I’m a great fan of Italo Calvino, and I’m generally interested in Oulipo and similar literary movements. Sure, sometimes it seems too “shticky” (Jonathan Safran Foer springs to mind) but when done well, it can make you think about what literature is and what it could be. I recently read John McGreal’s novel The Book of IT, for example, which employs non-standard spelling and language as part of the method for telling the story. I gave a selection to my undergraduate literature students as a way of challenging them to think beyond the traditional style of literature and the typical ways of using language, and then I asked them to write a work with self-imposed constraints.
Oulipo and writers who work in that vein create artificial constraints for their writing. In a way, this is how translators always work – while a writer might decide to write a novel without a particular letter or based on, say, the five senses, our constraint as translators is the original text. This forces us to be very creative within the limits imposed by the writer. So while some of these literary movements seem very modern and daring, in fact they are doing what translators have always done, but what translators rarely get credit for.
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