. The practices of fans of Japanese comics and animation have been of particular interest to legal theorists (Mehra 2002; Hatcher 2005; Lessig 2005; Muscar 2006; Noda 2008, 2010).
Here it is useful to distinguish between the practices of the dojinshi (hereafter non italicised) community and the practices of the FT community or, to be more specific, communities, since fan translators operating on different media are described with different names: translation of Japanese graphic novels is carried out by a process of Scanlation; subtitling of Japanese animation is carried out by a process called Fansubbing; and finally, the process of modification and translation of video games is called RomHacking. Dojinshi
What are dojinshi, and why are they of interest to legal scholar? Lawrence Lessing, professor of law at Harvard Law School and founding board member of Creative Commons, in his 2004 work Free Culture: how big media uses technology and the law to lock down culture and control creativity, uses dojinshi as an example of derivative works that could not exist in America, since dojinshi are “A kind of copycat comic… It is not dojinshi if it is just a copy; the artist must make a contribution to the art he copies, by transforming it either subtly or significantly.
A dojinshi comic can thus take a mainstream comic and develop it differently—with a different story line. Or the comic can keep the character in character but change its look slightly. There is no formula for what makes the dojinshi sufficiently “different. ” But they must be different if they are to be considered true dojinshi” (Lessig 2005, pp. 25-26) Dojinshi are the Japanese version of what is otherwise called fan-fiction; in other words, unauthorised fan-created version or original works.
The term Dojinshi (???. Literally ‘dojin’ stands for ‘same person’ and ‘shi’ stands for ‘periodical publication’, which in English could be rendered as Fanzine or Fan-magazine). Dojinshi denoted a type of fan works that are “self-published, small scale publications written by fans for fans of a particular work (be it a movie, a book, a television series, or a video game) or of a particular romantic pairing possible within that work”(Hemmann 2010).
Dojinshi are an important side of the culture that surrounds Japanese graphic novels (manga: ?? literally ‘man’ stands for ‘whimsical’ and ‘ga’ stands for ‘drawings’) in Japan. Manga represent both an industry and a form of expression, so much so that in recent years the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) began to see manga as the new source of Japan’s “Gross National Cool’ (McGray 2002 in Koulikov 2010, p. 18) and began promoting the country’s content industry abroad (Yoshimoto 2003 in Koulikov 2010, p. 10).
The Japanese manga industry and the dojinshi fan-communities reinforce each other in a way that is perhaps surprising to western legal theorists because it raises important questions in regards to the efficacy and meaningfulness of copyright practices and of the ideas about originality and authorship that underpins copyright law and associated commercial practices in the west: “This market exists in parallel to the mainstream commercial manga market. In some ways, it obviously competes with that market, but there is no sustained effort by those who control the commercial manga market to shut the doujinshi market down.
It flourishes, despite the competition and despite the law […] in the view of many, it is precisely because it exists that Japanese manga flourish” Lessing 2004, p. 26 The practice of scanlation and fansubbing differ from those of dojinshi artists in some important ways. First of all, they are mostly carried out by fans outside of Japan, and more specifically, while they are carried out in a variety of languages, the majority of the work is carried out by English language fans (Denison 2011, p. 54). Additionally, I would argue that scanlation and fansubbing do not inhabit the same conceptual space of fan-fiction and dojinshi, even if copyright law regards adaptation and translation equally as derivative works (WIPO article 2 (3)). Dojinshi artists working within the idea of ‘complementing the original work’, while unauthorised, are conceptually closer to the wider spectrum of fan activities that are often tolerated in the west (like audience participation to theatrical performances).
FT seems to inhabit a narrower conceptual space, closer, and more readily compromised by proximity, to the practices of unauthorised copying that is denounced as piracy, despite the ambiguity of the term piracy itself: “piracy has never had a stable legal definition and is almost certainly better understood as a product of enforcement debates than as a description of a specific behaviour. The terms blurs, and is often used intentionally to blur, important distinction between types of uncompensated use” (Karaganis et al. 2011, p. ) In order to attempt a conceptualisation of the practices of fan translators, here I would like to adopt Venuti’s framework of domesticating and foreignising translation. My intention in the next part of the essay is to illustrate how FT of Japanese manga and anime could find precedents in the history of translation. In short, I draw from Venuti’s critical genealogy of fluent discourse in the English language translation in order to show that FT should not merely be thought of as free-riding, but that it contains elements of previous use of translation as tool for building a national culture (Venuti 1995, 100).
Similarly, FT can be said to represent a vehicle for the construction of sub-cultural capital , the “knowledge about an area of fandom that allows one to feel comfortable with other like-minded fans, but also to gain status among fellow enthusiasts “ (Napier 2007, p. 150 in Denison 2011, p. 450) Translation Translation studies as an academic discipline has a relatively short history, emerging about twenty years ago from the back of comparative literature departments. The independence of translation studies as an academic discipline revolves around its methodology and the questions it aims to answer.
Hence, an important question faces every Translation Studies student: should one restrict his enquiry to the analysis of linguistic features of a text, or should attention be paid to the context where the practice of translation takes place: the figure of the translator; his/her motivation; what void in the receiving culture is the translator trying to fill; the interests played behind the importation and exportation of culture; how law, market, social norms and publishing practices all influence the creation of culture of which translation is part of; whether all these form a kind of censorship, and should the translator resist of conform to such censorship, even when is self-censorship? In this essay I would like to explore the possibilities offered by the latter approach, by comparing and contrasting two common elements of contemporary translation: on the one hand, the critical work of Venuti in regards to ‘domestication and foregnisation’ and on the other, the “phenomenon of user participation in otherwise highly specialised areas of professional translation practice” (O’Hagan 2009, p. 96). To begin with, I would like to introduce the work of Lawrence Venuti (1995, 1998).
Venuti describes the state of contemporary translation around the world as characterised by imbalance: the imbalance between the large number of books that are translated from English and the small number of books that are translated into English. This trade imbalance is an effect of the global domination of English which, according to Venuti, leads to a “complacency in Anglo-American relations with cultural others” apparent in publishing practices in Britain and America that “decreases the cultural capital of foreign values in English by limiting the number of foreign text translated and submitting them to domesticating revision” (Venuti 1995, p. 7) According to Venuti, publishing practices in Britain and America reinforce the global domination of English by imposing “Anglo-American cultural values on a vast foreign readership”, while adopting practices of translation that produce domestic cultures that are “aggressively monolingual, unreceptive to the foreign, accustomed to fluent translations that…provide the readers with the narcissistic experience of recognising their own culture in a cultural other”(Venuti 1995, p. 15) Emphasis added). Venuti is critical of the canon of fluency that dominated the practice of translation into English. By fluency, Venuti wants to describe a particular way of translating which emphasise the production of texts that conceal their foreignness and instead makes them appear as the original expression of the foreign author, essentially unmediated by the process of translation. Venuti defines such process of assimilation, in a manner that conceals the text foreign origin, as ‘domestication’.
While admittedly all translation is appropriation and assimilation, domestication has the troubling effect, according to Venuti, of reinforcing an ethnocentric attitude towards foreign cultures: the belief that other cultures are in fact no different from one’s own and therefore, that one’s own culture is universal: “the prevalence of fluent domestication has supported these developments [the monolingual, unreceptive and narcissistic culture above] because of its economic value: enforced by editors, publishers, and reviewers, fluency results in translation that are eminently readable and therefore consumable in the book market, assisting in their commoditisation and insuring the neglect of foreign texts and English-language translations discourses that are more resistant to easy readability (Venuti 1995, pp. 15-16).
In order to “resist and change the conditions under which translation is theorised and practiced today, especially in the English-speaking countries” Venuti wants to put forward a “strategic cultural intervention in the current state of world affairs, pitched against the hegemonic English language nations and their unequal cultural exchanges in which they engage theory global others” (Venuti 1995, p. 20). Venuti’s argument then is that literary translators, in an effort to challenge current translation practices, should attempt a ‘foreignising’ approach to translation. What this mean in practice is the production of texts that read as translations and the suggested method to achieve this effect is a theory of translation that emphasise heterogeneity of language.
Languages are never monolithically homogeneous entities: different agents will employ language in a different way, according to whom, and in what manner, is an utterance is addressed. Standard literary English is language that exists only in translated foreign literature. Foreignising translation then should attempt to disrupt the homogeneity imposed by textual ‘transparency’ and ‘fluidity’ of the reading experience by inserting traces of heterogeneous language (slang, dialect, archaism, cliques, etc… ) into an otherwise canonical translation. Foregnisation, according to Venuti, “can alter the way translations are read as well as produced” (Venuti 1995, p. 24).
Whether foregnisation can achieve the results that Venuti’s cultural political agenda aim towards is still unclear; Venuti himself reports that critical reviews of his translated works did indeed cause some reactions; some reviewers found this choice of words unconvincing, suspecting that Italian romantics would not have expressed themselves with the obvious colloquialism that Venuti strategically employed (Venuti 1998, 19). Such criticism only goes to confirm Venuti’s belief: “the fact is that Italian romantics would not have used most of the words in my translation because they wrote in Italian, not English” (Venuti 1998, 19-20). The reader had to suspend her cultural and linguistic expectations towards to the foreign text and was forced to take notice of the mediated nature of the translated text, exposing in the criticism the “dominant narrative form” and “a prevalent ethnic stereotype” (Venuti 1998, 20). Pym (Venuti’s Visibility Anthony Pym Target 8/2 (1996), pp. 65-177) is unconvinced about the passage from foregnisation to the professed democratic agenda: “if translators refuse to produce fluent texts, if they make themselves visible through the use of “resistant” strategies…all the rest will surely change too. Such would appear to be the gung-ho reasoning that makes Venuti so visible (Pym 2010, p. 2). The passage from a disrupted reading experience to the wider democratic agenda that Venuti takes for granted is rather unclear. Supposing a reader ‘gets’ what Venuti is trying to do and is taken out of the illusion of being actually reading the words of the original author: the reader becomes aware of the translation being a translation. How can this, beyond achieving a degree of visibility for the translators, achieve further goals?
Venuti himself is aware of these difficulties and asks “what would happen if a translator tried to redirect the process of domestication by choosing foreign texts that deviated from transparent discourse and by translating hem so as to signal their linguistic and cultural differences? Would this effort establish more democratic cultural exchanges? Would it change domestic values? Or would it mean banishment to the fringes of Anglo-American culture? ” (Venuti 1995, pp. 40-41). Central to Venuti’s concerns, however, there is an aspect of translation that Pym recognizes as key to contemporary translation practices: the question of copyrights. Copyrights Venuti dedicated a chapter of his 1995’s work to the Italian writer Iginio Ugo Tarchetti (1839-1869) (Venuti 1995, 148-186). In 1865, Tarchetti plagiarised Shelley’s tale “the mortal immortal” by translating it into Italian without acknowledging the English author.
While Venuti recognises that “the shrewdness and sheer audacity of Tarchetti’s plagiarism may make it attractive to dissidents in Anglo-American literary culture”, he also recognises the practical limits of such practice: “Tarchetti’s translation practices cannot be imitated today without significant revision. Plagiarism, for example, is largely excluded by copyright laws that bind translators as well as authors… to publish an unauthorized translation of a copyrighted foreign text is to invite legal proceedings whose cost will far exceed the translator’s income from even a bestselling translation” (Venuti 1995, 185). Venuti advice to contemporary English-language translator is not break the law, but rather, to choose carefully what to translate: The choice of a foreign text for translation can be just as foreignising in its impact on the target-language culture as the invention of a discursive strategy.
At a time when deviations from fluency may limit the circulation of a translation or even prevent it from getting published in the first place, Tarchetti points to the strategic value of discriminating carefully among foreign texts and literatures when a translation project is developed” (Venuti 1995, 185-186). Venuti calls attention to the manner in which contracts and copyright laws regulate the production of translated literature. Translation, according to the Berne international copyright convention is defined as ‘derivative’ work (WIPO article 2 (3)). Therefore, translation is morally and legally bound to the will of the original author (WIPO article 8).
Copyright law varies according to nations, the US and UK lacking the concept of ‘Author’s rights’ that is present in most continental Europe’s laws, while the US and UK have clearly defined ‘fair use’ clause that are not present in continental Europe. Pym agrees that copyright law on translation need revision: “The idea of limiting the author’s translation rights to a short period of perhaps five years sounds like an excellent practical way of stimulating translations“ but at the same time, he is sceptical of drastic measures: “But is our complaint really that “the translator’s authorship is never given full legal recognition”? (Venuti 1995, p. 9) Do we have to do away with the distinction between author and translator, or even with copyright altogether? ” (Pym 2010, p. 4).
International Copyright law reinforces the idea that translation is not ‘transformative’ work, which is defined more narrowly in terms of criticism or parody. Translation as derivative work falls within the category of ‘copy’ that is regulated by ‘copy-rights’. While much translation theory in the past 20 years since the emergence of translation studies as an academic discipline has struggled to establish translation as a serious intellectual endeavour worthy of scholarly attention, the commercial reality that regulates the production of translation tells a strikingly different tale: literary translation, as a form of cultural production, is regulated by the practices of the publishing industry.
The translation of foreign literature is subject to norms, laws and market restrictions, as well as architectural conditions. Lessing model of restriction that applies to all cultural commodities (i. e. : culture that is bought and sold, of which translated literature is part of (Lessing 2005, 133). Lessing sees cultural commodities as subjected to restrictions that until the 20th century were fairly balanced: publishers’ rights were regulated by copyrights law, so as to limit their monopoly over the production and distribution of culture. This guaranteed the exclusive ability to reproduce and translate literary works on behalf of the author for a limited time.
The concept of a ‘limited monopoly’ was balanced by the fact that once such monopoly expired, artistic works would fall into the public domain and so become available for the general public to read, print, distribute and translate without the need to acquire the copyright holder permission. Unlike the law in continental Europe, according to common law practices in the US and UK, the copyright holder could control the distribution and translation of a work regardless of the author’s wishes. In continental Europe, by contrast, the concept of ‘author’s rights’ recognise the moral right to claim authorship of a work and to retain the ability of stop distribution of his work.
One might wonder if, before the introduction of copyright laws, translators indulged indiscriminately in the plagiarism of foreign works as in the example of Tarchetti. The truth is that until 1790, in the United States the right granted by a copyright only gave the author the exclusive right to ‘publish’ a particular book and did not extend to derivative works: “it would not interfere with the right of someone other than the author to translate a copyrighted book, or to adapt the story to a different form (such as a drama based on a published book)” (Lessing 2005, 136) It seems almost impossible in the contemporary world to imagine a time where the right of translators matched those of the foreign author.
It seems natural to imagine the chaos that lack of copyrights would cause: an infinite number of translators plagiarising the work of foreign authors and passing them as their own creations. It is this anxiety in regards to plagiarism, of a lack of clearly established standards of authorship that drives suspicion about translation. Authorship as creative genius is a value that is attached to a person or a work of art. This value can be seen reflected in the idea of ‘intellectual property’ which depicts copyrights rights as a natural state of affairs, that is, a natural property right. However, according to William Patry, copyrights are created solely the government and therefore should not be understood as an end in itself, but instead an end to a social objective: furthering learning (Patry moral panic, 103).
Patry argues that the essence of property is not absolute dominion over things, but rather, it is determined by a system of social relationships: “property is quintessentially and absolutely a social institution. Every concept of property reflects…those choices that we – as a society- have made” LAURA UNDERKUFFERLER, 203, 54 IN PATRY 103 (Patry 103). That means that copyrights, and the idea of authorship that underpins copyrights, are determined by social practices and therefore reflected in social norms, and finally and more concretely, in the legislation that regulate copyrights. Before copyright renewal in the United States became automatic in 1992, only a small percentage of authors claimed them, and even smaller percentage applied for renewal (Patry, 67-68).
Paradoxically, copyright became valuable to corporations only when they were given automatically without authors having to do anything to claim it: “Survey of renewal rates in the United Stes from 1910 to 2001 found a range between 3 percent in 1910 to 22 percent in 1991…of all the books published the united states in 1930, and therefore under copyright until 2025, only 174, or 1. 7 percent, are still in print” (Patry 68). The boundary that separates a legitimate creative response to a work of art and an illegitimate one is made tangible in law by the prohibition to copy, adapt or translate without the consent of the foreign author. Such law, which seems almost common sense in contemporary society, has a relatively short history. Changing attitudes towards intellectual property rights reflect contemporary anxiety in regards to originality and authorship, which contributes to the marginality of translation.
According to Venuti “whereas authorship is generally defined as originality, self-expression in a unique text, translation is derivative, neither self-expression nor unique: it imitates another text given the reigning concept of authorship, translation provokes the fear of inauthenticity, distortion, contamination” (Venuti 1998, 31). This anxiety affects the most those concerned about plagiarism, especially academic institutions and academic publishing: “translation is rarely considered a form of literary scholarship, it does not currently constitute a qualification for an academic appointment in a particular field or area of literary study, and, compared to original compositions translated texts are infrequently made the object of literary research” (Venuti 1998, 32). Here Venuti is critical of the academic deference towards the ‘original’ at the expenses of translation.
The concept of authorship here joins that of fluent translation in an attempt to present the foreign author as the one who is ‘speaking’ through the medium of the text, in order to “ascertain the authorial intention that constitutes originality” (Venuti 1998, 31). The Translator hence become an uncomfortable middle man that must hide, as much as possible, both the facts that the text in question is a not the original, and that the foreign author did not employ the language of the translation. The middle man goes unnoticed, not by mere oversight, but quite deliberately. Copyright law, also reflected in translation contracts, perpetuate this neglect. Copyright, as we have seen, by defining translation as derivative work, justify contracts that employ translators as work-for-hire, so that the product of their work belongs to the publishing company who do not have to acknowledge the translator.
Practical example of this is the lack of the translator’s name on the cover of a volume or in library catalogue indexes, or the disparity between the royalties that the translator receives in comparison to those of the foreign author. The disparity between authorship and translation affects the whole production of commercially translated literature. What i would like to explore next is the side of contemporary translation that is not affected by commercial consideration or in need of academic recognition. Here the terminology varies from non-commercial translation to amateur translation or fan-translation, but from the point of view of copyright holders it represents a more straightforward phenomenon: theft of intellectual property, or in other words, piracy. Piracy
As Castells and Cardoso points out, we usually look at media consumption, of which translated literature is an example of, starting from a media industry definition (Castells and Cardoso 2012). In other words, the content that is normally available to us to read, watch or listen to is usually made available through the payment of a fee or because it is supported by advertising. The commercial relationship that binds together media companies and individual is regulated by a set of rules that are legally formalised into rights and obligations (Castells and Cardoso 2012). Piracy, by infringing these rights and obligations, can be a usefully employed to illustrate some of the issues that characterise the status of translation in the current world, how translation is produced and distributed.
In short, the argument I would like to put forward is such: piracy is used to describe everything that is not in the public domain but that can be obtained from non-authorised sources, shared with others, whether for free or not. This means that piracy could be whatever is made available to share that contain even parts, or traces, or adaptations, of existing copyrighted works. A pirate here is defined as anybody who makes use of existing copyrighted material in order to express something of his own (with the exception of criticism or parody, which are allowed by law) (WIPO? ). On one side of the debate there are internet users and in particular peer-to-peer (P2P) networks function as efficient tools of distribution of digital content. On the other, litigious media corporations fighting a moral crusade against intellectual theft.
The sides of this war, however, assume different connotations depending on who is doing the description: for the copyright holding corporations, authors are being robbed of the fruits of their work; here the fight is described as one between intellectual copyright owners and thieves. On the other side, is it estimated that more than 40 million American citizens have used the internet to download content; hence a substantial part of US citizens is being criminalised. Lessing asks: “Is there another way to assure that artists get paid without transforming forty-three million Americans into felons? Does it make sense if there are other ways to assure that artists get paid without transforming America into a nation of felons? ” (Lessing 2005, 202).
The model of distribution of culture that once revolved around a few selected corporations is now being challenged by technological innovations that were unimaginable a generation ago. Digital content can be shared across the world free of physical constrains (such as books, shops, printing press, etc. ) but also free from the editors, publishers, and reviewers which Venuti sees as the source of neglect of foreign texts and translation practices that emphasise heterogeneity of discourse. The sharing possibilities offered by the net act as a source of heterogeneity: they provide easily accessible, free to share, translated foreign literature that constitutes an alternative to what is available commercially.
Venuti limited his theory of translation within the boundaries of commercial translation, albeit as a form of dissidence in respect to the practices enforced by institutional channels. What is of interested here from the point of view of translation are the possibilities offered by working outside the commercial paradigm, the translation practices of those communities that focus on literature, like dojinshi, that are not accessible to the translators working within the legitimate sphere, whether due to social norms, ideology, poetics, of purely economic reasons. The net provides a venue (cultural space? Deleuze and Guattari) for that sub-cultures that are neglected by commercial organizations (and that could not be catered for legally by other institutions). References
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