New Translation of Vaneigem Classic

RVOne of the most essential books for my own coming of (political) age in the sixties was Raoul Vaneigem’s Traité de Savoir-vivre…, one of the two core texts of the Situationist International (the other one being Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle). As readers of this blog will know, I have kept up with Vaneigem’s writings over the years — here & here & here — and so it is a pleasure to report on a retranslation of the Traité by Donald Nicholson-Smith. If I were on the West Coast I’d check out his appearances around the Bay Area (see below) where he will be talking about the launch of the new Revolution of Everyday Life. Here is what Nicholson-Smith wrote about this in September 2011:

As for the Traité’s life in English translation, the version which I settled  for in 1983, published jointly by Rebel Press in London and Left Bank Books  in Seattle, was the culmination of the efforts of several translators in the  1970s (see my preface to that edition below). In the effervescence of the  sixties and seventies portions of the book were very widely circulated as  pamphlets in the English-speaking world. In those days (and I believe I can speak for all of us), we wanted to maximize the practical impact of Raoul  Vaneigem’s words, to produce a texte de combat, and to this end we subordinated the customary criteria of literary translation to considerations of  accessibility and topicality. We thought (correctly, I think) that the text  belonged to us—to ‘our party’ in the sense in which Marx and Engels used this expression—and that we could (and should) do more or less what we  liked with it—or rather what best served our collective aims.

Much time has passed, and when I returned to the translation I  discovered to my surprise—and somewhat to my distress!—that a proper revision would entail not perhaps a reversal, but at least a shift of perspective. What I now offer, therefore, is a version much more faithful to the original, making no attempt to find ‘English’ equivalents for cultural  references, and striving, so far from ‘updating’ anything, to preserve a  feeling for those times. Which said, it is my hope that this newfound fidelity to the French and respect for the venerability of Vaneigem’s work  will in no way detract from its enduring relevance and power to provoke,  not to mention its stunning prescience. How far I have succeeded in this  I naturally leave it to the reader to judge.

D. N.-S., September 2011


Date: Wednesday 20 Feb
Time: 7.30pm
Where: Shaping San Francisco
Address: 518 Valencia, SF, CA

Date: Thursday 21 Feb
Time: 12.00pm
Where: San Francisco Art Institute
Address: 800 Chestnut St, SF, CA

Date: Thursday 21 Feb
Time: 7.00pm
Where: Sol Collective / The Marxist School of Sacramento
2574 21st St, Sacramento, CA

Date: Friday 22 Feb
What: In Conversation with Sasha Lilley
Time: 7.00pm
Where: California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS)
Address: 1453 Mission St, SF, CA

Date: Sat 23 Feb
Time: 7.00pm
Where: The Public School
Address: 2141 Broadway, Oakland, CA

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1 Response

  1. Poo says:

    In an earlier age Vaneigem would sit comfortably amongst the Utopian Socialists and, for all I know, happily does so today. I could go on for hours about this, quotes included, but will spare you! I shall take my Utopian revelries elsewhere, content restricted.

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