Reviewed by John S. CAPUTO, Gonzaga University, SPOKANE, WA 99258
This work is an excellent collection of fourteen essays written by an international group of scholars and edited by Paul Soukup and Robert Hodgson. Most of the essays were originally written for the Meridia Mexico Symposium in 1997. The Meridia Symposium was an ambitious project co-sponsored by the United Bible Societies (UBS) and the American Bible Society (ABS) and designed to explore the new media domination of communication and the dissemination of scripture. The challenge was to consider the issues of bringing scripture to a contemporary world of non-literates and post-literates alike. The Gutenberg legacy of print has left those whose mission is to share the scriptures the delicate task of shifting the medium of transmission, for as Rebera suggests, "These criteria, for the present, remain immovably cast in the presuppositions that the divine revelation cannot be separated from the divine utterance in which it is encoded and that the sole authoritative repository of the utterance is the written text." (p.x) This work then attempts to fashion a theoretical framework for defining the process of decoding, transferring and encoding a message from one medium to another, evaluating the "fidelity" between media "translations," and reviewing contemporary approaches to communication theory that may shed light on alternative approaches to this work.
The problem of communicating religious truth using the availability of multimedia technology offers many challenges. Fidelity and Translation is divided into three sections each with a number of essays that grapple with the challenges: Section I: New Challenges to Fidelity and Translation; Section II: Qualities of Texts; and, Section III: Seeking Fidelity: Theoretical Perspectives.
Section I: New Challenges to Fidelity and Translation, starts with the communication concept of fidelity between a source and a receiver. Translators have struggled with fidelity between an original source and a translation. In the past, scripture translators were mostly concerned with linguistic issues of Greek to Latin or Latin to English. But now, the fidelity issue for the translators becomes "transmediazation." (p.3). How is fidelity maintained when as McLuhan has stated, "The Medium is the Message?" The five essays in this section each try to explore these issues. Fryís essay on faithfulness explores the dangers in the selection of text process and believes the "dangers inherent in the process of selection are more real and immediate in the case for other media than they are for the print medium." (p.10) Because of dangers such as this he suggests that a new text is created from translation and it calls for a restructuring for use in a different medium. In this process of translation to a non print medium, Fry believes that biblical translators have a standard of faithfulness they can accept and defend, and presents a number of suggestions for checking and ensuring faithfulness to the Bible for scripture using various media. The other essays in this section are uniformly strong and I especially enjoyed Worthís "The Historical Imagination," as a practical piece that talks about the difficulty and importance of capturing a biblical story and creating it in a music video mode.
It is important to remember the Bible has an oral heritage and there are rhetorical insights to be gained from looking at oral performance in the Psalms, the Song of Songs, canticles and poetic sections that were intended to be sung, performed or read aloud rather than experienced in silent reading. The notion that there is an audience or assembly present and interactive with the text is necessary for exploring translation. Section II: Qualities of Texts examines the biblical text from the perspective of the new media by enlarging the readerís understanding of modes of analysis such as semiotics, literary analysis, symbolic influences, history and aesthetics of biblical representations, communication and culture, and the musical qualities of biblical text. Here the reading is not for the novice, but has great value.
The last section of the book, Section III: Seeking Fidelity: Theoretical Perspectives, explores communication theories that could prove insightful to new media translators. The question is raised "how might we pose the question of fidelity if we draw on traditions outside of translation study?" (p.201) Sisley and Soukupís essays each look at contemporary communication theory including the context of translation and role and status of translator in privileging one interpretation over another. While older theoretical perspectives may have lent credence to a static interpretation between text and interpretation, contemporary theory calls this approach into question. Soukup explores four models that each suggest different criteria for fidelity. In addition, Soukup, Hodgson and Stecconi all take a semiotic perspective of fidelity and translation. From the work of Charles Pierce, Ferdinand deSaussure, Umberto Eco and others emerges a new line of insight for the interpretation of symbols and translation to second order signs in a new media. Each of these essays offer insights to fidelity and translation, if not totally resolving the issue.
As a whole, Fidelity and Translation explores the centrality of the process of communication to the field of Bible translation and multi-media representations. This cross-fertilization of ideas, is one that could bare much fruit.