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Prismatic Translation

Prismatic Translation is an ongoing research project, now funded by the AHRC as part of its Open World Research Initiative Programme in Creative Multilingualism. It began at OCCT's 2015 conference, Prismatic Translation and was further developed at the ICLA Research Committee on Literary Theory's workshop on the same theme in Vienna in 2016. Prismatic Translation is led by OCCT Chair Matthew Reynolds in collaboration with Sowon Park and OCCT Postdoctoral Researcher and Co-ordinator Eleni Philippou. The key idea is to see translation as a process that inevitably produces multiple variants, both within and across languages, and to trace out the theoretical, practical, cognitive and creative consequences of this view. 

Here is a fuller account of the prismatic approach: Translation can be seen as producing a text in one language that will count as equivalent to a text in another. It can also be seen as a release of multiple signifying possibilities, an opening of the source text to Language in all its plurality. The first view is underpinned by the regime of European standard languages which can be lined up in bilingual dictionaries, by the technology of the printed book, and by the need for regulated communication in political and legal contexts. The second view attaches to contexts where several spoken languages share the same written characters (as in the Chinese scriptworld), to circumstances where language is not standardised (e.g., minority & dialectal communities & oral cultures), to the fluidity of electronic text, and to literature, especially poetry and theatrical performance. The first view sees translation as a channel; the second as a prism. 

The Prismatic Translation Project has four elements:

1. Thoretical Foundations. Research presented at the 2015 conference and 2016 workshop has been developed into a book, Prismatic Translation, edited by Matthew Reynolds and published by Legenda in OCCT's partner series Transcript. The Introduction gives a full account of the prismatic approach and you can read it here

2. Prismatic Jane Eyre. This collaborative experiment looks closely at Bronte's novel as it is translated into multiple languages, understanding this process as transformation and growth rather than as loss. Our results in progress are presented on the Prismatic Jane Eyre website : please visit and browse. 
    Here is a brief account: is comparative close reading possible in a global context? How can it be framed and what might it discover? ‘Prismatic Jane Eyre’ seeks to answer these questions, taking as its focus a novel that has been multiply translated both between and within a very large number of languages. Through comparative close reading of parallel passages we notice shifts and transformations, tracing how the text is re-realised in different linguistic media with diverse affordances and limits. Grammar and semantics, politics and history, textual productivity and the agency of translators are all be at issue. The project is fundamentally a matter of collaboration and conversation between human beings, though we are also exploring how digital technology can aid and visualise our research. Jane Eyre became our focus for a combination of reasons: it has been very frequently translated, is out of copyright, and is both popular and canonical; and it is a conflicted text with a probing relationship to language, place, identity, metaphor and genre – all elements which play out differently in translation. 
    And here is a list of current participants and languages: Rebecca Gould  (Birmingham – languages of the Caucasus), Kayvan Tahmasebian (Isfahan – Persian), Alessandro Grilli (Pisa – Italian), Paola Gaudio (Bari - Italian), Yunte Huang (UCSB – Chinese), Madli Kütt (Tartu – Estonian & Finnish), Eleni Philippou (Oxford - Greek),  Emrah Serdan (Istanbul – Turkish), Adriana X. Jacobs (Oxford – Hebrew), Claudia Pazos Alonso & Ana Marques dos Santos (Oxford & Lisbon – Portuguese), Ulrich Timme Kragh (Poznan - Tibetan), Abhishek Jain (Poznan – Hindi & Gujarati), Jernej Habjan (Ljubljana – Slovenian), Céline Sabiron, Léa Koves & Vincent Thiery (Lorraine – French), Sowon Park (UCSB – Korean), Yousif Qasmiyeh (Oxford – Arabic), Annmarie Drury (CUNY – Swahili), Mary Frank (German), Yorimitsu Hashimoto (Osaka –Japanese), Kasia Szymanska (Oxford – Polish), Andrés Claro (Chile – Spanish, Chilean/Latin American/Peninsular), Ida Klitgård (Roskilde - Danish), Eugenia Kelbert (Moscow & UEA - Russian & digital humanities), Marcos Novak (UCSB – digital media), Tom Cheesman (Swansea – German & digital humanities), Giovanni Pietro Vitali (University College Cork – digital humanities) . 

3. Multilingual Creative Writing in Schools. This experiment aims to release multilingual and prismatically translational energies in school creative writing workshops. It is led by Kate Clanchy: during 2016-19 it was based in the Poetry Hub at Oxford Spires Academy; now it is at EMBS, Cowley Students in both places have many languages: we bring in community-language authors to animate workshops, and supports pupils in developing the writing that results. Some remarkable work has been produced, as you can discover via the following links:

4. Babel: Adventures in Translation. Matthew Reynolds collaborated with Katrin Kohl, Stephen Harrison and Dennis Duncan to curate this major exhibition at the Bodleian Library in 2019. Information is here and the catalogue is here.

Prismatic Translation's work is mainly carried out by invited groups of researchers, but we also hold public OCCT seminars and events. If you would like to find out more, please write to Matthew Reynolds at  

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