Oulipo and translation

Linograph by Claude Stassart-Springer, from"Alphabet" by Raymond Queneau
By Vedla77, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Special issue of MLN on translation of constrained literature

OuLiPo stands for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle (literally ‘workshop of potential literature’) and was founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François de Lionnais, bringing together a small group of creative writers and poets who produce constrained writing, i.e. literature written under specific mathematical or other structural constraints.

Oulipians make use of an extensive set of constraints, e.g. systematically excluding a specific letter (known as a lipogram) or writing in anagrams or palindromes, or  substituting every noun with the seventh noun that follows it in a dictionary (known as the S+7 or N+7 constraint).

Well-known members of the group include Georges Perec, Italo Calvino and Marcel Duchamps, and examples of their writing include Perec’s novel, La Disparition, which is written without using the letter ‘e’. This novel was translated into English by Gilbert Adair as A Void, also written without the letter ‘e’. If we consider that some of the most commonly used words in English and French contain an ‘e’, like the or et, the difficulty of writing without that letter becomes obvious! Adair won the Scott Moncrieff Translation Prize in 1995 for his efforts.

Translation of constrained literature

MLN journal

The most recent French Studies issue of the MLN journal (Volume 131, No. 4, 2016)  contains a series of articles about the translation of constrained literature and makes very interesting reading. An eye-catching and creative contribution is Ian Monk’s  “35 Variations on a Theme from Translatology”, where he takes the adage “To translate is to betray” as a ‘source text’ and applies 35 different Oulipian constraints to produce ‘translations’. Thus, “To render is to sell out” is a lipogram in a and “Translation is a back stab” is a lipogram in e.  Using a triple contradiction, the text becomes “You’re monolingual? Really? Does that make you honest or something?”, while applying iambic pentameter produces “To write it in another tongue’s a crime”. These and the other 31 variations produced by Monk cleverly illustrate the challenges of constrained writing and translating.

Outranspo and potential translation

Alongside fascinating scholarly discussions about structural constraints and translation, Camille Bloomfield, Rachel Galvin and Pablo Martín Ruiz present the founding articles of OuTransPo, the Ouvroir de translation potencial. Established in 2012, Outranspo is a group of translators, writers, researchers and musicians interested in creative approaches to translation.

Potential translation is translation that regards itself luxuriously in the mirror in a gesture of determined self-reinvention.

Article 3

Like Oulipo’s potential literature, ‘potential translation’ “seeks and invents procedures, methods, rules, and mechanisms that put into play the incessant, creative, and dynamic poetic of the multiplicity of languages” (Article 4). Members are Outranspians, and they “participate in an ongoing party in the vertiginous rooms of the Tower of Babel” (Article 6). Outranspo is interested in “everything that can be translated, in all that demands to be yet cannot be translated, in everything that calls out for and breathes of its potential translation” (Article 7).

Table of contents from special issue

Translating Constrained Literature / Traduire la littérature à contraintes
Jacques Neefs

Theory / Théorie

Translation as Total Social Fact and Scholarly Pursuit
Derek Schilling

Form Has Its Reasons: Translation and Copia
Rachel Galvin

Interlingual Oulipo
Alison James

The Impact of Constraint Visibility on the Translation of Constraint-based Writing
Chris Clarke

Traduire la littérature à contraintes : traduction ou transposition?
Jonathan Baillehache

Writing with Translational Constraints: On the “Spacy Emptiness” Between Languages
Lily Robert-Foley

Ways to Start Looking at Potential Translation
Pablo Martín Ruiz

Case Studies / Études De Cas

The Transmetrical Snark
Peter Consenstein

Fournel’s Headache
David Bellos

«Je ne suis dans aucune langue, toujours traduisant» : l’imaginaire de la traduction dans «le grand incendie de londres» de Jacques Roubaud
Alain Schaffner

La contrainte et les langues (portugais, italien, français, espagnol, anglais)
Hermes Salceda, Camille Bloomfield

Acts de fundación de l’Outranspo
Camille Bloomfield, Rachel Galvin, Pablo Martín Ruiz

Creation / Création

35 Variations on a Theme from Translatology
Ian Monk

Bibliography / Bibliographie

Traduire la contrainte : Bibliographie sélective


To find out more

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *