Ricarda Vidal - Visual Culture

Translating across Sensory and Linguistic Borders: Intersemiotic Journeys between Media 

Co-edited with Madeleine Campbell
Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming autumn 2018.


draft cover


Communication happens on many levels, the gestural, the olfactory, the visual, the linguistic etc. As Walter Benjamin wrote, “communication in words [is] only a particular case of human language” (1916). While word-based languages are confined to linguistic borders, which often coincide with national or even regional borders, non-word-based forms of communication can transcend such borders, while, of course still being influenced by cultural traditions. Intersemiotic translation (e.g. the translation of a poem into dance, or a short story into an olfactory experience, or a film into a painting) opens up a myriad of possibilities to carry form and sense from one culture into another beyond the limitations of words. At the same time, such processes impact on the source artefact enriching it with new layers of understanding.

In literary translation, a text is translated into another text using purely verbal means. This process is considered “intra-semiotic” as it remains in the verbal domain within the system of signs and meaning we call language. In contrast, an intersemiotic translation

carries a source text (or artefact) across sign systems and typically creates connections between different cultures and media. While in literary translation the onus tends to lie principally on the translator to convey the sense of the source artefact, intersemiotic translation involves a creative step in which the translator (artist or performer) offers its embodiment in a different medium. This process is facilitated by perceiving and experiencing non-verbal media through visual, auditory and other sensory channels, for example through dance or sculpture. Instead of focusing on the translation of sense or meaning, the translator effectively plays the role of mediator in an experiential process that allows the recipient (viewer, listener, reader or participant) to re-create the sense (or semios) of the source artefact for him or herself. This holistic approach recognizes that there are multiple possible versions of both source and target texts and this can help mitigate the biases and preconceptions a static, intra-semiotic translation can sometimes introduce. Thus intersemiotic translation provides an interactive, participative platform with the potential to engage individuals and communities in connecting with cultures different from their own.

We have solicited contributions from academics, translators, curators and artists who have explored intersemiotic translation in their practice. Our volume seeks to examine the theoretical and aesthetic rationale of such practice, to chronicle and reflect on its processes, to chart its impact in communities or other public settings, to examine the socio-cognitive mechanisms at work and to explore its potential for the promotion of cultural literacy. While intersemiotic translation is not new, we feel that its potential to further cross-cultural and -linguistic understanding is particularly relevant in the globalised world of today, where smaller languages and cultures all too often suffer from the predominance of English.

By bringing together contributions to address this topic from different angles, the interdisciplinary nature of our proposal addresses a gap in a fragmented academic research landscape, where coverage is currently patchy and consists mostly of articles in specialised journals or isolated book chapters in volumes on related disciplines. Many of our contributors teach in Higher Education and would welcome such a book, which has the advantage of both documenting hitherto disparate projects and offering a framework for research in this vibrant yet theoretically challenging domain. The inclusion of original creative work and of examples of intersemiotic translation in action makes our volume accessible to a wider public beyond academia. The volume will be of interest to translators, artists and poets as well as to those working within museums education and interpretation or to anyone with an interest in literature and the arts.

More information here