M2: Unit 3: Chapter 9 – Narration and frames

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Chapter 1: Introduction Chapter 5: Relationships between narratives Chapter 9: Narration and frames
Chapter 2: Redefining narrative Chapter 6: Four features of narrative (Part I) Chapter 10: Advantages of narrative theory
Chapter 3: Four types of narrative (Part I) Chapter 7: Four features of narrative (Part II) Chapter 11: Using narrative theory
Chapter 4: Four types of narrative (Part II) Chapter 8: Ethics and activism Chapter 12: Bibliography

Chapter 9 – Narration and frames

9.1 What do we mean by the term ‘frame’, or ‘framing’ in this context? In her interview in Cultus, Baker (2008) uses the metaphor of a picture frame on a photograph; in this case, the narrative is the photograph and the way in which the frame is placed leads us to view that narrative in a particular way. In other words, framing involves presenting a narrative in such a way that we are led towards a particular interpretation of that narrative. Any set of events can be framed in a variety of different ways; for example, a violent conflict can be framed as ‘war’, ‘civil war’, ‘guerrilla warfare’, ‘terrorist acts’, or ‘low intensity conflict’ (Chilton 1997:75) .

It is worth keeping in mind that framing can either be interpreted as passive, unconscious behaviour or as a deliberate, highly motivated action. Goffman (1974:345) for example, explores the concept of framing as something personal and unconscious, arguing that ‘an individual’s framing of activity establishes meaningfulness for him’. This interpretation may be useful in the exploration of specific trends in translation and interpretation work; the use of domesticating strategies in particular genres or language combinations, for example. In a discussion of activist groups, however, framing is generally seen as something deliberate and active: ‘deliberate, discursive moves designed to anticipate and guide others’ interpretation of and attitudes towards a set of events’ (Baker 2007:156).

9.2 There are many framing techniques available to translators and interpreters, some of which I have already touched upon in previous chapters. One strategy is to exploit one or more of the features of narrativity described in chapters 6 and 7, such as selective appropriation or temporality. The choice of text or other material can point towards a particular interpretation of a narrative: as Pérez González (2010:269) says, activists choose to translate texts which ‘reinforce their temporary narrative location or, alternatively, contribute to undermining one or more of the collective narratives that their communities oppose’. This careful selection process can be described as exploiting the narrative feature of selective appropriation in order to frame a narrative in a particular way. Baker’s (2006:73) discussion of US-based advocacy group MEMRI’s selection of translated material which promotes a narrative of the Arab world as dangerous terrorists (as discussed in Chapter 7) provides a powerful example of this.

Temporality can be exploited to guide our interpretation of a particular narrative by drawing on the resonances of past stories (as mentioned in chapter 7). Baker (2006:112) describes how translated productions of Aristophanes’Lysistrata were performed in 59 countries around the world on March 2003 in protest against the invasion of Iraq. The play is an anti-war comedy about Greek women who withhold sex from their partners in an attempt to end the Peloponnesian War. Drawing on this past narrative powerfully frames the anti-war narrative which these activists aim to promote.

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Images can also be powerfully used to exploit the narrative feature of temporality in order to frame a narrative in a particular way. In Chapter 7, Question 1 we saw how protesters use images of unpopular leaders from the past to support their narrative interpretation of their current regime. Similarly, Taronna (2012) describes how African-American artists such as Renée Cox have subverted white narratives about black people, reframing them in liberating new ways; Cox’s photo The Liberation of Lady J and U.B ‘transforms the mythological representations of the faithful grinning servant Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima into young, lithe, sexual beings’ (ibid.:27). In doing so, Cox exploits her audience’s familiarity with the past narrative of Uncle Ben and Aung Jemima, and subverts it to support her narrative of African-American people as strong, powerful and independent.

9.3 Translators can also draw on paratextual devices such as introductions and footnotes in order to guide readers towards a particular interpretation of the text. Baker (2007:161) discussed the prefaces to two Arabic translations of Huntington’s The Clash of Civilisations which serve to distance the Arabic translators from the content they have translated and also to frame their own interpretation of the text. The use of images, book covers, video footage and other non-textual devices can also help to frame a particular narrative. Pérez-González (2010:280) describes how one blogger commenting on the interview with Aznar drew viewers’ attention to non-verbal behaviour in the video in order to frame events according to his own narrative location, commenting that ‘Ansar [sic] replies in a stupidly patronizing tone, with that forced laugh of his that we know so well over here’.


Additions to the text can also provide a radical framing method. Lathey (2006) offers the example of Mary Wollstoncroft’s translation of Salzman’s Elements of Morality for the Use of Children in the 1780s. As well as providing a preface justifying her choice of text and commending its didactic intent, Wollstoncroft adds a story of her own about Native American Indians to the collection of stories, encouraging children to ‘consider the Indians as their brothers’. Lathey (ibid.:7) argues that this reflects Wollstoncroft’s narrative location as a believer in ‘a rational approach to human behaviour [which] simply could not allow one race to be considered inferior to another’. The combination of the choice of text, translator’s preface and textual additions lead the reader towards the narrative of rationality and human equality to which Wollstoncroft subscribes.

9.4 Whether frames are used to promote a particular narrative or to resist a dominant narrative, they offer an important device for activists and a useful concept for discussing the work of translators and interpreters. The above description by no means provides an exhaustive list of framing devices; a much fuller discussion can be seen in Baker 2007. This chapter has simply aimed to raise awareness of some of the many devices available to translators and interpreters in order to frame a particular narrative version. This may be done consciously or unconsciously; even apparently insignificant choices can point towards a translator’s narrative location. This is obviously a useful concept for translation and interpreting theorists, but it is arguably just as important for practitioners to think about this when considering the consequences of translation choices.

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