Second Thoughts on "Abusive Subtitling"

January 25, 2017 (Wednesday) / 5:00 pm6:30 pm

Rainey Auditorium, Penn Museum, 3260 South Street

Second Thoughts on "Abusive Subtitling"

Markus Nornes

Professor of Asian Cinema, University of Michigan

In 1999 Markus Nornes published “For an Abusive Subtitling,” which became highly controversial for proposing that the market pressures of capitalism “corrupt” the translation process. The result? Subtitles that focus on superficial denotative meaning while downplaying cultural, gendered, linguistic, and other differences. This “corrupt” approach, according to Nornes, has been enforced by a complex set of naturalized rules that translators accept without question. He calls for an “abusive” approach inspired by emergent subtitling approaches, such as those of anime fansubbers.

In his talk for the Forum on Translation, Nornes revisits this often-misunderstood essay, rejecting key planks in the original argument, updating others, and proposing new ones. For example, while notorious for being unpopular with cinema ticket-buyers, subtitles have in the Internet era unexpectedly proliferated as a form of popular culture. Streaming videos can be found with subtitles in dozens of languages, added by closed-caption automation, crowd-sourced by communities of fans, or inserted by subversive artists who use rogue subtitling as a way to radically remake an original. All too evident, also, are deliberate practices of falsification, of individuals and groups using subtitles to turn documentary footage into "fake news.”

Do these developments represent a democratization or a corruption of the world’s cinema? Is it possible to distinguish between creative subtitling and sheer abuse of language? Join us for 'translation' at some of its most provocative!

A scholar of Asian cinema, Markus Nornes is concerned with the political and ethical complexities of producing documentary in times of social tension and political crisis. He specializes in Japanese and Asian cinema, documentary, and translation theory, with a particular focus on screen translation, the history and theory of Japanese documentary, and nonfiction production in Asia. More recently, he has turned also to Chinese documentary, and is at work on a book on East Asian cinema and calligraphy. Other projects underway include Japanese pink film, Donald Richie, and a multi-volume collection of Japanese film theory in translation.

Nornes has published widely on film translation. He has also worked as a programmer on the international film festival circuit and has translated subtitles for Japanese films, writing the monograph on the subject. In 2007, his initial essay on subtitling was expanded and published as the book Cinema Babel: Translating Global Cinema, a history of film translation from the silent to the digital eras.

His recent books include Staging Memories: Hou Hsiao-hsien's A City of Sadness (with Emilie Yueh-yu Yeh) and Hallyu 2.0: The Korean Wave in the Age of Social Media (Sanjoon Lee and Markus Nornes, eds.), both published in 2015.