An update and a call

I’m taking the next month or so to write (The Mutualist #2, and “The Anarchism of Approximations”), and to consolidate the lessons of the last year into some kind of routine, both for Corvus Editions and for my scholarly work. Over the next week, much of the Corvus shop will come down, to be replaced with improved content, reflective of the new print catalog I’m currently assembling. It looks like 2011 will start for me, with a new (part-time, unpaid) job, as curator and bookkeeper for a small cooperative retail space in Portland, within which Corvus and a number of other small presses and artisan projects will have their own little slice of storefront within an existing volunteer-run radical bookstore. Details will follow, as we nail things down, but this little project is a big turning point for my various projects, since it allows/forces me to focus on a particular sort of primary outlet for my work, imposes some concrete, periodical deadlines, etc.

The model that we’re using for the cooperative space involves breaking the space-rent and general expenses (including some equivalent for the volunteer staffing) down into shares corresponding to shelf-feet, making it possible to bring a small catalog into the store for as little as $5/month [$1.50 – $3.00/shelf-foot, depending on labor volunteered for store staffing.] Expenses are covered up front, so sales go to individual vendors directly, with no consignment fees. I started Corvus Editions to provide low-cost, high-quality materials for bookstores and infoshops with very little money to spend on new stock. I established a constant flow of new releases, from a fairly broad range of traditions, so that tiny, cash-poor operations could always have something new if they could afford even a few dollars to invest on inventory. As it happens, I think identified the right problems, but too late… both because cash-flow concerns, and rising postage costs, have curtailed almost all non-consignment acquisition by many of the shops I was thinking of, but also because distribution channels have collapsed or centralized to such a degree that it’s simply a lot harder to reach the right shops. And, of course, for a variety of reasons, “the good old stuff” from the radical traditions doesn’t have the street cred it once did. You can bring a hundred different titles to an anarchist bookfair, but you won’t necessarily find many browsers.

Live and learn. It turns out that a 19th-century socialist-feminist encyclopedia entry, that’s hard to give away (despite its merits) as a $2 pamphlet, is cute and interesting as a tiny $5 book. Recycled paper is good, and farm-waste paper is better, but books bound in recycled Pendaflex folders and upholstery scraps are good enough to take home. If you’re going to bother to be a publisher of real books, here at the far edge of the Gutenberg Galaxy, it doesn’t hurt to make a statement. Everybody knows you can’t judge a book by its cover, but we mostly do it that way anyway.

So a big part of January’s labor will be translating the various “libraries” in the Corvus Catalog, and the unpublished catalogs in my various digital archives, into something that will look like a library when placed on the shelf. For the Portland bookfair I brought out some prototype bindings for the New Proudhon Library, and I’ve got text formatted for a number of uniform hardcover volumes:

  • What is Property? – First Memoir
  • A Letter to M. Blanqui – Second Memoir
  • System of Economical Contradictions, Vol. 1
  • Philosophy of Progress
  • General Idea of the Revolution
  • Gratuity of Credit
  • Galileo: A Drama, with commentary
  • Langlois’s P.-J. Proudhon: His Life and Works

 and I’ve bound several of those (as you can see) with wrap-around spine labels, to look good on the shelf, and bindings that let you open them wide to read and study. And I’m working on the first of a set of Miscellanies, collecting early translations of, and response to, Proudhon’s work.

That’s where I could use a little help:

The early translations were partial, and often paraphrases rather than real translations, scattered in various odd places. I have, from the period before Benjamin R. Tucker began his work:

  • William B. Greene’s translations, from Mutual Banking (and later translations published in The Word)
  • William Henry Channing’s translation of “The Coming Era of Mutualism”
  • the partial/paraphrased translation of “Confessions of a Revolutionist” from the London Weekly Tribune, reprinted in The Spirit of the Age
  • Charles A. Dana’s articles from The Spirit of the Age, reprinted by Tucker in Proudhon and his Bank of the People
  • the “Hymn to Satan,” from the Ladies Repository
  • the excerpts translated in William Lucas Sargant’s Social Innovators and their Schemes (1858)

And all of these are of interest, if only as evidence of the specific ways that Proudhon’s work was interpreted during his lifetime, or shortly thereafter.

But I’m sure there are more bits and pieces out there, so if anyone knows of things I’m missing, please let me know.

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

    1 Comment

    1. I’m not sure how possible this is, but I’ve thought for some time that a comprehensive account of Marx’s “The Poverty of Philosophy” would be good.

      It is the most famous (or, better, infamous) contemporary intrepretation of Proudhon. It shapes perspectives on Proudhon to this day — which is annoying given the distortions within it (I think I’ve discovered yet another one this week!).

      I’ve started this in an appendix to my introduction to “Property is Theft!”:

      and footnoting extracts from “System of Economic Contradictions”:

      It would be good to have Proudhon’s marginal notes to his copy in English as well. I’m not sure how possible this is, but in terms of contemporary accounts Marx’s is the one which has done the most damage.


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