2014-2015

2014 has been a fascinating, productive year. I got an early jump on translation projects in late 2013 and kept up a fairly blistering pace through March, establishing to my own satisfaction that, if necessary, upwards of a million words of translation is possible in a year, without entirely devouring the rest of my life. And I completed a stack of working translations: Proudhon’s Theory of Property, Déjacque’s Humanisphere, Jean Grave’s Adventures of Nono, Charles Malato’s New Caledonian Tales, Flora Tristan’s The Emancipation of Woman, most of Ravachol’s writings, and lots of other interesting odds and ends, including most of the material for the Bakunin Reader and a batch of writings by Fourier. I also spent some time working on 18th century French texts, and started the slow process of getting myself up to speed in a couple of other European languages, picking away at some work in Spanish and Italian. As a means of consolidating my translation skills and developing confidence, it was fantastic. I don’t take the difficulties for granted, but it’s clear to me that the translation workload I’m facing for the next several years is far from the biggest of my worries.

Having translated more in a few months than I had previously produced in any one year, I felt free to divert my attention to the wealth of archival material made available online, and spent the next few months getting a sense of what is in the digitized Proudhon archives at Besançon and the various anarchist-related archives put online by the IISH. The Proudhon material has been a revelation. Access to the Louise Michel manuscripts is a joy that it will take a lot of strenuous work to exhaust. And the odds and ends tucked away in the Nettlau and Descaves papers are remarkable. But the “downside,” if you want to call it that, of all of this new access has been that the bar has been raised for most of the book projects I’ve been working on, so much of the second half of 2014 has been spent adjusting and expanding those manuscripts. What I had hoped would be a triumphant publishing cycle turned out to be a bust, as the big introductory anthology I’m working on, Anarchies and Anarchisms: 1840-1920, ended up requiring a bit more basic research than I had expected, but I expect to have that project, and the Emma Goldman anthology, Anarchy and the Sex Question, off my plate early in 2015. In the meantime, the research that was necessary (on basic questions regarding the history of terms like anarchy and anarchism) promises not only to make the anthology a much better book, but to fuel some additional projects down the road.

2014 was another year of laying low and treading water for Corvus Editions, although I’m very happy with the way that the packaging of the pamphlet line has come together, and with the reception for the new line of non-anarchist titles (Emperor Norton’s proclamations, Symmes’ hollow earth writings, 19th century airship flaps, etc.) Corvus also expanded back, in a very small way, into the retail world, but unless you are in the wilds of southern Oregon I don’t you’ll see the effects. However, I’m happy to say that increased activity on the Corvus front will be the first of 2015’s projects, with a monthly series of bundled pamphlets arriving sometime in January. And if that project finds enough support to get the press on a firmer foundation, then I’ll steadily expand the offerings again and look into the possibility of a new webstore and some further retail expansion.

Moving forward into 2015 on all other fronts, book publication has to take center stage. This is, of course, the blank spot in my resume. As productive as I’ve been for years in a number of fields, I still don’t have my name on the spine of a book. I’ve been hovering maddeningly close this last year, with a stack of projects promised, but each of them has been good enough to demand that key corners not be cut, even if, in some cases, I probably could have got away with it. The choices have been hard this last year. I’m as impatient as any of my publishers to clear the desk and get onto other projects. But, for instance, Anarchies and Anarchisms has gone, with a couple of months’ extra work, from a fairly predictable introductory collection to a work of documentary history that I find exciting, and that I think will have something to say to a range of audiences. And that extra work will be the foundation for most of the introductions and essays left to write this next year, so it will not be necessary to revisit or avoid the same questions when it comes time to introduce the Bakunin Reader or The Humanisphere. As a bonus, I now have most of the research done for an account of Proudhon’s use of the language of anarchy, which I’ll wrestle into a manuscript as time allows.

Once Anarchies and Anarchisms and the Goldman book are out the door, the Bakunin Reader takes center stage. There is one translation by a colleague that I need to review, a few of my own translations to clean up, and an intro to write. I hope to keep the introductory material fairly short and sweet, but introductions frequently have minds of their own. In any event, the Bakunin Library project is the one thing in my life that genuinely feels behind schedule, and making certain that things are pushed back any more is one of two must-do tasks for the year. That will mean finishing the reader and making substantial headway on translation for a couple of other volumes. I planned ahead for delays last year, so parts of several shorter volumes are already prepared, and a new edition of God and the State is close to together, so I’m nowhere near panic, although I’ll be more comfortable once the Reader is complete. One of my hopes is that the steadily increasing interest in the Bakunin Library will eventually take some of the French translation off my shoulders, which would speed things up considerable. We shall see. The other must-complete task is The Humanisphere, which needs a finally revision and an introduction. I was fortunate enough to get some expert collaboration on the translation from a friend, but doing battle with Déjacque’s prose is ultimately a fight I’m going to have to carry myself, and there is a fine line between making the work understandable to modern readers and stripping it of its sometimes mad character. This is another place where those months of non-stop translation are coming in handy, as confidence is one of the most important elements in shaping an adequate translation of a writer like Déjacque. I’ve got some research into Fourier to do before the introduction to that volume can be completed, but, at the moment, all roads seem to be leading towards Fourier for me anyway, and some of that work has already been done as part of the background to Anarchies and Anarchisms. Once these two projects are out of the way, and on those days when I can’t stand to look at them, the top of the project pile is the collection of Ravachol’s writings and three short volumes of Proudhon. The first requires me to come to at least preliminary terms with “the Ravachol Myth,” which will be a pleasure, and the other volumes require varying amounts of additional translation and simple introductions. I am really at the point where I need to get a game plan for my Proudhon publications, but I’m content for now to let those volumes come along at whatever pace my research allows.

It isn’t clear at this point what else there will be time to do, with Corvus and a stack of manuscripts to deal with. My “new” translation goals are largely to complete a number of works that are near completion, to delve a bit more deeply into 18th century texts, and to continue to work on material from Proudhon’s manuscript writings. Publication of The Theory of Property probably needs to wait until the rest of the theoretical material from Poland can be transcribed and translated. Similarly, my revision of The General Idea of the Revolution and publication of the Philosophy of Progress volume are both tied to some translation from the Economy manuscripts. This year probably has to be as product-focused as last year was exploratory. Fortunately, I feel like I’m much, much better prepared than I was this time last year.

The one downside of 2014 was the real lack of feedback. Despite the production of a lot of diverse material, and upgrades to the archives, it has been unusually quiet in terms of responses. And feedback, even just of the “I liked that” or “I didn’t like that” variety, really helps to cut down some of the time that I spend trying to decide what, among the dauntingly plentiful options for research and translation, I should pursue. Even combative engagements help diminish that drowning feeling.

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