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12:47 PM 6/12/2007

Dear Colleagues,

I'm pleased to announce the publication of my book, From Revolution  to Ethics: May 1968 and Contemporary French Thought (McGill-Queen's  University Press), and my translation of Claude Lefort,  Complications: Communism and the Dilemmas of Democracy, foreword by  Dick Howard (Columbia University Press).

Attached is a publicity announcement for From Revolution to Ethics  with a 20% discount. The table of contents can be found at: http://mqup.mcgill.ca/extra.php?id=574.

Information on Complications can be found at: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cup/catalog/data/978023113/9780231133005.HTM

If they are not of interest to you, could I ask the favor of a few  minutes to order these books for your library?

Many thanks,

Julian Bourg

History Department
Bucknell University

07:53 PM 6/12/2007

Dear Julian Bourg:

Also, a personal note.

The British gentleman who works behind the counter at the Village Voice Bookstore in Paris mentioned, if I understood him correctly, that you had been in earlier the same day (a few weeks ago) and somehow my name came up.  I didn't hear back from him or you, so I wasn't sure if any follow-up was required or desired.

I myself do have some questions about the Lefort volume.  As I had received Claude Lefort's personal authorization to prospect for potential publishers of an English-language translation, I hope that you will find these questions completely proper and fully understandable.  They are also already a matter of public record to the extent that the Translator's Forword for the internet Castoriadis translation The Rising Tide of Insignificancy (The Big Sleep), http://www.notbored.org/cornelius-castoriadis.html includes the following footnote on page xxvii:

Psychoanalyst Joel Whitebook got into the act after being asked by the Castoriadis family to prepare a volume of Castoriadis's psychoanalytic writings. He informed Curtis that the latter could write a translator's foreword for this book if and only if he promised not to make any "political" comments! Philosophy professor Dick Howard later followed suit; editor of a new series in political philosophy at Columbia University Press, Howard stipulated through CUP that Curtis would be allowed to translate a volume written by Socialisme ou Barbarie cofounder Claude Lefort only if Curtis would refrain from writing not only a foreword but explanatory notes, glossary, or any other words at all.

In this respect, I notice on http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cup/catalog/data/978023113/9780231133005.HTM that you have indeed written a Translator's Introduction.  Was Mr. Howard aware of this written contribution on your part, which seems to contradict the "principle" behind his muzzle provision with regard to me?  In both cases, Whitebook and Howard, I took their attempts at prior censorship to reflect a basic insecurity about themselves, combined with fear of any genuine pluralism of opinion.  I'll be interested to see in the book whether you were allowed to include helpful notes or not.

In addition to this general muzzle provision, I was offered an insultingly small translator's fee, just about half of the contract I signed for a translation project with another academic press around the same time. CUP was pleading poverty to justify this amount.  Would you be so kind, in solidarity with a fellow translator, to let me know how much your fee was?  It may be that there was something as unethical about the explanation of the payment offer as there was about the muzzle provision.

I might also note that, in solidarity with other members of our profession, I have always refused as a matter of principle to take work away from fellow translators.  As a professional translator, my only earned income comes from translation, but I have never wanted to take work away from anyone else just as I would not anyone taking bread out of my mouth.  Since I obviously have been kept in the dark about what happened after I refused to be muzzled, I do not know what Dick and CUP might have told you about the prehistory of your own employment at the very same Press.  You are welcome to volunteer any details.

Your answers will be particularly welcome, since you see a general movement from "revolution" to "ethics."  Here is a chance for you to be honest and forthright with me, a fellow member of your own profession.  And as I said, I was left with the impression at the Village Voice that you did want to communicate with me.


David Ames Curtis

09:44 PM 6/12/2007:

Dear David Ames Curtis,

First of all, I have been an admirer of your work for a while, and your introduction to Writing in particular helped me a lot. Furthermore, the promotion of Castoriadis is a task many of us have benefitted from.

Now, as to your questions. Wow, this is all frankly news to me. I have known nothing of your dealings with either Howard or Whitebrook, and from your descriptions, if I had, I would have approached this whole project differently. As it is, none of what you mention was passed on to me. I got the commission through a colleague who had edited the Rosanvallon volume. I did insist on writing an introduction, though I couldn't say why they agreed in my case and not yours. As for the money, I can tell you I didn't do it for that -- I was paid a pittance but I accepted it because I'm untenured and paying my dues. I won't undertake such a project again under such conditions.

Beyond that I don't have much to say. Your revelations are certainly interesting to me and are cause for alarm as to the machinations of the business.



07:28 PM 6/25/2007:

Dear Julian (if I may):

Thanks for your generous and prompt response.  With such thorny issues, I like to allow a little time to breath and reflect.  I've now had time to do so.

First of all, I gratefully welcome your kind words about my Translator's Foreword for Claude Lefort's Writing: The Poltiical Test.  Indeed, I've received a number of communications that can only be described as "fan letters" telling me how much this self-reflective introductory exploration of themes in Lefort's work have helped them in understanding this deliberately difficult author, whose writings are as winding as they are thought-provoking.  I'm glad that my effort has proved useful to you, too.

I also appreciate your kind words about Agora International's website http://www.agorainternational.org -- a collective endeavor now including news and information about Cornelius Castoriadis and Socialisme ou Barbarie as well as bibliographies and webographies of writings by and about Castoriadis in sixteen languages, available to 850+ individual and organizational subscribers.   One of my regrets is that, after we contacted a bibliographer of Lefort's works who told us he would be interested in placing a Lefort bibliography on our website, this person never followed through.  It would have been nice for Agora International to have bibliographies posted for a variety of former S. ou B. members.

Your prompt and forthright response regarding your (as it turns out, quite limited) knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the Lefort/La Complication translation project does you honor.  You were not required to respond, beyond what your own conscience dictated, and yet you did so without hesitation and without avoidance of any of the pointed and difficult questions I posed.  As a fellow member in our profession, I was therefore quite touched by your show of solidarity in this respect.  In particular, the statements "I won't undertake such a project again under such conditions" and "Your revelations are certainly interesting to me and are cause for alarm as to the machinations of the business" freely went beyond the limits of my specific inquiries and testify to your ethical sense of responsibility.

Of course, the ridiculously small sum (by university press standards) I was offered and you apparently were paid by Columbia University Press was never the main issue.  Rather, it is Dick Howard/Columbia University Press's requirement of an acceptance of prior censorship that stands out and was of greatest concern--all the more so since this unethical requirement was later waived once I was eliminated from the picture.  It is quite hypocritical to state a principle and then change it as soon as the personnel change.

From the practical standpoint of publication, I find it hard to blame Lefort himself.  He was given the choice between getting his book published by a prestigious university press and siding with a mere translator on ethical grounds and as a point of principle, which might thereby have put his translation in jeopardy.  He simply followed the path of least resistance, it would seem, by acceding to Dick Howard and CUP's way of proceeding.  On the other hand, I wonder whether he has served himself and his book well by his passive acquiescence to such a demand of prior censorship, given that one theme of the book is the failure of some other authors to keep the question of democracy in the forefront when discussing the character of modern industrial society.  (The broader implications of Socialisme ou Barbarie's radical stand in favor of "executants" in relation to the "directors" of industry and society need not be explored here, though the implications are rather obvious.)

Indeed, some people, outraged about this matter, felt that I should have fired off a angry or challenging letter to Dick Howard as soon as I learned that the translation was published with someone else's translator's foreword after all.  I, however, would prefer a less confrontational approach, merely making our correspondence a matter of public record, so that everyone is free to judge the matter on his or her own.  Without objection on your part, I shall do so by placing our exchange on my professional webpages.

Yours in solidarity,