David Ames Curtis
, May 22, 2010
(view all comments by David Ames Curtis)
NOW AVAILABLE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE: The Astounding Ignorance and Incompetence of "Translator" Helen Arnold (Part 5)
PRE-SCRIPT: Since Helen Arnold has publicly denounced the "incompetence and disorganization" of her former employer Stanford University Press, it is open to public debate whether Helen Arnold herself displays ignorance and incompetence in her actual work as a translator. While both she and Fordham University Press Editorial Director Helen Tartar have read the first three parts of this analysis of A Society Adrift, neither has offered the least substantive challenge to the criticisms found therein. It was not I but another Castoriadis translator in another language who wrote thus about the completely unchallenged errors of the Helens exposed so far: "The list of unbelievable failures you're pointing to is impressive and very annoying. (I don't have this book.) As you suggest: a probable result will be that a reader relying on this version will blame the author for this sloppiness - and that's the worst thing a translator can perpetrate. One wishes that those who are respons[i]ble will act."
Further parts will be made available here as a public service to raise the public issue of the quality of this work. I hold no personal animosity toward either of the Helens, just an understandable desire to uphold translation standards in the International Republic of Letters and to provide potential readers with relevant information, open to consideration, review, and public debate.
The Astounding Ignorance and Incompetence of "Translator" Helen Arnold (Part 1)
The ignorance and incompetence of "translator" Helen Arnold (HA!) are astounding. Just take a look at p. viii and its note 4.
Citing one of Cornelius Castoriadis's best-known essays, a trilogy of texts from 1955-1958, HA! gives us this title as "On the Contents [sic] of Socialism," citing the first two volumes of Castoriadis's Political and Social Writings.
Now, Castoriadis did not think that socialism was like a box of cornflakes, with "contents." CC spoke of the "content" historically created by the working class in its struggle against capitalism--as opposed to some merely "formal" aspects of socialism one might try to deduce a priori. In PSW1, and 2, "On the Content of Socialism" is indeed the title, in the singular, Castoriadis approved of for this three-part series, so HA! has even provided a bad citation for an existing text in translation as well as a bad translation in itself.
The French original (HA! is translating the French Editors' preface here) cites, however, only the 1957 and 1958 parts (which in reality are parts II and III) of this three-part series, so it was wrong for HA! to have mentioned PSW1 in this context (where part I appears), unless she was correcting one of the French Editors' many mistakes--in which case HA! should have had the honesty to note their error. Perhaps blind obedience is how HA! figures to keep her job.
Moreover, since the French Editors, mentioning these 1957 and 1958 parts (II and III, we recall again), cite only Sur le contenu du socialisme (which is a Castoriadis Éditions 10/18 volume from 1979), these French Editors have apparently forgotten that the third part isn't even in Sur le contenu du socialisme but in an entirely other 10/18 volume!
Later, however (p. 155), HA! mechanically translates Sur le contenu du socialisme (that 1979 Castoriadis volume) as On the Content of Socialism in italics in English, whereas no such volume exists in English with that title. And she cites (at the bottom of that same page, in note 2) PSW1, now forgetting PSW2, whereas Castoriadis is clearly referring at that point to the second part of "On the Content of Socialism," which appears in PSW2, not PSW1. HA!'s incompetency doesn't even have consistency, let alone any clear understanding and knowledge of the texts she is trying to cite. So that this doesn't seem like nit-picking, think of it this way: HA! incompetently sends people to the wrong place to obtain important revolutionary information; interested readers will have their time wasted looking for something they won't be able to find.
Back to note 4 on p. viii, for we're not done.
HA! rather mechanically translates the French Editors' dates "1960-1970" as "1960-70" when it is a question of "the post-war inflationary episode" Castoriadis examined in his "Author's Introduction to the 1974 English Edition" of the London Solidarity edition of Castoriadis's Modern Capitalism and Revolution. However, in that same piece, CC was noting that "by mid-1973 the overall price level in OECD countries combined was rising at an annual rate of 8.5% and more." As everyone knows, inflation didn't stop exactly in 1970, and Castoriadis was writing in that Introduction about continuing inflationary pressures in 1973 ("inflation would continue more or less unabated"). But HA! again exhibits a blind obedience to misleading information.
Let's go down a bit further in this note. HA! cites the merely partial Thesis Eleven CC translation, "Reflections on 'Rationality' and 'Development,'" whereas the full text appears only in Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy. So she deprives readers of accurate information about where to read the entirety of what CC wrote and said on this subject. HA! does manage, however, to cite PPA for the next text mentioned, "The Nature and Value of Equality." Had she wanted to be consistent, which we have seen is certainly not one of her virtues, HA! would have cited both the Thesis Eleven translation of the first text and the Philosophy and Social Criticism translation of the second or the full and revised versions in PPA of both these texts. But HA! is pathetically ignorant of Castoriadis's publication history in English (as a quick look at the "Chronology and Bio-Bibliography" at the end of the book will easily confirm time and again).
Moreover, HA! cites the PPA subtitle Essays in Political Philosophy, which was forced upon Castoriadis by Oxford University Press, without her noting that this subtitle is illegitimate (in that book, CC had explicitly denied that "political philosophy" is a legitimate field and he wanted OUP to remove or alter the added subtitle). The disfiguration, which took place under the aegis of OUP series coeditor Vincent Descombes (now President of the Association Cornelius Castoriadis, which oversees publication of Castoriadis's work and officially approves Castoriadis translations!), is now falsely presented as what Castoriadis would have wanted. This is like the earlier HA! translation, Figures of the Thinkable, which sold CC as someone who "deconstructs," whereas, in that very same volume, CC attacks deconstruction in no uncertain terms.
Finally, to end for the moment commentary on just this one note, the French Editors cite a 1982 CC text known in English as "The Crisis of Western Societies." Incapable of even translating "occidentales" correctly as "Western," HA! wanders aimlessly and alights upon "The Crisis of Modern Society," a 1965 lecture Castoriadis gave in English which was reprinted in PSW3, as she correctly notes about this text the French Editors were not even talking about!
Judging from this one note (there are many other examples of astounding ignorance and incompetence throughout the "translation" by HA!), this volume should be pulped immediately and HA!, Fordham University Press Editorial Director Helen Tartar, Professor Stathis Gourgouris (the only person they apparently could find to hype this monstrosity), and the so-called Association Cornelius Castoriadis (whose council members--Cybèle Castoriadis, Sparta Castoriadis, Zoé Castoriadis, Philipppe Caumières, Vincent Descombes, Pierre Dumesnil, Daniel Ferrand, Olivier Fressard, Sophie Klimis, and Nicolas Poirier--function, against the group's own statues, as its "Publication Committee," too) should promptly apologize profusely for allowing such trash to enter the International Republic of Letters.
The Astounding Ignorance and Incompetence of "Translator" Helen Arnold (Part 2)
As it turns out, "translator" Helen Arnold (HA!) actually was able to get the reference to the second part of "On the Content of Socialism" right at least once (p. 77). She had the help of the French Editors, who this time (p. 101 of the French edition) correctly cited this text (or rather, they didn't mess up, this time, in their added note, Castoriadis's correct information in the body of the text here about the date and title of his 1957 text, "Sur le contenu du socialisme"). And yet HA! couldn't get things quite right. At the start of footnote 7 on p. 77, both the open quotation mark and the first word of the title inexplicably disappear, and the note begins with the word: the (in lowercase with no quotation mark).
Was no one proofing this book? Or was the copyeditor/proofreader as ignorant and incompetent as HA! herself? Can any part of this book be trusted (I've mentioned so far only a few of so many glaring errors)?
If there was a copyeditor/proofreader, s/he must be as blind to error as HA! is blind in her obedience to the French Editors (as evidenced, so far, by HA!'s various versions of a simple matter of providing a correct reference consistently for "On the Content of Socialism"). Take a look at pp. 152-155 (I've already written about another screw-up on p. 155), where the headers for one chapter in the middle of this book read "Editors' Note to the French Edition" instead of furnishing the correct chapter title.
A book is a commodity, to be sure, in today's world. When the "rising tide of insignficancy" reaches a certain point, however, it becomes nothing but a commodity and is sold in near-complete indifference as to its contents (here, I myself use the plural). Fordham University Press didn't even succeed in finding a competent person to take a last overall look at each page before this monstrosity was released to a perhaps unsuspecting public within the International Republic of Letters.
There are more howlers on this one page, p. 77, just as there are on many other pages, before and after this one, throughout the book. Let me for the moment mention just one. HA!, who evinces little if any training in philosophy, came across a Castoriadis paraphrase of Nietzsche: le devenir est innocent (p. 102 of the French edition, with quotation marks added by the French Editors for this spoken talk--the French Editors neglect to note the French person who really did the transcription work, but that's another story). Anyone who has any real exposure to philosophy in French would immediately think "becoming" and not "future" (usually, "l'avenir"). HA!, as lazy as she is ignorant and incompetent, just mistranslates the paraphrase, not bothering to look it up, thus yielding the following amusing concoction:
"[T]he future is innocent."
with a hilariously conscientious addition of brackets at the beginning of an unsourced supposed quotation she messes up royally. A quick look at Google registers 449,000 hits for "innocence of becoming" plus "Nietzsche," while I didn't find a single one for "future is innocent" plus "Nietzsche." Perhaps, despite all that, HA! is correct, in which case she should have supplied us with her source within Nietzsche's oeuvre. She should do so now. While waiting for this, I refer interested readers to: §7 of "The Four Great Errors," in The Twilight of the Idols (1889), where we can see how Castoriadis may have arrived at his paraphrase. Or just look at Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, p. 9, for Castoriadis's correct quotation of the phrase.
For her part, HA! apparently doesn't want to sully herself with the actual publication history of Castoriadis's work in English. Is ignorance bliss? Well, at least it allows a certain blithe attitude toward the most basic ethical and intellectual requirements of publishing.
Perhaps Fordham University Press Editorial Director Helen Tartar would like to explain herself about the shoddy goods her company is trying to sell the public. Or perhaps Professor Stathis Gourgouris would like to speak up and tell us why he put his name on the back cover of this worthless piece of trash. Would it be too much to ask the Publication Committee of the Association Cornelius Castoriadis (ACC) to speak up now in defense of what they are responsible for publishing? Oh, I forgot, the original Publication Committee of the ACC resigned en masse years ago and has never been replaced according to the rules in the ACC's own statutes. That leaves us with ACC President Vincent Descombes, a distinguished trained philosopher. When is he going to stand up and take responsibility for this moral and intellectual disaster that is a permanent blot on his name and reputation?
I reiterate: Pulp this book immediately!
The Astounding Ignorance and Incompetence of "Translator" Helen Arnold (Part 3)
For this third in a continuing series of comments on the Fordham University Press Cornelius Castoriadis volume, A Society Adrift, "translated" by Helen Arnold (HA!), allow me to address one of the most astounding instances of ignorance and incompetence on HA!'s part as a translator.
HA!--an American who, according to my source, was on a junior year abroad from Sweet Briar College--joined the then-Marxist French revolutionary group Socialisme ou Barbarie in the late 1950s during her stay in Paris. We might expect (and, as we shall see in further installments, it is actually the case) that she could be ignorant of psychoanalytic terminology and ancient Greek language and history, two specialized fields in which Castoriadis excelled, writing about them extensively and engagingly. But how could HA! be incompetent and ignorant as a translator when it comes to Marxist terminology?
I don't have the answer to that question. But it does turn out that HA! is indeed incompetent and ignorant as a translator of Castoriadis writings when it comes to Marxist terminology.
The appropriate translation of the French-language Marxist term valeur d'usage is--as anyone who knows the slightest bit about Marxist terminology in English surely is aware--"use value" (sometimes one sees "use-value" with a hyphen). HA!--and this is quite hilarious--translates it mechanically as "usage value," in quotation marks on, for example, p. 109. Since the word was in quotation marks in Castoriadis's French original, one might perhaps hypothesize that HA! somehow wrongheadedly thought that this might be some kind of special usage, so to speak. No. "Usage value" also reappears, without quotation marks, on this same page as well as elsewhere in this highly embarrassing "translation."
Is HA! a sort of bilingual somnambulist, translating the key Marxist term "valeur d'usage" as "usage value" over and over again without her conscious brain intervening at any point, or has she--a person who has the great historical distinction of being one of the very few American members of S. ou B.--never really read Marx in English before she volunteered, under highly questionable circumstances, to translate Castoriadis from French to English? (We know--and in retrospect we are relieved--that HA! never published a word of Castoriadis in translation during her entire S. ou B. period, nor did she do so at any later time during Castoriadis's life; her ill-considered foray into ATTEMPTING to translate Castoriadis is a quite recent phenomenon, which takes unfair advantage of the fact that the highly exacting and rigorous author is now dead.)
Again, I don't have an answer to the question posed. What I can say, though, is that, given the nature of the volume being "translated" here--viz., a book that is presented by the original French Editors as a good introduction to Castoriadis's thought requiring no prior knowledge or reading of other writings by this key radical critic of Marxism--even a mildly informed general reader will have to conclude one of two things: either (1) that Castoriadis fellow, who goes on and on about the serious flaws of Marx and Marxism and pretends that he has developed a true, decisive, far-ranging revolutionary critique of both the man and his doctrine, doesn't really even have a passing command of Marxist terminology, or (2) the translator herself is overmatched when it comes to Marxist terminology in English, and therefore the university press that had the audacity to publish this poor excuse for a translation has jettisoned the minimum standards one might have expected from a prestigious academic publisher. I myself do not come down on the side of option (1).
Let's go back to p. viii, whose bibliographical information in its note 4 was hopelessly battered beyond recognition by HA!, as we saw in part 1 of our comments. HA!'s incompetence and ignorance about a basic term in Marxism are accompanied here by incompetence and ignorance when it comes to the key text Castoriadis wrote to mark his break from Marxism: "Marxism and Revolutionary Theory" (MRT) which originally appeared in French in the last five issues of S. ou B. (1964-1965).
As it turns out, the French Editors don't really help poor HA! out. Referring to the French original of MRT and its inclusion in Castoriadis's 1975 magnum opus (translated in 1987 as The Imaginary Institution of Society, or IIS for short in either language), the French Editors supply the dates as "1965-1975," inexplicably forgetting the crucial first installments published 1964. Does a knowledgeable HA! conscientiously correct this error on the French Editor's part? After all, she was actually here in Paris in 1964, and S. ou B. was the official revolutionary organ of her radical group. No, she refers merely to IIS as a volume published in "1984, 1987"--a really mysterious error, unless she's mistakenly confusing some part or parts of MRT with the English-language edition of Crossroads in the Labyrinth (1984).
Now, Castoriadis was always extremely careful, to the point of almost seeming pedantic, to note the original publication dates of his writings. He wanted people to be very clear about when he wrote what. So, if we're talking about what the author would have wanted, we certainly would not be reading what turns out to be the persistent, and yet strangely inconsistent, errors of HA!
For, HA! could have made up for this first citation error concerning MRT/IIS by getting things right on p. 108, just one page before her repeated, ridiculous mangling, "usage value." Here, it is the fault not of the original French Editors, but of the questioner in a 1977 Le Monde interview of Castoriadis, to refer to MRT, the first part of IIS, as being published in 1964, not 1964-1965--a minor error voiced in passing during an oral interview (though, unlike the French Editors, interviewer Edmond Amran El Maleh at least correctly reports when the first installments of this famous Castoriadis text were published). What does HA! do? She suddenly adds a translator's footnote to tell us that merely "[e]xcerpts" of MRT appeared in IIS, thus wilfully, yet inexplicably, contradicting the correct information El Maleh had just supplied, viz., that MRT "forms the first part of" IIS. HA! even fails at being redundant.
Let's look at what Castoriadis himself carefully, deliberately, and accurately wrote in the very first note in IIS, which closely echoes similar notes for his writings reprinted in volumes published by Éditions 10/18 (permit me to . . . "usage" . . . here the 1987 Kathleen Blamey IIS translation), regarding MRT:
"Socialisme ou Barbarie, nos. 36-40. As with my other texts from Socialisme ou Barbarie which have been republished in the 10/18 collection, `Marxism and Revolutionary Theory' is reprinted here unchanged, except for the correction of printing errors, a few lapsus calami or obscurities and, when necessary, the updating of certain references. Additions are indicated in square brackets. To the original footnotes I have added some new notes, indicated by an asterisk."
Here we have the sort of clearly expressed, conscientiously explained bibliographical information people can rely on, as Castoriadis had intended. HA!, on the other hand, goes out of her way to make up, out of the blue, the idea that MRT was merely "[e]xcerpt[ed]" in IIS. Yet just a passing knowledge of this footnote and of Castoriadis's oeuvre more generally, in French and English, would have immediately precluded the provision of such stark disinformation. What was HA! thinking?
Again, I have no response to the question posed. So far, HA! herself has offered no substantive response to any of the criticisms lodged against her, preferring instead to formulate, on the "ccastoriadis"discussion list of the heirs' "Association Cornelius Castoriadis" at yahoogroups, the preposterous charge that I am engaged in "blackmail[ing]" her by my publishing criticisms she in no way has refuted and probably could never refute, even if she tried.
Let me be perfectly clear: If "translator" Helen Arnold, Fordham University Press Manager Editor Helen Tartar, book blurber Professor Stathis Gourgouris, and "Association Cornelius Castoriadis" President Vincent Descombes (who, unlike Gourgouris, is an internationally distinguished public intellectual, as well) are unable to answer these substantive criticisms with substantive refutations, the Helen Arnold "translation" known as A Society Adrift should be pulped immediately.
The Astounding Ignorance and Incompetence of "Translator" Helen Arnold (Part 4)
In this fourth installment of a continuing discussion of the astounding ignorance and incompetence of the "translator" Helen Arnold (HA!), let us--before inviting HA! into the psychoanalyst's study and before inviting her on a trip to ancient Greece--linger a bit longer on one of the most astounding aspects of HA!'s "translation" work": it has been shown that this former member of Socialisme ou Barbarie, the postwar revolutionary organization Castoriadis cofounded in 1948, seems lost when it comes to Marxist terminology (e.g., the literal but inaccurate translation "usage value"), but it also seems that she suffers from a tin ear if not total deafness when it comes to literary and historical allusions concerning both Marxism and Communism.
It is not surprising that HA! might have at least a tin ear when one considers her bizarre, or at least unexplained, translation of the plural French adjective "muets" not as "silent," "mute," or "dumb" (in the sense of being unable to speak) but as "deaf" (unable to hear; see p. 111 of the English "translation"), which evinces a peculiar confusion of the senses and bodily organs. Still, one would expect a former member of S. ou B. to be able to recognize basic allusions to Marxist and Communist writings and leaders Castoriadis criticized so eloquently and consistently. In failing to do so, she replaces his pertinent, targeted allusions with generally confused or wholly untraceable references.
Let us first take the passage containing Castoriadis's question "Faut-il changer de peuple, comme disait l'autre?" (p. 213 in French). HA! offers us this unpolished and untraceable gem: "Should we get another people, as they say?" (p. 175). First of all, the phrase "comme disait l'autre" usually refers to an unnamed or, for the writer employing it, a for-the-moment unnameable author whom that writer is nevertheless quoting or paraphrasing. Presented in the singular (l'autre), this is generally not a matter of a saying some unspecified "they" would pronounce. Certainly, one can find this phrase "changer de peuple" floating around. But often the name Bertold Brecht is attached to this paraphrase or loose translation. In fact, when I translated the piece in question ("The Gulf War Laid Bare"; HA! has the milder and less evocative "The Gulf War: Setting Things Straight") and sent it around with Castoriadis's OK to various newspapers for possible publication in the runup to the first Gulf War, I made the Brechtian reference explicit, "Should one elect another people, as Brecht once said?" since the allusion here is to one of the Buckow Elegies, where Brecht belatedly tried to come to grips, rather ironically, with the June 17, 1953 East Berlin workers' uprising (a key historical event for the group Socialisme ou Barbarie, which had predicted working-class revolt against what it termed "bureaucratic capitalism" in the East). Indeed, Castoriadis was so well aware of this passage--"Would it not be easier/In that case for the government/To dissolve the people/And elect another?"--that, when I quoted to him one day some rock lyrics about Brecht in this regard, he sternly lectured me to make sure I understood what a hypocrite Brecht was. All that is lost in HA!'s tin ear for allusions. A rather literal "Must one change peoples, as the other guy said?" might have worked, so long as the allusion was explained in a footnote, and indeed it would have fit with the "change" theme in the rest of this last paragraph of his piece. But rendering it unrecognizable does a complete disservice to Castoriadis and to his readers. For, the phrase "get another people" yields nothing at all evocative, as a Google search shows.
A whole series of examples of HA!'s tin ear for Marxist and Communist allusions is to be found on p. 112 of her "translation" (p. 141 in French). Given the context of three allusions in a row to prominent Communist leaders, the phrase at the end of the sentence, "ce qui est à faire et à ne pas faire" should quite logically appear in English as "what is to be done and not to be done"--a not so sly reference to Lenin's What Is to Be Done (albeit more simply entitled Que faire? in French). HA! renders the ending flatly, without any clear allusion, as: "what to do and not to do," as if it were a matter of a polite etiquette manual for dos and don'ts. Worse, in addition to flubbing the best way of rendering in English the literary allusion to Lenin's major work, she also seems to have missed or messed up all three prior allusions.
Probably the worst mistake is the first: the "séminariste obtus de Tiflis" becomes, quite mysteriously and, shall we say, obtusely, the "obtuse disciple in Tiflis." While HA! merits a few points for correctly recognizing that Tiflis is (or at least was) indeed a place (modern-day Tbilisi in now-independent Georgia), the wild guess of "disciple" betrays her confusion as to precisely whom he is alluding to here. Anyone with a modicum of Marxist history under his or her belt would know that Joseph Stalin had studied at the Georgian Orthodox theological seminary in what was then known as Tiflis; and even if one didn't know that, it is still a sheer mystery why "séminariste" would be transformed into "disciple," since it could easily have been translated as either "seminary student" or "seminarian." This ruined allusion constitutes once again a complete disservice both to Castoriadis and to his readers.
The second allusion, obviously to Mao after the one to Stalin, appears in French as the "petit cadre du Yenan." Again, HA! seems to know that Yenan is (or was) a place (modern-day Yan'an), but her "translation," the "low-ranking cadre in Yenan," involves an interpolation of "petit" as necessarily a matter of official rank, whereas, as I understand Mao's rise, the relative success of the Long March had already procured for him election to the three-member Military Affairs Commission. Either "little" or "petty" might be less loaded and more accurate than "low-ranking" (as well as in better keeping with the adjective "obtuse" above), but let's not quibble about that. Having missed "seminarian" and referenced instead a general "disciple," HA! has no idea that Castoriadis is again talking about a specific person in this second reference, another disservice to Castoriadis and his readers.
Castoriadis's third and final reference is to the "secrétaire de cellule du Pas-de-Calais," which HA! translates as "secretary of the Pas-de-Calais party cell." While fairly faithful, this unexplained allusion puts English-speaking readers at a great disadvantage, since very few of them will recognize that Castoriadis is making reference here to Maurice Thorez, who was born in the Pas de Calais commune of Noyelles-Godault and who rose rapidly from the ranks there to serve as the French Communist Party's General Secretary from 1930 until his death in 1964.
Thus, the first allusion is almost willfully botched, the second is questionable at best and betrays her incomprehension of the specificity of the first, while the third is quite unhelpful in translation, these three failings being compounded by the muddying of the original literary allusion to What Is to Be Done, the key political pamphlet that set the stage for the rise of the three major post-Bolshevik-era Communist bureaucrats (leaving aside the complicated Italian case of Togliatti): Stalin, Mao, and Thorez.
Similarly, a clear allusion to Louis Althusser's 1965 work Lire le Capital (Reading Capital is the standard English translation for the title of this book) is made unnecessarily murky. Castoriadis speaks of there being "Party specialists," supposedly reassuring to unsophisticated masses unfamiliar with "the `laws' of the economy," who "lisent Le Capital" for them. In a move that is as gratuitous as it is misguided, HA! adds in the name of the author of "Le Capital" (Capital in English, Das Kapital in the German original), thus yielding, "who `read Marx's Capital'"--as if the reader absolutely needed to know who wrote a book called Capital, to which Castoriadis was referring when speaking of French Communist Party intellectuals. Placed here within quotation marks HA! reproduces seemingly without knowing why, the clear and simple allusion to Althusser's famous volume Reading Capital, while not entirely lost in this case, is for no good reason clouded and complicated. Again, unless HA! is unaware or unsure of the relevant allusion, there is no good explanation for why she would do that. Another disservice to Castoriadis and his readers.
I repeat what I have said in each of the three previous parts of my discussion of this poorly translated work: barring logical, substantive, and pertinent point-by-point refutations (which so far have not been forthcoming), the Helen Arnold/Fordham University Press "translation" A Society Adrift should be withdrawn from circulation and pulped, for it does not even remotely approach the high standards Castoriadis himself always set for his work.
The Astounding Ignorance and Incompetence of "Translator" Helen Arnold (Part 5)
It is now time, in this fifth installment of a continuing discussion of the astounding ignorance and incompetence of the “translator” Helen Arnold (HA!), to take HA! into the psychoanalyst’s study (before inviting her on a trip to ancient Greece). Not to put her on the couch. Rather, to see if she understands what the psychoanalyst--in the present case Cornelius Castoriadis, who practiced this profession the last quarter century of his life and wrote extensively and profoundly on the subject--is saying. As we shall see, HA!’s difficulties translating psychoanalytic concepts do irreparable harm to Castoriadis within the psychoanalytic profession--irreparable, that is, unless, as I've repeatedly urged, this HA! "translation" is repudiated by Fordham University Press and pulped.
Before doing so, and in order to dispel the strange (I would say, perverse) idea that somehow the highest standards shouldn’t be applied to the work of Castoriadis in translation--i.e., that there would be something illegitimate about pointing out errors in a book that is published in the International Republic of Letters and is sold on the market to consumers who might be spending their hard-earned money in the hope of getting something of true quality and unimpeachable integrity in return from the academic press in question--let us recall how Castoriadis himself expressed admiration for the qualities of a good translator:
"David [Ames Curtis] est un traducteur comme on en rencontre rarement, consciencieux à l'extrême, vérifiant inlassablement tout ce qu'il fait, n'hésitant jamais à demander l'avis des auteurs sur ce qui peut poser problème dans les textes sur lesquels il travaille. Il a maintenant traduit six volumes de mes écrits, qui ont été publiés par la University Press of Minnesota, par la Oxford University Press, par la Stanford University Press et par Blackwell's. Pierre Vidal-Naquet, dont il a également traduit et publié plusieurs ouvrages et qui, philologue de métier, est d'une exigence scolastique sur l'exactitude et la précision des expressions, ne tarit pas d'éloges sur son compte." --Cornelius Castoriadis, 19 juillet 1997.
Since HA! aspires to translate Castoriadis, I asked her to translate into English this July 19, 1997 letter of praise for my work as his faithful translator for the last 13 years of his life. She declined. What does this passage say? Writing to a fellow psychoanalyst, Castoriadis praised here my "extreme conscientiousness," my tireless efforts to "verify everything [I] do," and my unstinting determination to check on problems with the source text; moreover, he mentions that the distinguished classical historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet, himself known for his high scholarly standards of exactitude and precision, couldn't stop praising my translations of his--PV-N’s--work.
By way of contrast, Fordham University Press Editorial Director Helen Tartar, has lamely tried (in an online Castoriadis discussion group) to minimize the glaring and embarrassing errors I have brought to the public’s attention concerning HA!'s "translation," arguing that it really isn't a big deal when such mistakes are made in an academic publication! To justify such a lax attitude toward scholarly standards, in a two-wrongs-make-a-right mind set Helen Tartar intimated that some of my own Castoriadis translations--some of the same ones Castoriadis had himself extolled in the above-mentioned letter and whose publication she oversaw!--suffered from similar problems. When confronted and asked to cite a single instance, minor or major, Helen Tartar suddenly fell silent. Such dishonorable behavior on her part perhaps explains why her university press has also kept silent about this entire situation, which is so embarrassing for them that they shrink from public criticism--precisely the opposite of what academia is supposed to be about.
I’m not saying, of course, that a translation or some other text must be perfect. I don’t even know what a “perfect translation” would be. But there is no excuse for the egregious mistakes pointed out here and in the previous parts of this extended review, just as there is no justification for the head-in-the sand attitude the two Helens have adopted. When, as his translator, I conscientiously checked with Castoriadis about potential errors in the Éditions 10/18 reprints of his Socialisme ou Barbarie texts, Castoriadis, a fighter, experienced every verified one, however minor, as a defeat--and then, acknowledging them, encouraged me to find more. I also remember how discouraged he could be when he told me of someone who had done a poor job translating his work. His widow knows this better than anyone, and yet she too remains silent about the substance of these criticisms.
Now to HA! in the psychoanalyst's study. In reading psychoanalytic passages from the HA! "translation" A Society Adrift (ASA), we discover that HA! has a "psychical" problem. I'm not talking about her own psyche. She has a problem with the adjective "psychical." In the “Editors' Note to the French Edition” (on the same page viii where we previously found a plethora of mistakes), she has "human psyche" for the French Editor's “dimension psychique de l'être humain.” No meaning is lost here, but we begin to suspect that HA! has a psychological block against the adjective “psychical,” perhaps due to fear of a confusion with “psychics” and so-called “psychic abilities” (ESP, etc.). HA!’s avoidance takes on increasingly elaborate forms. On p. 71, she has “indetermination of the psyche” for “l’indétermination psychique.” Thirteen pages later, “psychical” becomes “mental” without any explanation in a particularly botched passage. And on p. 92, the “versant psychique,” the psychical side, of an issue, inexplicably becomes “the role of the psyche.” We begin to suspect, on that same page, that “psychical” dread has taken over HA! when she translates the famous Castoriadian term “monade psychique” not as the standard “psychical monad” Castoriadis used, but as “a monad, a self-enclosed psyche,” thus rending the future Google Books version of ASA unsearchable for this key phrase (future, that is, if the book isn’t pulped first, as it should be). Two pages later, “noyau psychique” (psychical core) eccentrically becomes, by fearful inversion, “core psyche.” And here (p. 94), HA! herself becomes decentered when she “translates” the “moi psychique et corporel” as “mental and physical self.”
Besides the fact that “ego” would perhaps be preferable as a translation of “moi” in Castoriadis’s psychoanalytic theorizing here about the phenomenon of hatred, to translate “psychique” as “mental” and “corporel” as “physical” is beyond eccentric, fearful, inexplicable. HA! turns Castoriadis into a Cartesian dualist! What is this “physical self”? HA! probably thinks it’s the body, understood as a physical thing in space. And with this blithely confused introduction of a Cartesian dualism HA! demonstrates no knowledge of the insights of Merleau-Ponty on the body, let alone Castoriadis’s own views of the psychical and corporeal aspects of the intertwined, sui generis ontological creation of “psyche-soma” by psyche-soma. What an incredible disservice done to Castoriadis, just because HA! wants to fend off the “psychical.”
And yet we discover that HA!’s aversion was wholly unnecessary, as she herself eventually offers “psychic force” for “force psychique” on p. 233. (Nevertheless, in a new arbitrary shift three pages after that, “bravoure psychique” boldly becomes “psychological . . . daring.”) Indeed, if we take a passing look at HA!’s previous foray into attempting to “translate” Castoriadis--her highly embarrassing Stanford University Press version of Figures of the Thinkable, already available on Google Books (a real translation, under the same name, can easily be found online for those who don’t want to be misled by bad Castoriadis’s “translations”--she has “psychic” throughout, including such phrases as “psychic core”! That is, everywhere except one place, where Castoriadis himself had already written a chapter in English--“The Psychical and Social Roots of Hate”--for this posthumously published and preposterously translated SUP volume.
What a damning indictment! HA! couldn’t be consistent about the translation of “psychique” within the same volume--even the one where Castoriadis had already given her the right clue--let alone from one horrendously mangled tome to the next. But why should there have been any problem in the first place? After all, one of Freud’s and Breuer’s first published texts was “On the Psychical Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena” and in 1925 Freud wrote “Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes.” HA!, an ignorant and incompetent “translator” of texts dealing with psychoanalytic topics, has not even bothered to take a quick glance at a Freud bibliography in English!
(Lest one think that the Castoriadis heirs and the so-called “Association Cornelius Castoriadis” they control are innocent in this matter, let us read what one commentator has written about the way in which this same English-language Castoriadis text, “The Psychical and Social Roots of Hate,” was previously “edited” by the person, Fuyuki Kurasawa, to whom the heirs and the ACC had confided this work:
“Kurasawa's version, which appears to be missing several passages of original text, which includes others not indicated in the final printed French version, and which sometimes testifies to an unfamiliarity with standard Castoriadian and Freudian terminology as well as to lack of knowledge of common French phrases and English-language editorial practices, was published in a special ‘Tribute to Cornelius Castoriadis,’ Free Associations, 43 (1999): 402-15; additionally, some text included in the Kurasawa typescript seems to have been dropped by the Free Associations typesetter.”
The ultimate blame thus lies with those ultimately responsible: Castoriadis’s widow, Zoe Castoriadis, and his eldest daughter, Sparta Castoriadis, a practicing psychoanalyst in her own right, who continue to make terrible judgments and awful decisions about how their husband’s/father’s distinguished literary legacy is to be preserved and protected. For, they cannot even keep themselves from presiding over the wrecking of a text Castoriadis himself wrote directly in English.)
Yet we have not yet arrived at the worst aspect of this visit by HA! to the psychoanalyst’s study. It isn’t enough for HA! to have turned Castoriadis’s metapsychology into a Cartesian dualism. And let us leave aside the mechanical “translation” of “investissement” as “investment” (p. 94) rather than the English-language psychoanalytical term “cathexis” chosen by Freud’s translator Strachey. Let us leave aside, too, the “translation” of “psychisme” sometimes as “psyche” (p. 49), sometimes as “the mind” (p. 235), with no hint about the technical meaning behind these vague alternatives. Where HA! really loses it is when she is confronted with “the Unconscious.” Not hers, but rather the term “l’inconscient” in Castoriadis’s French.
HA! has no trouble rendering “les processus inconscients” as “Unconscious Processes”--when translating the official title of a colloquium to which Castoriadis had been invited (publication note, p. 83). But when she tries to “translate” Castoriadis’s phrase “les processus . . . inconscients” a page later in that previously mentioned botched passage, up pop “subconscious . . . processes.” Similarly (p. 95), “des pulsions inconcientes” emerge as “subconscious drives,” and “l’inconscient et le conscient” are abstractly conceived by HA! as “the subconscious and conscious mind” (p. 230), with “l’inconscient” returning three pages later as “the subconscious.” The reader of HA!’s ASA “translation” will be led to believe that HA! herself knows about the correct psychoanalytic term, “the Unconscious” (as presented in the title for this Free University of Brussels colloquium and which is also the title of a 1915 text by Freud), whereas Castoriadis himself, probably one of those flaky French psychoanalysts without any real serious training, systematically uses “subconscious,” a term that Wikipedia (q.v.) explains “is used in many different contexts and has no single or precise definition. This greatly limits its significance as a meaning-bearing concept, and in consequence the word tends to be avoided in academic and scientific settings” (like the one Castoriadis was addressing). Castoriadis thus looks like an interloper in the academy as well as a buffoon in the psychoanalytical profession, precisely the images the Castoriadis heirs have been trying to avoid at all costs. What’s worse (same Wikipedia entry), “In everyday speech and popular writing . . . the term is very commonly encountered as a layman's replacement for the unconscious mind, which in Freud's opinion is a repository for socially unacceptable ideas, wishes or desires, traumatic memories, and painful emotions put out of mind by the mechanism of psychological repression.” Indeed, and here we grasp, with HA!’s introduction of “subconscious” as supposedly part of Castoriadis’s regular parlance, what a great disservice HA! has done to Castoriadis’s reputation within the psychoanalytic and academic communities. The Wikipedia entry continues: “Though lay persons commonly assume 'subconscious' to be a psychoanalytic term, this is not in fact the case. Sigmund Freud had explicitly condemned the word as long ago as 1915: ‘We shall also be right in rejecting the term 'subconsciousness' as incorrect and misleading.’ In later publications his objections were made clear: ‘If someone talks of subconsciousness, I cannot tell whether he means the term topographically--to indicate something lying in the mind beneath consciousness--or qualitatively--to indicate another consciousness, a subterranean one, as it were. He is probably not clear about any of it. The only trustworthy antithesis is between conscious and unconscious.’ Thus, as Charles Rycroft has explained, ‘subconscious’ is a term ‘never used in psychoanalytic writings.’ And, in Peter Gay's words, use of 'subconscious' where 'unconscious' is meant is ‘a common and telling mistake’; indeed, ‘when [the term] is employed to say something 'Freudian', it is proof that the writer has not read his Freud.” Let us read this last phrase by the eminent Freud historian once again: “[W]hen [the term ‘subconscious’] is employed to say something 'Freudian', it is proof that the writer has not read his Freud.”
Astoundingly, what HA! thus manages to do is to make it seem like she has read her Freud (which she probably hasn’t, given her “psychical” block) whereas Castoriadis wouldn’t have (which is quite obviously just the opposite of the case). HA! makes herself look intelligent--at the expense of Castoriadis, the person she is supposed to be translating learnedly and convincingly. The disservice is total.
To conclude this fifth part in an ongoing series on the ignorance and incompetence of the “translator” Helen Arnold, I repeat once again that this book should be pulped immediately. The continuing silence of the two Helens and of the Castoriadis heirs, not to mention that of ACC President Vincent Descombes, indicates that these people have no defense to offer and that their irresponsible introduction of this monstrosity with the telling name A Society Adrift into the International Republic of Letters is indeed condemnable.