And then… everything changes!

The Philosophical Preamble

It never ceases to amaze me how simply starting off on a project kicks off a complex process of critique and reassessment – which, if attended to, can refine and hone it’s goals. This has been the case in all the worthwhile musical, artistic and (for want of a better term) critical projects that I’ve participated in.

For me this is the most basic manifestation of “praxis” in my own life: the exercise of a reflective self-critique on my own actions with the aim of focussing them and developing the philosophy/thinking embedded in them. When I was involved in Information Technology training I came across the idea of “action learning” which was a simplified version of the same idea applied to the work-place. So even the world of commerce recognises the benefits of a restricted critique (though critique only your own work practices, don’t dare even think about the basis of the entire system!)

This idea of Theory in Action drives me to the conclusion that action (and sometimes even any action) can be the most efficient technique to drive thought forward. This requires accepting (and even welcoming) mis-steps – being convinced that well-formed critique of each step (both self-imposed and from others) will reveal the nature of any error and suggest the better way forward. And all the time the theory or philosophy which underpins the enterprise can be refined and honed.


Well what does all that mean for this project? Well, basically over the last few days I have realised that to make the outcomes of this project worthwhile I need to seriously expand my (self-imposed) remit and radically rethink my goals. Which will definitely mean my initial timetable is thrown out the door.

It also means a recognition that since this has already happened – it is altogether likely it will happen again (and possibly again and again…). Everything is provisional!

And that means?

Well, the initial goal of this project was simply to compile pre-existing translations of the texts from Internationalee Situationniste into individual ‘facsimile issues’ that would follow the format of the originals. My main contribution was to be in the compilation and formatting of each issue.

My goal has now expanded to ensuring that, to the best of my ability, each text is as readable as possible in English, while still remaining true to the original texts in French.

The important qualification

Now probably the most important phrase here is ’to the best of my ability’. This effort will inevitably be less than perfect due to at least the following factors:

    I am not an expert on situationist theory HOWEVER I have had a very strong and active interest over decades.

    My own knowledge of French is limited (to be brutally honest, very limited) – I certainly make no claims to being a good translator HOWEVER with my own knowledge and the assistance of the available tools I am able to raise questions about the phrasing of pre-existing translations.

    On top of all that I have suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the past 20+ years, and I’m all too aware of the wild variations I experience in my own cognitive abilities and energy levels!

If those factors make you doubtful about the outcome out my endeavours – good! Be forewarned. But as I said in the “philosophic preamble” I believe that generally an action (even a misstep) is better than no action.

I am motivated to act – and so I have.

What motivated the change in goals?

Over the past few days I’ve begun the process of translating some of the texts that remain untranslated from French. I started doing this mainly for my own use. But…this process has given me a new perspective.

Most of the texts I was working on have not already been translated for a good reason: they are in no way central to Situationist thinking – mainly being news items and critiques of then current events/writings. They are, on the whole, of mainly historical rather than theoretical interest.

My first drafts – a very literal word-for-word translation – yielded results which were in very dense and very convoluted English. All of which is what you’d expect: there are marked differences between French and English grammar, and also (I believe) in what is considered to be good, clear writing in each language. The French seem quite content to read very long sentences containing multiple subjects – because their grammar caters for it. In English this isn’t the case – we don’t have gendered nouns or the variety of verb conjugations to allow for it. It is very easy to get lost in a long English sentence.

So my next step was to make the English easily readable – which took at least 2-3 times as long as the literal translation, because every change made for clarity has to be referenced back to the original French to make sure the meaning hasn’t been compromised.

Then came the revelation!

When I reread some of the pre-existing translations, parts of them read in a very similar way to the first drafts I had produced myself.

It was then that I began to suspect that perhaps some of the difficulty I have experienced in reading certain Situationist texts is actually due to the translation being overtly literal (in the sense of strictly adhering to a word-for-word transcription).

Realising that was the clincher. My initial goal of providing a “facsimile” of the Internationale Situationniste in English is fairly meaningless if I don’t also ensure the texts are also as readable as I can make them.

Hence the decision to do more.

The game plan

I’ll be approaching the project in 3 distinct stages.

Stage One

Once I have proofread each of my draft issues individually I will post them to the site. This will happen over the next few months, hopefully all of the initial drafts will be available by the end of the year (2013).

These drafts are formatted in a way which approximates the original layout – but which makes no attempt to duplicate it. These drafts will be in pdf format and will contain only pre-existing translations – unedited but corrected for obvious typos. With the exception of a few captions to photos, any text which has not previously been translated into English will appear in the original French.

This will get me half-way to realising the initial goal I had for this project – but will only take a small fraction of the work to come!

Stage Two

Once the rough drafts are available I will start the process of going through every text in each issue and comparing them to the original French to see if they can edited for clarity.

This will be done one issue at a time. As I complete any editing I will post each text in three versions:

    The original English text (if it exists)

    The original French text

    The edited English text – with alterations highlighted and footnotes to explain the reasoning behind the less-than-obvious changes.

My progress will easy to follow via the posts uploaded to this blog.

Stage Three

Once the text for each issue is finalised I will compile them into a final draft. At that point I will work on formatting the issue with the aim of producing a more faithful ‘facsimile’ of the original issue .

These will be made available on the blog as they are completed. I’m hoping to have a finalised IS #1 before March next year (2014).

An invitation for involvement

I make no pretensions to being able to provide a definitive English-language version of the 12 issues of Internationale Situationniste. This is simply my contribution to that ongoing project.

Do with it what you will. If my efforts provide a basis for others to build on – or even an instructive counter-example that is fine.

I may well be able to complete this project by myself, given time – but a better result will be achieved with informed critical input from others.

If you feel motivated to give your input please do it. But please do it on the basis of achieving a better outcome overall. I more than welcome input that is intended to move the project forward.

A Final Disclaimer

While all of this sounds great while I type it – the reality of my life is that I am at the mercy of my health. Those who have any experience of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome will know only too well what I mean.

It is altogether possible (perhaps even likely) that I will have to press the Pause button on this project at the drop of a hat, potentially for months at a time – or even to ultimately press Eject if my health dictates it.

My hope is that even should that happen, the work I’ve managed to complete up to that point will still be of some value to some people.

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