A Million Words

It’s been quiet here on the blog, which usually means I’ve been busy elsewhere. This time is no exception. The next phase of the work on Proudhon involves writing up some truly introductory material, which is always slow, meticulous work. The Corvus Editions project is at another awkward transitional point, unsurprisingly given the state of the book trade, so I’ve been trying to take a hard look at the viable options there. And I’ve also made a number of publishing commitments, which are taking big bites out of my work day. Mostly, though, 2014 looks like it’s shaping up to be what I initially thought 2013 was going to be—a year largely dedicated to translation.

Back in November I took another look at the plan for the Bakunin Library, as the publisher and I negotiated the contents of the Bakunin Reader, and started to schedule what I would need to accomplish myself to make sure that we could complete the Bakunin Library volumes on a fairly regular schedule with the available translation help. Then I took a look at the translation projects that I had discussed with other publishers—works by Joseph Déjacque and Ravachol—and the short list of works that I have been puttering away at, in some cases for years. I roughed out a schedule that for November and December that would let me finish The Humanisphere, The Adventures of Nono and The Theory of Property, make a good dent in The Claque-Dents and still devote a lot of time to Bakunin—as long as I kept at the translation work steadily just about every day.

Things went pretty well in the first stage, and I pushed through the final sections of The Humanisphere very rapidly. That draft translation has passed through the hands of a comrade, who made some very useful suggestions, and I’m in the process of working through the manuscript again, smoothing the translation where Déjacque’s prose allows.

In late November, I laid out a more formal schedule for December-February, with the goal of pretty well clearing the decks of old projects and getting ahead of schedule on the Bakunin material. Some rethinking of the structure of the Bakunin Library has sent me on a second pass through Bakunin’s work, searching for overlooked gems and exploring the possibility of some small, topically focused volumes. I’ve been coming to terms with just how huge The Knouto-Germanic Empire really is. On November 28 I started an experiment, attempting to translate the equivalent of 2740 words each and every day. That’s roughly 5 1/2 pages per day, which can either be pretty simple or darn near impossible, depending on the texts. I tried to create a mix of easy and difficult texts, on different subjects and in different styles, that would keep me interested and give me a fighting chance at keeping up the pace. The mixture of forced march and labor of love is not the easiest balance to strike.

At the end of December, I had translated just over 95,000 words (plus at least 6000 words of revision of old partially-edited machine translations dating back five years or so.) Nono and The Theory of Property have been added to the revision pile, and The Claque-Dents is more than half completed. I need to steal a couple of full days to clean up Theory of Property, which I worked on for too many years for it to be an entirely consistent translation, and at some point I need to complete the very interesting appendix (from 1855) on the Perpetual Exhibition, an extension of the Bank of the People which resembles in some ways the projects Anselme Bellegarrigue was proposing at roughly the same time in Le Commanditaire. There has been a steady stream of new translations appearing at the Bakunin Library blog. The Bakunin Reader is shaping up to be what I think will be a very useful volume, and I’m at the point where most of the lengthy translations are either complete or nearly so.

By the time I reached the 45th day of the experiment, I had translated in a month and a half roughly what I had translated in the previous year and a half, and I had learned some interesting lessons. First, Proudhon is comparatively tough going, and I really need to take the time to work up a glossary of 19th century French financial terms before I do too much more with the Perpetual Exhibition proposal or the revision of The Theory of Property. That may have to wait until Spring. In the meantime, I’ll probably get back to work on The Political Capacity of the Working Classes. Second, I love Fourier’s crazed prose, but translating it so that anyone not already immersed in his general can make heads or tails of it is an enormous challenge. I have been making ridiculously slow headway on a very short collection of the works on gastronomy. Third, no matter how appealing, or how different, anarchist programs may be, I can’t translate more than one of them at a time. I have been making steady headway on E. Armand’s Anarchist Individualist Initiation, but an interesting individualist program is still, in important ways, a program, and I probably won’t throw myself into it wholeheartedly until I’m done with Bakunin’s secret societies. Fourth, Bakunin is full of surprises and I’m having a lot more real fun with that work than I had expected.

Probably the biggest realization, or perhaps re-realization, which will probably shape the future of Corvus Editions as much as my translating schedule, is that an awful lot of what keeps me going with all these projects is the exploratory work and the work that at least potentially expands and opens up the conversation about anarchism. If I’m not working on at least a few things that absolutely nobody is waiting for, I’m probably not doing it right. As December went along, I found that a couple of the texts I was working on—the Initiation and The Claque-Dents, both of which I like very much—were getting left until the end of the day. So I’ve been mixing things up a bit, so that at least some of what I’m working on is entirely new to me. January should see a complete translation of Flora Tristan’s strange, but fascinating The Emancipation of Woman, or, The Testament of a Pariah, and probably also an interesting section from Jenny d’Héricourt’s Woman Affranchised. I’ve been mixing in short sections from Ernest Coeurderoy’s beautiful, over-the-top Hurrah!!! or the Revolution by the Cossacks when nothing else moves me at the end of the work day. I’m trying to mix in more shorter, and recently uncovered texts, like the letter by d’Héricourt that I just posted to the Black and Red Feminist History blog. Even at a good, steady clip, something like the Initiation is many months worth of work under current circumstances. That’s easier to keep at if there are also some good items that get translated and posted the day I find them.

I’m 52 days into the experiment, which means that if I can do what I’ve done roughly six more times, that will be a year’s worth of translating, and a year’s worth of 2740 words each day is just over a million words of new translation. It’s sort of a crazy New Year’s resolution to make, but that feels like a worthy goal. Because I know I’ll have to take a week or two off to deal with publishing projects and the other parts of my life that occasionally intrude, I’m expecting I will take about a month off in 2014, and spread twelve months of work over the thirteen between December 2013 and December 2014.

As February rolls around, I’ll have to be thinking very hard about how to financially sustain the project, with some mix of Corvus Editions, selling off some things and perhaps some form of crowd-sourcing. A Million Words of newly translated anarchist-related material seems like the sort of thing that ought to be sustainable, but it’s often very hard to tell what, if any, support there is out there. For now, I’m just want to put it out there that the project is ongoing. Wish me luck!

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.