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The Oulipo and Modern Thought$
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Dennis Duncan

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198831631

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198831631.001.0001

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The Punning Muse

The Punning Muse

Psychoanalysis and Homophonic Translation

(p.51) 2 The Punning Muse
The Oulipo and Modern Thought

Dennis Duncan

Oxford University Press

One method much-practised by the Oulipo is ‘homophonic translation’: taking the sounds of one language and trying to recreate them in another. Thus Keats’s ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever’ becomes in French ‘Ah, singe débotté, hisse un jouet fort et vert’ [‘Oh, unshod monkey, raise a stout green toy’]. But this type of extended punning has also always had a crucial role in psychoanalytic interpretation, and in this chapter we find members of the Oulipo framing their exercises in homophonic translation as spoof scholarship, thereby sending up reductive or overzealous reading in both psychoanalysis and literary criticism. The chapter also introduces two of the Oulipo’s acknowledged precursors: the poet Raymond Roussel, and the quack etymologist J.-P. Brisset, who believed that phonetic similarity was never merely coincidental (thus, if grammar sounds like grandma, then this tells us something about grammars, grandmas, and the world at large).

Keywords:   homophonic translation, psychoanalysis, puns, Noel Arnaud, Pataphysics, Raymond Queneau, Raymond Roussel, Jean-Pierre Brisset, Abraham and Torok, Harry Mathews

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