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"Amazon has been directed to remove and block all posts from you"

Fordham University Press Editorial Director Helen Tartar

Responds to Criticism of Book She Published By Threatening Censorship


February 7, 2010

To: David Curtis
CC: ccastoriadis@yahoogroups.com

Dear David,

I was going to keep out of this--but really, have you no shame? No sense that your own work--like that of any translator--could be attacked in precisely the manner you are attacking Helen Arnold? Please believe me, more than once I have defended your own Castoriadis translations against similar criticism, though I am not going to waste my time in long lists, etc. etc. Those translations have served Castoriadis well, as Helen Arnold's will.

You are not an unintelligent person, and you were at least once a competent and devoted translator, though not so markedly superior a translator to other competent workers as your postings seem to imply. It really pains me to see you making a fool of yourself through these shameful and embarrassing accusations. Why not let bygones be bygones and look to the future, wherever that may take you?

With what I hope can be best wishes, and what I dare not pray may be a halt in your really tedious accusations of Helen Arnold and the Castoriadis family, which I expect are as annoying and unwelcome to many of your Internet addressees as they are to me,

Helen Tartar
Fordham University Press

P.S. Amazon has been directed to remove and block all posts from you, since those posts teeter on the border of personal vindictiveness. Please, all this is really just a waste of your energies, since other venues will start to do the same thing.

February 8, 2010

To: ccastoriadis@yahoogroups.com
From: David Ames Curtis

Dear Helen (Tartar):

Thank you very much for your letter, which I received both personally and via the "ccastoriadis" discussion list on yahoogroups.com. Pursuing an open and free discussion is certainly the best way to address public issues. However, the International Republic of Letters is best served by making substantive points, not by attacking allegedly "shameful and embarrassing accusations" without actually ever addressing them in the public arena. As we shall see below, your public credibility in this whole matter is open to serious discussion and questioning.

But first let us address your frightening and disturbing "P.S.," which does not just advocate, but claims to be able to implement unilaterally, censorship of a public discussion:

"P.S. Amazon has been directed to remove and block all posts from you."

Does the cozy world of publishing now allow a publisher--indeed, an academic publisher!--to tell a company like Amazon.com what it has to do ("direct," to employ the term you use without any complex but that can have a highly negative charge in Castoriadis's vocabulary)? And you have delivered news of this ("shameful and embarrassing"?) edict on a discussion list devoted to the work of the radical democratic thinker Cornelius Castoriadis ("ccastoriadis")! Not content to censor public criticism of a work in translation your university press has published--i.e., presented for open consideration in the International Republic of Letters--you seem to think you have the right to censor anything I would write on any subject anywhere on the Amazon.com website; this constitutes blanket prior censorship of anything I might say about anything there ("all posts from you"). Is this what you want Fordham University Press to be known for in the International Republic of Letters? You would thereby bring your own opprobrium down on your entire community, from the Director to the lowest level employee (I know about that, since in the early Eighties I was directly involved in union organizing with Yale University Press employees, who fought back, demanding a say and demanding respect).

You thus have already undermined any public credibility you might have possessed when you, surely advisedly, engaged in open-ended and free discussion on this list. Might you want to withdraw immediately this blatant brandishing of censorship? After all, if my contributions on Amazon.com (and other such websites your reach may not have attained yet) are, on the face of them, so "shameful and embarrassing," what harm would there be in leaving them up for all to see--and to reject (should people find them such) or to accept or to demand more information and more discussion about them (should they retain an open mind and value unfettered debate)? And why not respond to the criticisms substantively instead of trying to suppress them unilaterally?

In this respect, let us ask right here, right now, how a distinguished international public intellectual like Vincent Descombes, President of the Association Cornelius Castoriadis, responds to an attempt to silence criticisms, however valid or misguided they might be. And let us ask Professor Stathis Gourgouris whether he still wants his name associated with Fordham University Press when FUP attempts to implement such censorship by fiat before any discussion. What do Fordham University Press Director Fredric Nachbaur and Mary-Lou Elias-Peña, the Assistant to the Director, think of this way of conducting (or rather preventing) public discussion of one of the books published by their academic press? I have already filed an ethics complaint against FUP; I shall now add this shocking P.S. to my complaint. All the above-mentioned persons will receive a cc: of the present e-missive, and so if, by their continued silence, they do not denounce such censorship, they become, de facto, its accomplices. Helen Arnold may also wish to speak up against such censorship on her behalf. I await their responses here and will make public the names of those who fail to denounce censorship exercised supposedly for their benefit.

I shall also be notifying Fordham University President Joseph M. McShane, S.J. of this scandalous breach of the minimum standards of free debate in an academic setting. President McShane has said, "[W]e believe that students have to be invited to wrestle with the great ethical issues of their time. We want them to be bothered by the realization that they don’t know everything and bothered by injustice.” How can Fordham University students find the energy to be bothered about anything when their university's own academic press treats suppression of debate as a matter of course?

President McShane has also said, "We have a great desire to introduce excellence and rigor," and he cites the principle of magis in his religious tradition as key to the educational mission of his institution. Since you, Helen T., have avoided all substantive debate, may I assume that the specific criticisms made so far with regard to Helen Arnold's translation are all valid? As a Castoriadis translator in another language wrote to me today:

"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 responsable will act..."

Are you, Helen T, defending less than "excellen[t[" and "rigor[ous]" work by your silence regarding the substance of the criticisms lodged against it? You haven't even responded to the criticism that the book appears to have been inadequately proofed (e.g., no one apparently even bothered to take a last look at the proofs, page by page, in order to catch incorrect title headings in the middle of a chapter in the middle of the book). The criticisms are not just directed against Helen Arnold but also against Fordham University Press, which allowed such sloppy work to be introduced into the International Republic of Letters.

But you plead a merely relativist case in defense of what another Castoriadis translator surmises would be shoddy work on translator Helen Arnold's part. For, you now say that my work wasn't that good, either. (Are you offering us a new version of U.S. Senator Roman Hruska's Nixon-era defense of mediocrity instead of upholding your institution's principle of magis?) Here, your past words and actions cast additional light on the extent of your public credibility.

Let's start with what the author Cornelius Castoriadis himself said about my work, just a few months before his death, when all of the book-length translations I did for him during his lifetime, including one for you, had already been published:

"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.

Instead of my translating this highly glowing French-language authorial recommendation (written in response to some people with a grudge against him who had attacked me, without any basis, denigrating my skills as a translator), I invite you to ask your hired translator, Helen Arnold, in whom you retain such (relative) confidence, to translate the passage for you. Please make that translation available here. Then think about it. What, by way of contrast, do you think Cornelius Castoriadis would say about a translator who systematically translates the Marxist term valeur d'usage as "usage value" instead of "use value"? In line with what the other Castoriadis translator I just cited above has said, this sort of basic error would have led Castoriadis to feel great shame and embarrassment. or mighty anger, since it makes him look like a fool (to use another term you have instead tried to pin on me).

But we don't just need the word of my dear friend and colleague Castoriadis, with whom I worked closely the last thirteen years of his life and who asked to be buried on the other side of the street from me and my partner, in the Montparnasse Cemetery. Let's look at your own words and behavior back when you worked at Stanford University Press, where we published together World in Fragments (title translated as The World in Fragments by Helen Arnold at one point in A Society Adrift, when she got stuck, and not for the first time, between French and English without fulfilling either one).

You, Helen T., told me that I would enjoy working with an SUP copyeditor named Pamela, and you spoke highly of her work when recommending her to me. And Pamela in turn told me that the MS. for WIF was the "best" MS she had ever seen turned in to SUP. (After publication of WIF, Cornelius himself told me that my Translator's Foreword was one of the best things ever written about his work, and so he was quite grateful about its appearance in the volume.) Moreover, you soon hired me to translate another two Castoriadis volumes, so I don't think that my work was particularly flawed, and you made absolutely no mention of even the slightest problems that would need to be addressed before I undertook further work with you at SUP. If there had been problems, an honest and conscientious employer would have brought up such issues right away so that the ongoing collaboration might produce the best results, for which we might all be very proud.

It was only later--when a conflict arose with the Castoriadis family (the precise nature of which still eludes me, since its nature has never been explained publicly and in rational terms)--that you changed your tune, telling me suddenly that a "certain professor" had complaints about my work. Good-naturedly (I'm used to criticism and believe that it should be addressed on the spot, whenever possible), I asked you to be specific. You did not have a single example to cite, and so it was unclear whether the--perhaps real--person in question was objecting to my translation work or to Castoriadis's controversial and unorthodox terminology and arguments. At that point, I interjected that Pamela--I think her last name was/is MacFarland or McFarland--thought that I had turned in the best MS. she had ever seen at SUP. You replied that Pamela was an incompetent employee--a complete change of tune from what you had told me previously, which reflects badly on your credibility in the world of publishing, just as your refusal then, as now, to answer or offer any specific criticisms reflects badly on your capacity to engage in sustained rational discussion of the issues at hand. Castoriadis didn't talk about the importance of logon didonai for nothing. It's an integral feature of a democratic public space, i.e., one that hasn't become monopolized by private interests and desires.

Indeed, in characterizing public criticisms as "teeter[ing] on the border of personal vindictiveness," you have completely misunderstood the nature of a free exchange of views about a publication in the International Republic of Letters. This is not some private matter and it should not be reduced to one by someone who at the same time avoids all substantive discussion and instead favors censorship. (If we engage in implementing a "philosophy of suspicion"--which is denounced by, among others, Vincent Descombes--your reduction of public debate to personality issues and your efforts at censorship themselves become, ipso facto, the object of questioning about your personal motives and your personality.)* My various "Polite Requests" (sent to Helen Arnold and forwarded to you and others) show that I have been extremely patient about a matter regarding which Helen Arnold has finally recognized her guilt, denouncing Stanford University Press in no uncertain terms ("their incompetence and disorganization," as she wrote; it's apparently OK for Helen Arnold to denounce "incompetence" in others, but I'm not allowed to bring out possible instances of her own "incompetence"; is that the principle you want to articulate and uphold?). I am trying to encourage a rational public debate in order to resolve, to the satisfaction of all, all outstanding issues.

Your public credibility is in question as regards your actions at Stanford University Press. You suggest now that we simply "let bygones be bygones." But they are not yet, because of your moral inaction, "bygones." Unlike Helen Arnold, who has admitted her guilt and who began to apologize for her past behavior with regard to the botched Figures of the Thinkable translation contract at SUP, you have yet to make any public statement about that matter. Indeed, it is you who told me privately, after overseeing a contract between me and SUP, that you had made a "mistake" and that that contract had to be renegotiated. Which I was quite willing to do, so long as it was fairly renegotiated and the new contract recognized the commitments already made to me, since I had completed most of the translation and editorial work already, doing so especially in accordance with what the author and I had already planned. You then stated that, since the contract was a "mistake," you and SUP were not bound to honor its terms at all! At various points there were various promises, like how I would be receiving a new contract in a few weeks, how, if I sent in all my work under a contract you said you would not honor, a new contract (whose provisions remained unspecified) would be forthcoming soon thereafter, etc. The worst kind of irresponsible, arbitrary unethical behavior on the part of an editor and her publishing company. You have never admitted in public your own fault regarding a contract whose drafting you supervised. You have never admitted in public that you told me point blank that your company would not honor an already signed contract since you had made a "mistake" in it. You have never admitted in public, Helen T (unlike Helen A,) that you bear direct and heavy responsibility for a labor dispute that has gone on unresolved for soon going on a decade.

First, you need to get right with yourself. Next, you need to admit wrongdoing in a public forum. And then you need to propose appropriate and effective remedies for your wrongful behavior (including pulping of the shabbily "translated" volume your company is now trying to foist on--if you had your way--an unsuspecting public). That is how one lets "bygones be bygones." Not by failing even to address your irresponsibility and your guilt--which you have instead decided to perpetuate by bringing the unaddressed and unresolved errors and the egregious ethical lapses of your previous employment situation to your present employer's doorstep.


*Do you really want to open up questions about your personality, when it is known that you were forced by your former employer, Stanford University Press, to undergo psychiatric/psychological evaluation as a condition of continued employment and were eventually fired or let go by that employer? As I recollect, you made a big public stink about your unfair treatment (though now you want to censor any mention of mine!), and you told me that one of your bosses was a "snake" who shouldn't be trusted at all. 'Nuff said? Or do you want to go further down that dead-end road of introducing personality issues into what should be a strong public debate?