Wednesday, November 7, 2012

From Louise Michel's "The Imperial Bastard"

I've been reading bits and pieces of Louise Michel's novels, as part of a larger project to get a general sense of what's out there, and naturally with some eye to what might be worth translating in the future. One of the titles I've been looking at today is a massive work, Le Bâtard Impérial, co-written with Jean Winter and published in 1883. One of the major plot-lines of the novel involves Yvan, who has been an executioner in Russian prisoners, and who, through a plot twist that seems to involve mistaken identities and one of Michel's favorite plot devices, the topsy-turvy logic of the legal and prison systems, ends up on the run. At one point, he is close to being dragged down and eaten by by rats, while trying to manage his escape through the sewers. And then a familiar figure appears:
The final victory, with a cadaver for prize, would remain inevitably with the rats.
Suddenly the cover of the sewer lifted, a human head appeared at the edge of the opening and shouted to Yvan:
— Hold on, I am with you!
At the same time the unknown discharged two pistols in the sewer whose vaults repeated the detonations with an appalling din.
Dazzled and blinded by the light, panicked by the noise, the rats, except for some brave sorts, let go, and plunged into the refuse.
It was time!
Yvan felt himself failing, his blood flowing from a hundred wounds.
The struggle had become unequal.
— Give me your hand, said the stranger Yvan.
— Here it is, said the executioner.
— Come on, you are saved!
— I wouldn’t hope.
— Wretch! Don’t you know that the sewers are inaccessible at this moment?
— I was there quite against my will.
— You just escaped from the underground prisons of the Kremlin.
— Not at all.
Well, if you do not want to admit, it does not matter. Besides, I do not ask you for your secrets and only ask you to believe that I am not the Moscow police.
— So much the better.
— You see that you are one of the prisoners of the castle.
— I don’t understand.
— You are the fifth that have escaped in a month.
— Despite the rats?
— Despite the rats.
— It is not possible.
— But if, if, with much courage for example.
Get me out of here, my head is spinning.
Poor wretch, you faint! cried the unknown. Yvan responded with a deep sigh.
— Well, he added, we will understand each other better soon. For the moment it is enough to have saved a man.
And seizing Yvan’s wrist with a herculean strength, he pulled him from the ladder and deposited him on the ground.
Some rats, surprised to see themselves brought into the light outside, let themselves fall back into the muck. The others, the starving hung tight.
Arriving in daylight, Yvan fell on his knees and rolled in a heap on the pavement.
He no longer had a human face.
His face covered in blood and mud, cut by the cruel bites, was unrecognizable, one of his eyes, pierced, formed a great black cavity under his left eyebrow and his torn and punctured ears hung in shreds on his shoulders dripping with blood.
Some rats still gnawed away at that human creature. The stranger grasped them and crushed them one after another.
Yvan had just paid cruelly for the murder of the innocent Paula and the theft of little Paul Vladimir.
And without the stranger he would be dead like the general.
That stranger was named Bakunin. Tall, robust, with a splendid, that young man presented the Russian type in all is purity and all its force.
He did not know what to do with regard to Yvan.
The giant lay on the ground like an inert mass, defeated by a brutal force similar to that which had struck down another helpless creature, poor Paula.
The rats had been as cowardly towards Yvan as his accomplices had been towards Paula.
Bakunin contemplated him with a questioning look.
— He did not come from the prisons of the castle, he said to himself, so he is with the Sophia!
This is perhaps one of our most relentless enemies. I have a good mind to give him to the rats.
Yvan uttered a cry of pain.
Bakunin, absorbed by his thoughts, continued his monologue aloud without paying any attention to him.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An Anarchist-Collectivist View of Collectivist Anarchism

It's been a while since I've been able to post a progress report. The first round of proposals brought a mixed sort of feedback, which led to another long round of research and strategizing. Thanks to everyone who contributed feedback, even if it was of a sort I ultimately couldn't accommodate. 

I'll have more complete details soon, but the good new is that we've settled on an initial set of 6 volumes: a general Bakunin Reader, The Knouto-Germanic Empire, the writings on Mazzini, two additional volumes of essays, and a collectivist anarchist reader, featuring a number of Bakunin's allies. And we have left the door open to do more if it seems appropriate. The emphasis will be on published writings from Bakunin's anarchist period, and the goal will be to take the writings gathered by James Guillaume and Max Nettlau as representative of the collectivist anarchist tradition, and to give them as first-rate a presentation in English as we can. It will be a different sort of collection than those published in French and German, but I am getting the sense from the feedback that I have received that it will fill an important gap in the English-language histories of anarchism. 

I'll be making adjustments to the volumes I had roughed out, and I expect we'll really get started on the work of translation around the first of the year.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A possible plan for an edition in ten volumes

I have now had a chance to do a lot of the work of estimating just how many pages we are dealing with, just how marginal and fragmentary some of the fragments and variants are, etc., and have been laying out tentative volumes. My working assumption at this stage, based on the little feedback I've received, is that there is indeed a desire for a fairly complete edition, but perhaps not such a deep scholarly desire that every fragment and variant needs to make it into a print edition. For the moment, I'm also banishing the thought that we'll run into insurmountable permissions issues regarding anything absolutely essential. And, not having been contradicted by anyone, I'm still assuming that the focus on presenting Bakunin's work, as opposed to, for example, documenting key conversations of which he was a part, is presently the one that fills the largest gap in the published materials. So, based on those assumptions, it looks like an edition of The Collected Works of Bakunin might logically break down into ten volumes, chronologically order, roughly like this:
  1. Early writings and correspondence: 1837-1851 
  2. Writings: 1860-1867 
  3. Writings: 1868-1869 
  4. Writings: 1870-1871 
  5. "The Knouto-Germanic Empire & the Social Revolution:" 1870-1871 
  6. "Against Mazzini" & other writings: 1871 
  7. "Statism and Anarchy" & other writings: 1872-1876 
  8. Correspondence 
  9. Correspondence 
  10. Correspondence, bibliography, index, miscellany
I see no reason to tie our publishing schedule to the chronological order, since it makes at least as much sense to work from general, familar, and/or currently topical to specific, unfamiliar, and of primarily historical interest. But the proposed division does respect some fairly natural divisions in Bakunin's career.

Getting to this stage of planning is a fairly significant relief, given the fragmentary nature of Bakunin's work. But perhaps what seems like a triumph of organization to me looks different to other potential users of the work, so, once again, I would welcome any and all feedback.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Strategizing a bit

There are inevitably choices to be made about any "collected works" project. Even a "complete works" collection generally has to draw some specific lines around what will count as "complete," generally by limiting what will count as "works." In the case of Bakunin, the most complete writings are his letters, addresses, and a body of shorter articles, generally addressing fairly specific occasions. His longest and most ambitious published works were nearly all extracted from larger, unfinished manuscripts. It's not an uncommon problem, but it does pose a particular set of problems, not the least of which is that it takes some real work to wade through all the letter and manuscript fragments to see what there is to choose from. 

The two attempts at a collected works in French have tackled the problems in different ways. James Guillaume's six-volume French Œuvres de Michel Bakounine included selected works from the period between 1868 and 1871, with a number of works drawn from Bakunin's manuscripts or supplemented with previously unpublished material. Arthur Lehning's eight-volume Archives Bakunin was much more inclusive in terms of manuscript materials and previously published works, but covered only the period from 1870 to 1875, and features many texts available only in their original language. Since works appeared in nine different languages, Lehning's collection, though tremendously well-organized, requires a fairly extensive skillset to make full use of. That later edition also included a great deal of material by other authors, intended to provide context for Bakunin's works. The CD-ROM of the Œuvres complètes de Michel Bakounine, produced by L’Institut International d’Histoire Sociale, is extremely complete, including published works, manuscripts, correspondence and miscellaneous other material, and provides nearly all of the texts not originally written in French in French translation, but one needs to know a bit about what they are looking for in order to make very good use of it.

For an English edition, aimed—hopefully, for my publisher's sake—at an audience a little broader than libraries and academics, it seems to me that the structure of the edition itself ought to help guide readers and researchers through the wealth of material. The initial proposal was to begin with an anthology for more casual readers, and for those who want to get a taste of what the larger project will have to offer. But, ideally, each step should also fulfill the functions of satisfying a particular group of readers, while tiding the completists over until the next stage. Having now at least looked briefly at the majority of the texts included in the CD-ROM edition, it seems to me that we have a fairly straightforward set of categories:
  1. THE MAJOR (PARTIALLY) PUBLISHED WORKS: Significant, stand-alone sections of The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution (from which God and the State was drawn) and The Political Theology of Mazzini and the International have published been published in English, but in both cases large manuscript sections remain to be translated. Statism and Anarchy has been published twice, and the more recent Cambridge University edition may be both complete and accurate enough that no new translation is needed. But, no matter how much retranslation seems to be required, a complete and well-annotated presentation of these three major works seems to be a priority second only to producing a representative anthology of Bakunin's writings.
  2. OTHER PUBLISHED WORKS AND KEY MANUSCRIPT WRITINGS: Beyond the large manuscripts which have seen at least some publication, there is a wealth of published articles, letters to periodicals, transcripts of addresses and documents from the various organizations in which Bakunin participated. And there there are unpublished manuscripts which are likely to be of particular interest to contemporary readers. It seems to me that this material—which ranges from Bakunin's earliest writings in the late 1830s until his last productions in the 1870s—could easily be presented chronologically in a number of annotated volumes, including works by other writers only where it is essential.
  3. CORRESPONDENCE: Bakunin's correspondence was extensive, and over a thousand letters have survived. At least a couple of well-indexed volumes seems essential to a serious Collected Works project.
  4. CONTEXTUAL WRITINGS: Both previous editions have attempted to incorporate enough material by other writers to give a context for Bakunin's own writings, particularly in the period of the First International. The contextual material seems to be of two sorts: Material relating to the conflicts in the First International and works by other collectivist anarchists which expands on Bakunin's work. My sense is that both functions might be well served by a translation of Guillaume’s The International: Documents and Recollections and perhaps some sort of anthology of collectivist anarchism, collecting key works by Guillame, César De Paepe, Adhémar Schwitzguébel, etc.
  5. MINOR MANUSCRIPT WRITINGS RESEARCH AIDS, BIBLIOGRAPHY, ETC: If we find that there has been support for publishing a number of the other categories of material, then I imagine it will only make sense to make the effort to translate whatever is left over, and to produce the sorts of cumulative indexes, complete historical bibliographies, collections of biographical material, etc., that are likely to have been practically collecting themselves over a number of years of research. 
If this strategy seems to make sense, then there is an additional question about whether or not all of the texts translated for the project should be published in book form, or if there is perhaps a class of documents which only merit online publication.

In the end, however, all of this needs to make sense to more than just me, so please, please, please let me know if the general strategy that I've laid out here looks like it will produce a Collected Works of Bakunin that you would use, enjoy, even lay down a little cold, hard cash for.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Welcome and a Beginning

Welcome to the Bakunin Library, which is part of a project to translate and publish the work of anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876) in English. The blog will feature news about the translation project and the eventual publication by PM Press. It will also feature working translations of previously untranslated works, transcriptions of earlier translations, and material relating to the life and thought of Bakunin. Without further ado, I would like to launch the site with a new, slightly rough translation of an early essay by a young Bakunin on Shakespeare's Hamlet, an apparently unpublished work from 1837. 


If each of the works of Shakespeare testifies in a particular fashion to the genius of the great master, Hamlet has long passed as the most perfect among them, and has always been the object of the most lively sympathy and the most impassioned amazement. We can only judge otherwise regarding the truth of that opinion by submitting it to an attentive overview and a detailed comparison with all the works of Shakespeare. But we need only study Hamlet itself in order to convince ourselves that this drama is a great creation, issued from the deepest depths of human sentiment, permeated and illuminated by the eternal flame of Right and Morals, a creation which we can rank with the most accomplished works of Art. And when all the fullness of the heart and soul, when our Spirit, carried away by the magical force which is present there, is conveyed into the domain of blessed and sacred veneration, then moved to the innermost depths of our existence and plunged into the contemplation of the beautiful, we feel a sacred quiver, of joy and suffering mixed, and under the influence of mysterious internal affinities which render us indissolubly kin to that marvelous creation, we are transported into an ideal world and go from this transitory homeland to our eternal homeland; we lose the consciousness and memory of self, and at that moment our Spirit returns to itself to establish its free autonomy. We contemplate ourselves, our enchantment becomes the object of our thought, and reason demands that our personality give an account of the individual delight that it has felt. It wants to know why we are so devoted to this feeling of joy, and the heart does not oppose this demand. It is not sparing with its delight; it wishes to extend its happiness to all, and wants to explain it in order to communicate it to others with an equal luminousness. In that way, it relies on contemplative reason and what it sees, the understanding determining what to include in the words with the aid of which the ardent heart tells other hearts, or other individualities, what it feels.
And in contrast with the soul which delights in a work of art in its integrity and its fullness, the autonomous Spirit which expresses its intuitions must break down that fullness into fragment, in order to recreate at the end of its path, passing gradually from one part to another, the creation that it analyses, in its original, organic connections; it must begin by isolating its own Spirit from the incarnation of that Spirit, or by isolating itself, by its internal organization, from the external image. And as its beautiful Soul is the unique source of its beautiful body, it must be the first object of our study.
If we consider the principal content of Hamlet, we find from the beginning a general question: what is it that justifies its principal, fundamental traits?
A brother has been murdered by his own brother, to satisfy a criminal passion: a horrible crime which calls out to the heavens, like the first fratricide!
The crime has not yet been uncovered; it has been perpetrated by the King, who concentrates between his hands both justice and the exercise of justice. And though it remains to be unveiled, the murder once proven must be punished and the outraged Grandeur of the law much be revenged and regain its inviolable sanctity. In truth, the will of the Lord much be executed as much in heaven as on Earth. For sentiments, and for intentions, the internal judge exists. It is at the moment when intentions become a culpable action, and that this penetrates the consciousness of another, that the harmony of the universal symphony which resounds eternally is broken, that dissonance appears; this must be eliminated, and humanity waits then to avenge its legitimate and eternal right: it wants to contemplate its right in its non-transitory sanctity. A single sun must shine eternally, and if it is impossible to prevent some dark clouds from rising above the earth, we must prevent them from settling between it and the sun. And just as it is true that God is present on the earth and that humanity finds itself before him forever, it is also true that every crime must be judged and punished. There must also not exist any revealed crime which is not made the object of public justice, and whoever hinders the sacred right of the inviolability of persons ceases themselves to be inviolable. But when the law is still not applied in all of its extent, when its external existence does not correspond entirely to it internal content, it reigns in the imperfect image of a universal Nemesis, or of a singular Vengeance, and when in similar circumstances a crime is perpetrated which escapes public justice, we ask who has the right to avenge it; because Vengeance, in its form, is always unjust, we ask who by natural necessity must exercise vengeance and will exercise it. The response is easy, and it rises straight from the heart. Blood calls for vengeance and its terrible cry must resound in the throbbing heart of the being closest by blood. He is a living member of the outraged family, and he is bound to restore the inviolability of that higher Individual, an inviolability which has been violated and would have disappeared as long as the crime has not destroyed its author, and will not be destroyed in its own annihilation. The father killed, the son becomes the head of the family, bound to preserve the saintly memory of his father in his noble heart, as he is also bound to restore the sanctity of the Family by the punishment of the guilty. As the King is exempt from the power of the laws, it is Hamlet who is called to be the Avenger of his Father.
But as judge, as avenger, he must be assured of the crime, so that the vengeance is not a second crime; the guilty must be unmasked and the judge must arrive at a complete certainty before initiating his punishment. It is in the precise, attentive and conscientious character of the inquest and the unveiling of the criminal that resides the degree of evolution of the social life, the subtlety of the sentiments and the morals of the Judge or Avenger. Each senses that right exists in general and that it must be applied, and even poorly educated individuals are conscious of it; because right is the unique and universal element which corrects and preserves all. However, the most educated being often has difficulty knowing precisely what is right in all particular cases. Right, the same as any idea, becomes effective only when its application fits entirely with the cases; those cases become the domain of right only when they find themselves applied and universally recognized. Each knows that the fratricide must be punished; Hamlet has been convinced from the beginning that in the absence of public justice, it was up to him to execute the secret Verdict of the supreme law, on which silence is never imposed, because he is the only son of the murdered brother, and that certainty becomes the occult source of all his feelings and actions. But he still does not know if the crime has truly been perpetrated, if the brother has really been killed by his brother, and his great and luminous Soul must doubt it until the moment when the crime will become as clear as day.
Now the crime is deeply concealed and to reveal his suspicions or to enter into public inquiries would be repugnant, as much to the uncertain sides of Hamlet’s moral Sentiment as to outward reason. That is why the Judge and Avenger must be assisted by the all-powerful Justice, from which no criminal can escape. Every criminal who offer themselves involuntarily and unconsciously to its unlimited power, puts itself into the hands of that justice; the one, hearing the verdict of his conscience, relieves itself of the crime by recognizing it freely; the other, vanquished by a passing or belated fear, does not hear the voice of that internal judge who pronounces his punishment and strives to stifle, to conceal forever and from all the crime that he has perpetrated. But it is this desire to hide an unknown act that gives rise to suspicion, and the suspicion gives rise to the necessity of warding off the investigations, and of insuring his impunity by killing the one who conceived it. In short, the criminal always betrays himself. The poorest tree bears the worst fruits and it is by the fruits that one recognized the tree. Such was the case of Claudius, king of Denmark.

Thus, the affection that Hamlet nurtured in his childhood for his unfortunate father, a sentiment which drives him to avenge the death and the outrage suffered by him, the conscientious prudence with which he convinces himself of the crime, on the one hand, and on the other the way in which the murderer unmasks himself, little by little and unwittingly, are the principal Springs of the great Judgment that Shakespeare holds out to us as the Organ of the supreme history. And now the universal content of the drama is legitimated by its necessity; however, that does not exclude the Feeling of Melancholy which plunges its deep root into the fact that in order to reestablish the closest blood kinship it is absolutely necessary to cut another natural link just as close. And as strong and just as the sentiment is which drives Hamlet to avenge his father, the assassin is the brother of his Father; for that reason, the more profound the sentiment of right is within him, the less it must be based only on the presentiment and on the appeal to Vengeance proclaimed by the Ghost of his father, because an evil demon wrapped in the image, spectacle of the night, could try to fool him. No more can it be based on the confusion which betrays the powerful criminal Uncle at witnessing the Pantomime representing his crime, because that confusion could have different causes, nor even on the embarrassment of the Queen herself, because two testimonies are required to establish the truth. And we see that the ghost of the father appears in vain several times to Hamlet, that in vain move the deep feelings which the Actor exploits when he recites before him the story of the murder of Priam. He never makes up his mind. And it is only reading the treacherous letter of the King who has sent him to his death, only the sending of twenty thousand men to Poland to conquer a patch of earth which can incite him to make a decision (but not to act):

Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honour's at the stake. How stand I then,
That have a father kill'd, a mother stain'd,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep…

O, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!

But here again he always tarries, until the moment when wounded Laertes reveals to him that the king has poisoned the foil which has wounded them, him and Hamlet, and that the poison destined only for the latter has turned around against himself and his vengeance.
Now the measure of the crime is achieved and now just barely, because all the subsequent crimes of the king will be the consequences of the first, the fatal consequences of the fratricide. Now the King succumbs, in a manner as unexpected as his brother, killed by the blade that he himself poisoned. Hamlet’s premonition has become reality.

Let it work;
For 'tis the sport to have the engineer
Hoist with his own petard

And Horatio pronounces the same thing at the end of the drama:

“So shall you hear... of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause,
And, in this upshot, purposes mistook
Fall'n on the inventors' heads.”


To this disaster is also directly linked the destiny of the guilty Queen. But if Hamlet had the right to exercise vengeance on his Uncle, why is it not extended to his mother, who, obeying a criminal passion, betrayed her first Husband and unwittingly participated in the crimes of his brother? Because nothing can destroy its hypothesis (Voraussetzung), its root, without destroying itself; Self-destruction is thus a meaningless word (Ungedanke), because the Mother has carried her son in her heart and brought him into the world in sufferings, and because nothing can or should break the sanctity of those links.
The Ghost of the unfortunate and intransigent Father himself pronounces these words:

But, howsoever thou pursuest this act,
Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive
Against thy mother aught: leave her to heaven
And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge…

And when Hamlet, revealing to his Mother the picture of her crimes, loses his senses to the point of frenzy, then the Ghost reappears to his son a second in order to “...whet thy almost blunted purpose,” but at the same time to soothe him:

But, look, amazement on thy mother sits:
O, step between her and her fighting soul:
Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works:
Speak to her, Hamlet.

And Hamlet speaks to her, he rises with a full and burning indignation against her crime, but at the same time says to her as a loving son:

“I must be cruel only to be kind.”

With the death of the queen—apparently accidental—but which is in reality the fruit of the secret, and bloodthirsty designs of the king, the crime falls back on his head.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]