Colins’ painful punctuation

Warning: Off-topic chatter about the process of translation.

Jean Guillaume Cesar Alexandre Hippolyte, baron de Colins was the chief theorist of Rational Socialism, and a frequent critic and intellectual rival of Proudhon. Indeed, Colins’ crew were pitting the two figures against each other long after both had died. I’m planning on finishing up a translation of Adolphe Hugentobler’s Dialogue of Dead Men sometime in 2009. Colins wrote a three-volume work, Justice in Science, apart from the Revolution and the Church, which begins with a 600-page attempted refutation of most of Proudhon’s main theses in Justice in the Revolution and the Church. I think he’s largely missing the point, but it’s interesting stuff. Unfortunately, Colins had some peculiar habits in the realm of punctuation which make translation at least a little peculiar. Here’s a taste of his prose:

— What is meant by absolute?

— Absolute means: independant.

— What is it that is independant?

— That which is eternal. If, the creator God exists; God alone is eternal; God alone is absolute. If, the creator God does not exist; the matter, the force, which modifies our sensibility, is eternal; is absolute. If the sensibility is a modification of matter; each sensibility is not eternal, is not absolute; but, it is: relative; temporal: dependent on modifications of matter. If, each sensibility is eternal; each sensibility is absolute. Then, there would be divisible absolute, matter; and, indivisible absolutes, the sensibilities; the immaterialities.

Obviously, some of this is difficult in precisely the same ways that Proudhon’s own work is, or that any bit of specialized writing can be. But, there are also: the colons; the extra semi-colons; which, tend to make reading the stuff a little: odd. Proudhon was prone to sentences with 413 dependent clauses, which often makes clear translation a chore, but Colins raises all sorts of other problems. Ultimately, I expect I will just be leaving out two-thirds of his punctuation.

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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.