The Stinging Fly have posted my essay from their summer translation issue (June 2013). Using Dalkey Archive’s Best European Fiction series as a starting point, the essay takes in the recently translated Georges Perec‘s La boutique obscure as well as the 65th anniversary edition of Raymond Queneau‘s Exercises in Style, and also Lauren Elkin and Scott Esposito’s excellent The End of Oulipo? (the title of my essay is a play on Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, workshop of potential literature). One of the most exciting translation projects this year had to be Adam Thirlwell‘s Multiples project:
According to Paul Klee genius is the error in the system, a sentiment Adam Thirlwell shares. ‘There are no perfect translations, just as there are no perfect styles,’ he says. ‘Something is still translatable, even if its translation is not perfect.’ The first imperfect French translation of Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman was made by Joseph Pierre Frénais in 1776. Imperfect, for not only did Frénais omit Sterne’s stylistic tricks (looped lines, diagrams, blank pages, and so on) he left out sentences that bored him, restructured paragraphs and tampered with Sterne’s ‘impolite’ jokes. The translation was not without its merit. In it, Frénais invented the word dada as an equivalent to Sterne’s word ‘hobby-horse’, later plucked from the dictionary by Hugo Ball and Tristan Tzara in search of a name for their anti-art movement of assemblage and readymades.