Excerpt from the Translator/Editor's Foreword to

Figures of the Thinkable
(including "Passion and Knowledge")

With this second in a series of electro-Samizdat editions, which follows upon the publication a year ago of The Rising Tide of Insignificancy (The Big Sleep) [RTI(TBS)] book-length translations into English of Cornelius Castoriadis's Carrefours du labyrinthe (Crossroads in the labyrinth) series are now complete.[1] Figures of the Thinkable (including Passion and Knowledge) [FT(P&K)] contains, with one exception, all texts selected for the single French posthumous volume of Castoriadis's Carrefours writings -- Figures du pensable (FP) -- plus one last major Carrefours text yet to be published in book form in English.[2] One task accomplished, others may begin.


It was, however, with constant self-questioning, enormous hesitation, and considerable trepidation that the anonymous Translator/Editor (T/E) began electro-Samizdat publication of Cornelius Castoriadis/Paul Cardan writings in December 2003.[3] These concerns have now been addressed and alleviated to a great extent by the vast out-pouring of interest and support the first such volume has garnered. Over 5,600 visits for this "public document file" were recorded in the first seven months, according to Bill Brown of the NOT BORED! website.[4] While internet statistics are not wholly reliable, it is fair to state that probably more people have obtained copies of this edition than of any other Castoriadis volume previously published in English.[5] A major article, in the leading American academic journal, on the controversy surrounding publication brought knowledge of Castoriadis's work to the nearly 100,000 subscribers of The Chronicle of Higher Education, most of the copies of which are reportedly seen by multiple readers.[6] Courses now propose RTI(TBS) chapters as suggested reading for young students quite adept at and used to procuring information on the web. And various left journals, on line and in print, have announced to their readers the easy availability of RTI(TBS). By all available accounts,[7] our first risky experiment in Castoriadis/Cardan internet publication for the third millennium has been an unmitigated success. Absent any positive or conciliatory movement on the part of the Castoriadis literary heirs (they have in fact rejected offers of third-party mediation), this initial success therefore seems to warrant a second trial.

Moreover, this particular electro-Samizdat publication may have produced salutary effects beyond simply making specific Castoriadis/Cardan writings available to the public in English and bringing broader and greater attention to his work. It is now announced that the Castoriadis family's "Association Cornelius Castoriadis" (ACC) will be publishing a further collection of Castoriadis's interviews, lectures, and dialogues in February 2005 under the title Une societe a la derive (A society adrift).[8] This forthcoming editions du Seuil volume, edited by Enrique Escobar, Myrto Gondicas, and Pascal Vernay, is reportedly to include the original French versions of such RTI(TBS) texts as "The Gulf War Laid Bare," which the French Editors had neglected to include in the final Carrefours volume, FP. Indeed, the new book's title itself derives from one of the many texts catalogued and brought to light as a public service in the RTI(TBS) Appendix, where it was also stated that "translations of some of these texts may be prepared at a later date for publication in an electronic volume devoted to Castoriadis's post-S. ou B. public interventions" (p. 388). We are glad if our first unauthorized electronic edition and its Appendix promising additional such publications in English have finally prompted the ACC to reconsider their former, highly restrictive editorial policy regarding Castoriadis writings not yet gathered together in book form in French.[9] Mme Castoriadis, we note quite specifically, had previously stated in categorical terms that FP would be the final collection of non-seminar Castoriadis texts the literary executors would publish.

On other fronts, however, the circumstances leading to this electro-Samizdat publication have changed very little. While the ACC's website no longer greets visitors, including non-insider members of the ACC itself, with a "Forbidden access" notice,[10] the ACC itself continues to function in the undemocratic manner described in the RTI(TBS) Translator's Foreword. Still no word, over 1,200 days later, what ACC President Pierre Vidal-Naquet and the ACC's governing Council have done to fulfill their promise to study and/or act upon a suggestion that this Council be provided with an "anti-Council" chosen by lot among the rank-and-file membership. The Council persists in announcing decisions already taken, instead of seriously soliciting effective input and sincerely fostering widespread participation while disseminating relevant information in a timely manner -- which, of course, would have been more in line with the direct democratic principles of the individual after whom their nonprofit group is named. The posts for the organization's statute-mandated Publication Committee remain vacant after the mysterious resignation of its members, and the ACC Council itself, in making publishing decisions in the absence of a duly and publicly appointed Publication Committee open to all who wish to join, persists in its undemocratic practice of holding multiple offices. Blacklisting of speakers proceeds unabated at conferences and meetings devoted to Castoriadis's work, and the labor dispute between the ACC/Castoriadis literary executors and Castoriadis's long-time American translator and friend David Ames Curtis, which occasioned the first electro-Samizdat publication, regrettably remains entirely unresolved.[11] The Castoriadis heirs and the ACC have also rejected a direct request to state that they would not sue if a public account Curtis gave of his experience as Castoriadis's translator were to be published, refusing at the same time to state what, if any, statements in this text they consider legally actionable.[12] And so FT(P&K) now appears in the present electronic public document file, available to all without hindrance.


An anonymous public service translation and editing of Castoriadis/Cardan texts posed some particular, and potentially serious, problems. The first was the nature of anonymous (or pseudonymous) publication itself: no real name is attached to the work. Fortunately, Curtis responded immediately upon reading the electronically published text RTI(TBS), anticipating potential objections to an account of controversial matters delivered in an anonymous Translator's Foreword. In two statements -- here and and here -- he personally vouched for the accuracy of all the information contained therein. Thus, anyone who might wish to dispute the factualness of that account could confront in the public domain an individual with an actual name.[13]

A second difficulty of publishing anonymous translations is that there is no direct address to which observations and corrections regarding the volume in question might be sent. Again, Curtis came in handy. In RTI(TBS)'s "On the Translation," Curtis's e-mail address curtis@msh-paris.fr had appeared in a footnote. Some people evidently contacted him directly to impart their observations and offer their corrections, for he subsequently posted for a period of time a list of minor problems needing rectification in RTI(TBS)'s first edition. A corrected edition of RTI(TBS) will appear soon after the first edition of FT(P&K). It may certainly be hoped that Curtis will again willingly receive and pass along such information, so that any possible publicly observed mistakes in the present volume may eventually be corrected.

And yet, given the controversial nature of this kind of an unauthorized edition, it is remarkable how few objections were actually lodged. In fact, the only two persons to have written in protest to the NOT BORED! website were two former members of Socialisme ou Barbarie. Daniel Blanchard -- mentioned in the RTI(TBS) Translator's Foreword as one of the people Mme Castoriadis had attempted to blacklist from participation in the June 2003 Cerisy Colloquium on Castoriadis -- is known in particular as the person who introduced Situationist International's Guy Debord to Socialisme ou Barbarie. Along with his wife, Helen Arnold -- one of the rare Americans to have participated in S. ou B. -- he objected vehemently to Bill Brown about this RTI(TBS) Translator's Foreword. Brown -- whose two-decades-old NOT BORED! 'zine is of pro-Situ provenance (though Brown has also published in its pages a remarkable series of penetrating and intelligent review articles on Castoriadis's Political and Social Writings) -- replied to Blanchard and Arnold that they were certainly welcome and entirely free to write anything they themselves might want about this Foreword, and that he, Brown, would gladly publish their views, too, on his website. Rebuffed by such a reasonable libertarian response, Blanchard and Arnold retreated from any further contact with him and even refused a subsequent offer from Brown to set aside the controversy surrounding RTI(TBS) in order to discuss with him, instead, the actual content and substance of that volume. Brown was subsequently quite surprised and dismayed to learn that Arnold had neglected to inform him that she had in fact become the scab translator engaged by the Castoriadis heirs to replace Curtis on a permanent basis!

Once this evident conflict of interest was revealed, Arnold persisted in being the only person to criticize RTI(TBS) publicly. Besides her, no one else was willing to go on record in the Chronicle article against this electro-Samizdat volume. Dick Howard, who had been criticized along with Joel Whitebook in the RTI(TBS) Foreword, admirably avoided all negative comments, and Whitebook attributed the controversy to the sorts of psychoanalytic problems that arise in families, thereby squarely placing the onus on the Castoriadis heirs. Several scurrilous comments, bordering upon character assassination and delivered without attribution in the article, were laughed off by Curtis there. Again, it was quite fortunate and most appreciated that Curtis was willing to stand up, endorse, and back up the account given in RTI(TBS)'s Translator's Foreword, for otherwise there would be no possibility of a publicly accountable confrontation of views, but only one set of anonymous points of view vying with another one. Arnold stands alone as a critic compromised by her now-exposed self-interest.[14] Electro-Samizdat publication has become so noncontroversial that its sudden broad respectability is now almost embarrassing and disconcerting as it was initially unexpected [...]

-- January 2005

Translator/Editor's footnotes:

[1] Besides Crossroads in the Labyrinth (CL), these English-language book-length volumes include Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy (PPA), World in Fragments (WIF), parts of the Castoriadis Reader (CR), and RTI(TBS).

[2] We say major because, as noted in the RTI(TBS) Translator's Foreword, a number of shorter, occasional pieces from the Kairos section of the second Carrefours volume, Domaines de lÕhomme (DH), along with the Preface to DH, have yet to be translated into English.

[3] The reasons for this move were explained in the RTI(TBS) Translator's Foreword -- both explicitly, in its second section, and implicitly, in the following section, devoted metaphorically to the obscenity involved in making "sausage and legislation."

[4] Another 1,360 downloads occurred on the alternate website posting undertaken by Greek artist and long-time Castoriadis friend, Costis.

[5] An exception may be sales figures for some mimeographed pamphlets published by London Solidarity, but no information has been obtained on this score.

[6] See Scott McLemee's news essay, The Strange Afterlife of Cornelius Castoriadis: The Story of a Revered European Thinker, a Literary Legacy, Family Squabbles, and Internet Bootlegging. It is thus not out of the question that upwards of a quarter million individuals in the United States glimpsed, most of them for the first time, at least some word of Castoriadis and of Socialisme ou Barbarie in the Chronicle's pages.

[7] No indication from the Castoriadis heirs as to how many individuals sent them the suggested contribution of 5 euros/5 dollars to download this volume -- a serious suggestion: see the "Notice" on page ii of RTI(TBS) and now again in FT(P&K), p. ii.

[8] The originally announced title was Questions interminables (Endless questions) -- a title reminiscent of a RTI(TBS), chapter title, "Unending Interrogation" -- until, perhaps, the French Editors discovered/recalled that this 1979 Esprit interview with Castoriadis had already been published in French in DH (1986) as "Une Interrogation sans fin" . . .

[9] T/E now looks forward to reading this volume and will prepare an appropriate edited electro-Samizdat version in English. Six of the eight editions 10/18 volumes of Castoriadis's S. ou B.-era writings are no longer available to readers, so that in France people are now buying copies of the English-language volume of "greatest hits," the Castoriadis Reader. Similarly, there have been no known (i.e., public) efforts to reprint the first two volumes of the Political and Social Writings (PSW); the original Crossroads in the Labyrinth (CL) is also out of print.

[10] Since the "Forbidden access" notice was brought to light in the RTI(TBS) Translator's Foreword, this "Association Cornelius Castoriadis" website has apparently been closed down. It is unknown, however, whether there remain, elsewhere, some secret insider webpages accessible only to a covertly chosen few.

[11] Mme Castoriadis had insisted that the literary executors agree to a series of written ground rules, worked out between her and Curtis, before Curtis could resume translation work. Curtis still awaits a response from literary executor Sparta Castoriadis to his August 5, 2003 letter requesting such explicit approval. Meanwhile, Curtis is owed a substantial sum of money from Stanford University Press (SUP) for work already completed, because SUP refuses to honor its original contract in the absence of an agreement between Curtis and the literary heirs. As the "Notice" states, no one, including Curtis, will receive any money for the present electro-Samizdat publication.

[12] This text by Curtis will thus not be published in the acts of a colloquium held in May 2004 at the Facultes universitaires de Saint-Louis (Brussels). It will soon be published, along with a Postscript Curtis has composed, in an alternative German publication that does not bend to veiled prepublication threats.

[13] On the unwillingness, on the part of the few people opposed to this electro-Samizdat publication, to engage in factual and substantive discussion, see below.

[14] Glaring is the irony that a member of a group that brought together workers and intellectuals into the most significant revolutionary organization in the postwar period would become a scab replacement. A professional translator, Arnold had over three-and-a-half decades between the dissolution of S. ou B. (1967) and 2003 -- a majority of that time when Castoriadis was alive -- to volunteer to translate any one of his S. ou B. or later texts, but she chose to do so only when a labor dispute arose.