April Blog On Translating politics



 What sounded fresh once may sound hackneyed later; what was once current may someday sound quaint. To seek the essence of such changes, as well as the equally constant changes in meaning, in the subjectivity of posterity rather than in the very life of language and its works, would mean – even allowing for the crudest psychologism – to confuse the root cause of a thing with its essence.

Walter Benjamin, ‘The Task of the Translator’

In the opening sequence of Patrick Keiller’s film Robinson in London, the narrator is sitting in a railway carriage recording the start of his journey across the fractured landscape of a great city in the grip of a fever – what the late Mrs Thatcher called ‘the enterprise culture’ – which has decimated large areas of what had once been a thriving economy based on industry and international trade. He records: ‘Sitting comfortably, I opened The Revolution of Everyday Life … I am being swept along by reality, yet I can always change it into something else. The problem is that reality continually changes itself back into what it was before … a bridge between imagination and reality has to be built.’

The book in question is by Raoul Vaneigem, who along with Guy Debord was the architect of an ensemble of critical propositions about the nature of consumer capitalism in postwar Western societies that traded under the name of ‘the Situationist Internationale’, a network of ideas that was created through a process of intense debate amongst a small cosmopolitan group of Parisian intellectuals in the late 1950’s and 60’s, many of whom were subsequently expelled from this most sectarian of anti-sectarian groupuscules. To anyone who has read the Vaneigem book, Robinson’s comment strikes a curiously resonant but discordant note. One of the key slogans of May 68, and in particular of the workers occupation movement at LIP  was a situationist one: ‘L’Imagination au Pouvoir’. But Robinson’s comment insists that the power of the imagination to transform reality, to offer an alternative vision, another possible world, is instantly negated by the reality principles of capitalist society that sweep up everything in their path. The situationists coined a word for this negative reflex – recuperation – which perfectly captures its perverse dialectics: a process in which the most intransigent gestures of defiance or revolt are co-opted and become grist to the mill of the marketplace, and where the symptomatic pathologies of the body politic provoke therapeutic measures to recover its health. This view can, of course, become merely defeatist- in the sixties we used to call this the ‘Great Boot in the Sky’ syndrome, and it was particularly prevalent on the far Left – every time the banner of working-class emancipation was raised high it was immediately crushed, whether by the brutality of the state or by la trahison des clercs et des bureaucrates. Yet in fact Vaneigem’s book is not at all defeatist. It is a perfect example of Gramsci’s ‘pessimism of the intellect countered by optimism of the will’. And this is one reason why reading it today, when we are used to inhabiting and even feeling at home in a culture of commiseration, is such an unsettling experience. The book’s argument is a roller-coaster and just when you think the game is up for socialism, up pops a new principle of hope.

Yet Keiller’s film, which is at once a road movie and a robinsonade, is not at all like this. It is deeply pessimistic – there is not a single moment where its jeremiad on the Thatcher years lets up, and yet its exhortation to ‘build a bridge between imagination and reality’ – a proxy for the alliance between intellectuals or artists and workers that was all the rage in the heady days of the late 60’s– blithely ignores the main thrust of Vaneigem’s argument: namely that capitalism has already built this bridge, and controls most of the cultural traffic across it. It is capitalism, in its need to manufacture desires it cannot possibly satisfy that has initiated a permanent revolution of everyday life which may yet end by destroying it.

If today it is so easy for latter day ‘Robinsons’ to sit comfortably in their armchairs while reading this most uncomfortable of books, it is partly because it has become a museum piece, an academic talking point, a source of counterfactual reveries of ‘what might have been once upon a time’ but not, definitely not, a texte de combat. In the age of archive fever, when collective memory has become de-historicised, and political culture de-politicised, when even the most trivial aspect of everyday life is instantly  ‘immortalised’ on U Tube or Facebook, what is left of the Left has formed itself into a new vanguard party in the halls of Academe, devoted to the curation of its own ideological bric-à-brac, making ever more sophisticated and scintillating expositions of its own impotence. How then to rescue this work from its admirers, and from the condescension implied by its posthumous fame, without ‘post-modernising’ it into a holy relic for some future archaeologist of knowledge?


These reflections were prompted by attending an event at the London Review Bookshop in Bloomsbury at which Donald Nicholson–Smith gave a reading from his new translation, or rather re-translation of this text, otherwise known in French under the title Traité de savoir –vivre à l’usage des jeunes générations‘. The title and the question of its translatability, was an issue that came up for discussion at the bookshop with Donald in conversation with T.J.Clark. (Both of them were once, like myself, associated with the King Mob Echo, which came into being after several English situationists had, perhaps inevitably, been expelled by the Parisian guardians of the Higher Dialectics). The  reading was for many of us a somewhat sentimental occasion, bringing together erstwhile comrades of the barricades, both real and imaginary, of 68 around a book that has become known, somewhat oxymoronically, as a ‘classic of subversion’. Fortunately the discussion was not a moment for refighting ideological battles, or settling old scores, but for a shared reflection on what had been lost, and perhaps also gained by rendering the book back into the idiom of its original conception, rather than trying to update it in order to make it more accessible to a generation whose notion of dialectics has more to do with an internet mash-up than with performing Hegelian headstands on the high wire of Critical Theory.

Much of the comment concentrated on the peculiar house style developed by the SI in the 1960’s and exemplified in the work of Debord and Vaneigem. It is a bewildering mixture of  abstract intellectualism and concrete imagery, subtle metaphysics and crude thoughts, driven by an aristocratic disdain for the compromises that characterise the way most ordinary folk muddle through life, combined with an overheated admiration for the gestures of defiance which the most oppressed and brutalised sections of the population sometimes adopt in situations of extreme desperation. The French  situs turned political rhetoric into a kind of poetry, and literary style into an aesthetics of cultural revolt. In fact they acted as if an intellectual avant-garde, which is what they were, could transform itself into a vanguard party of popular revolution through an act of will, a phantasy which even a cursory reading of Gramsci would have demolished and which the actual events of May 68 and its aftermath decisively disproved.

Of all the influences on their writing (Surrealism,anarcho-syndicalism, Council Communism, Hegelian Marxism, American comics and movies, etc., etc.) perhaps their biggest debt was to one another. Debord ‘s critique of the Spectacle required an elaboration of its subjective dimensions which Vaneigem provides in his book. In the field of polemical tract and manifesto writing there is no doubt Debeigem and Vanbord are in a league of their own. There is no prose style quite like it. ‘Revolution ‘ breaks every known rule of good essay writing – the argument is  digressive where it should be focused, assertive where it should be grounded in evidence, over-elaborate where it should be concise, and condensed where it needs to be further teased out. The book does not translate at all well into the kind of clear diction we associate with the work of the great English essayists, like Hazlitt, Charles Lamb or Orwell, let alone their American successors, like Joan Didion or Susan Sontag. Hazlitt ‘s famous essay on ‘The Pleasures of Hate’ starts with a detailed description of a spider crawling along the matted floor of the room where he is sitting  writing. In contrast Vaneigem’s discourse on the follies and delights of love never for a moment touches base with actual structures of feeling or their mechanisms of repression.

And yet, for all that, Vaneigem’s work has a compelling lucidity, a prescience about cultural trends which these more down-to-earth writers lack. His thoughts on ‘everyday life’ may not be based on close observation of how people actually behave – Erving Goffman remains peerless at this level – but his radar picks up more subliminal messages about how commodity relations insinuate themselves and colonise even the most intimate reaches of personal ‘impression management’.

In notes on the translation at the back of the book, Donald comments that a preferred title of his for the book would have been The Facts of Life for Younger Readers, which preserves Vaneigem ‘s original conceit that his treatise comprises a subversive form of moral education that actively seeks to ‘corrupt’ by disabusing the reader of the flattery and narcissism which a capitalist marketplace so seductively promotes. Yet there is indeed a problem of translation here. Where would a book so entitled sit on the shelves of the average bookshop?  In the teenage reading section? In amongst the serried ranks of self-improvement literature? Is Vaneigem the Left’s answer to Samuel Smiles? Or perhaps, suitably packaged with rave quotes, – ‘This book changed my life : Malcolm McClaren’ – it might even make Tesco’s check-out counter along with Good Housekeeping and Ten Ways to Keep Your Man Happy ‘. Wouldn’t this be an appropriate détournement of the consumer spectacle? Or would it be its apotheosis?

The answer touches on the limits and conditions of translatability, on how far these are dependent on the text itself, and how much on the context of its emplacement and reception within a wider culture and community. This is a very old fashioned question, of course. Translation always entails a certain implication in knowledge/power relations even and especially when bios politikon itself is not the primary subject matter.


Lost in Translation Studies

The classical problematic of translation was first defined by Wilhelm von Humboldt in a letter to Schlegel(1796):

All translation seems to me simply an attempt to solve an impossible task. Every translator is doomed to be done in by one of two stumbling blocks: he will either stay too close to the original, at the cost of taste and the language of his nation, or he will adhere too closely to the characteristics peculiar to his nation, at the cost of the original. The medium between the two is not only difficult, but downright impossible’

Ever since, debates around translation have turned on the degree of fidelity or otherwise between source and target language. Paradoxically Humboldt ‘s own pioneering contribution to comparative philology and linguistics points the argument in a rather different direction, away from correspondence theories towards a concept of difference in a way which prefigures both Chomskian transformationalism and Derrida’s grammatology. In his essay ‘On the Diversity of Human Language and Its Influence on the Mental Development of the Human Species, Humboldt argued that

‘the bringing-forth of language is an inner need of human beings, not merely an external necessity for maintaining communal intercourse, but a thing lying in their own nature, indispensable for the development of their mental powers and the attainment of a worldview.’

He went on to suggest that writing constitutes an essential part of language:’the material embodiment of the specific formative principle language employs to construct meaning, rather than being the mere representational mirror of speech.’

Foreshadowing Saussure’s distinction between langue and parole, Humboldt argued that it is the very embeddedness of speech acts in specific cultures and communities which gives them their locally situated meanings, their precise pattern of connotation, even though the generative structures may be common to all humankind. This underlying kinship of languages is what makes their translation in principle possible, but their social articulation ensures that in practice translation is  a project that never can be fully realised.

From this perspective the impossibility of translation -as -fidelity stems from the fact that it is not simply about the transfer of a message from one medium to another, but always conveys a meta-message about its own principle of mediation in a way that interrupts and complicates the process. So, for example, the transcription of a speech event into a written text, or conversely of a script into a live performance, always involves certain protocols which selectively interpret the material. An ethnographic interview transcribed using Gumperz protocols will come out on the page looking – and reading – like blank verse, each line ending where the rhythm of the prosody demands, whereas the ‘same’ discourse transcribed drawing on kinesics will include symbols for paralinguistic features such as stress or intonation, every pause and repetition will be marked, and so on, so that the text comes out looking and reading more like the record of a police interview.

The other canonical statement about translation is, of course, Water Benjamin’s. In his essay ‘The Task of the Translator’, Benjamin sets out to comprehensively demolish the naïve fidelity model by showing that it simply does not correspond to the way the meaning of texts is produced. For Benjamin meaning is not an effect of the reader’s elicited response, but of the author’s intention, which however is not, in any easy or literal sense, available. He seems to think some texts are intrinsically untranslatable, not on account of their semantic complexity but because there is some aspect of their  ‘poetic’ style that resists the process, while others have a no less mysterious quality that demands it. He also points out that ‘translations that are more than transmissions of subject matter come into being when, in the course of its survival, a work has reached the age of its fame…. Such translations do not so much serve the work as owe their existence to it.’ In this model then, translation becomes the text’s and the author’s rite of passage from obscurity, or the condescension of posterity, towards canonical status in literature’s hall of fame. The translator is there as a guide into the Pantheon. There are echoes here of the theological meaning of translation: to achieve immortality or transcendence, to convey to heaven without death.

Nowadays the sacred aura associated with the act of translation has withered away leaving behind it only the merest whiff of sanctimony associated with the canon. Thanks to the invention of the international bestseller, books are written with an eye to their instant translatability and from the outset are marketed for a global readership. The reputational process has become accelerated to the point where the fame of a work precedes not only its reading but its writing. Just think of Howard Brodkey’s ‘Runaway Soul’  or the hype surrounding J.K.Rowling’s latest iteration of  the  Harry  Potter story.

Benjamin’s central point – which is also Bakhtin’s – is that language is continually transforming itself:

It can be demonstrated that no translation would be possible if in its ultimate essence it strove for likeness to the original. For in its afterlife – which could not be called that if it were not a transformation and a renewal of something living – the original undergoes a change. Even words with fixed meaning can undergo a maturing process.

This maturational process applies as much to translations as it does to the corpus of source texts. Benjamin continues:

The tenor and the significance of the great works of literature undergo a complete transformation over the centuries, the mother tongue of the translator is transformed as well. While a poet ‘s words endure in his own language, even the greatest translation is destined to become part of the growth of its own language and eventually to be absorbed by its renewal. Translation is so far removed from being the sterile equation of two dead languages that of all literary forms it is the one charged with the special mission of watching over the maturing process of the original language and the birth pangs of its own.

In other words the translation re-animates both source and target languages at once, and it cannot do one without the other. This also means that a certain principle of disjunction is introduced into the history of the text. To take a concrete example: anyone who studied Freud in the 1960’s and read the translation of his work by James Strachey in the Standard Edition was introduced to a form of discourse whose key terminology derived from medicine and the natural sciences. In the 1990 ‘s, with the appropriation of psychoanalysis by a new generation of artists and intellectuals following the Lacanian demarche, Adam Phillips, an analyst and literary critic, initiated a new set of translations that emphasised the literary qualities of some of the key texts. Psychoanalytic discourse was no longer a natural science of the psyche, but an aesthetic adventure, an adjunct to its function as a talking cure for the chattering classes. Having learnt to appreciate The Interpretation of Dreams as a scientific treatise, the reader now has to reinvent the text as a work of art.



There can thus be no question of producing a more ‘faithful’ version of Vaneigem’s fifty-year-old text by peeling away the layers of topicalisation which have been laid over the original like a palimpsest, in order to reveal some essential, authentic revolutionary message or truth buried beneath. On the contrary. A new political conjuncture requires a different politics of translation and a different translation of the political.

It is certainly the case that the interpretive framework within which we read the now ‘classic’ situationist texts has changed almost beyond recognition from the 1960’s and with it the role of their translator. But as Benjamin insists this shift  has to be understood not in historicist or psychologistic terms but as a linguistically mediated process.

There is inevitably quite a complicated back story to the changing interface between the author, the translator, the reader and the text. In the period of European colonialism, which saw the translation of not only texts, but artefacts, from non-European into European cultures on a massive scale, it was the anthropologist, and more precisely the ethnographer, who developed specialised techniques for rendering the ‘otherness’ of this material into a language ( i.e. of Western Reason and Science) which the producers by definition did not speak, but which magically enough made their words and actions intelligible to a whole world from which they were excluded. The ethnographer often posed as a neutral go-between, an interlocutor who simply translated one culture for the benefit of another and made them more familiar and friendly with one another. But whatever the promise of this liberal multiculturalism, within the colonial framework, the capacity to translate was also the power to dominate and define.

It was not surprising then that the colonised went into hiding, and created cultural and linguistic practices that were deliberately incomprehensible and untranslatable by the colonisers. But there was another form of resistance; it consisted in appropriating the process of translation itself – generating new hybrid languages and cultures, creoles and syncretic rituals, through which diverse elements could be integrated into new configurations of meaning in a way that defied the comprehension and control of the official arbitrators of knowledge.

The internal diversification of speech communities which Humboldt saw as intrinsic to the historical development of language, and Bakhtin attributed to its dialogic function, is nowhere better exemplified than in the English-speaking world. The English are not just a ‘mongrel race’, their mother tongue is a compound of ancient and modern, Latin, Greek and Sanskrit, along with Anglo-Saxon, Norman French, Norse and Gaelic, and overlaid by a rich patina of regional dialects and socio-lects now increasingly blurred into the flattened accentuations of Estuary. English vernaculars now come in 57 varieties and the translator may have to be familiar with more than several of them if an appropriate  voice is to be given to a particular text.

For Humboldt culture was still essentially a form of habitation, or what Bourdieu called a ‘habitus’, whose boundaries were policed by language, and which furnished relatively stable narratives of self-identity  transmitted from generation to generation. Culture was still tied, however insecurely, to a notion of nationality. Translators might still be needed to build textual bridges between generations or classes, or between one society and another, but their role was strictly limited and institutionally precise. With the advent of globalisation and the de-territorialisation of identity, the culture and language of ‘modernity’ became fluid; culture was now a space of mobility, a network of associations travelling between discrete and discontinuous sites or moments, rendering what was hitherto incommensurable (and hence untranslatable), into a common lingua franca on the way. We arrive at the notion of culture as translation and bricolage, and a stylistics in which everything is rendered equivalent and assimilable to everything else in the free market of ideas: neo-liberalism in symbolic action.

The contemporary technology of textual translation has mirrored and, some have argued, partly engineered this shift. I am not thinking here of machine translation since the mechanical word-for-word, phrase-for-phrase capabilities of such programmes are only adequate for the conveyance of purely technical information, and entirely incapable of addressing issues of connotation, let alone style. These programmes in their very limitation only indicate how absurd the naïve fidelity theory is. But translators now also have at their disposal a whole set of sophisticated search tools which enable them to easily compare many different versions of the same text, and mix’n’match them to produce the final ‘inter-textual’ result. Enter the translator as a post-modern hero, and the translation as mash-up, both being in tune with a newly fashionable hybridity and celebrating the continuous migration of meaning from any fixed anchorage.

In fact no translator of any integrity or ambition would be content with producing something that was merely a hodgepodge of previous work, even if the notion of  plagiariasm, which remains premised on a notion of the authenticity of the ‘original’, can hardly be applied in this case. Despite these technological innovations, the vocation of the translator remains unchanged. Translators are like actors. They  bring a text to life for an audience by impersonating the author. The text is the stage on which the translator performs this strange alchemy whereby a country of the mind belonging to someone else is explored using the map they have provided, only to discover that there are fresh territories of meaning waiting to be discovered of which the author may have been quite unaware. This often means betraying the letter of the text – its literality – in order to keep faith with its spirit, its literaturity. As Benjamin puts it, ‘it is the task of the translator to liberate the language imprisoned in the work and in its re-creation break through the decayed barriers of his own language’. A ‘free’ translation, in this view is one which liberates the text both from the accretions of dogmatic interpretation  and its own taken for granted argument, its doxa.

For this to happen it is not essential to feel an elective affinity with the source, although it helps; the work of translation clearly does require an act of empathy on the part of the translator; as well as being conversant with the stylistic conventions being used, it is necessary, in order to find an appropriate idiom for the translation, to imagine how the world looks to the author. If you cannot appreciate where Céline’s misanthropy or Celan’s redemptive despair are coming from, you will not be able to do justice to the cynical realism of the one or the bitter lyricism of the other.



Translation studies conventionally draw a distinction between the micro-poetics of a text – which has to do with syntactical and semantic choices- and its macro-politics, which is about how the culture in which  it is embedded, its particular community of reference, is to be accommodated to make sense for a different readership. But the micro/macro distinction is a false one. These are two sides of the same story. How is it possible, for example, to decide how to translate ‘fraternite’, whether as fraternity, or brotherhood, or comradeship, all of them ideologically loaded terms, without also engaging with the freight of meaning deposited by the world history of the 20th century, which has transformed these words from signifiers of hope for a better world into symbols of patriarchal closure and political oppression?

The emergence of translation as a key metaphor of culture and model for its reproduction-as -transformation is registered most precisely and theoretically in the work of Bruno Latour, Michel Callon and John Law. It is no coincidence that their ‘actor network’ theory, takes the decisive step of rejecting the macro/micro distinction that has bedevilled the sociology of knowledge, and that it was their research into technology transfer that enabled them to develop a fully fledged sociology of  translation, considered as a semiological process of negotiation between actants, some human and others not. By tracing the actual routes that a technology takes when it travels, they discovered that it is no more a pure instrumentality than a text is the pure expression of its author’s intention. Rather technology is an assembly of affordances, convened in a particular place and time, and its transfer always involves its transformation. Translation, far from being an act of fidelity, always involves a betrayal of the original. It is never a purely neutral process of mediation.

This point is emphasised by the re-description of occupational knowledge as a set of ‘transferable skills’ that has been engineered in the transition to post–industrial societies; in an attempt to promote greater mobility of labour and dismantle workplace cultures whose forms of apprenticeship and values of solidarity offered resistance to the full rationalisation of capitalist relations of production, specific work practices have been  disembedded from their historical habitus and re-classified according to a new system of family resemblances. Concrete labour is here translated into the terminology of abstract labour; for example, a hairdressing apprentice learning how to layer-cut is described as ‘operating two metal blades, unpowered, while negotiating client hair idiosyncrasies’. This  is a form of translation is which material and discoursive  transformations are  indissolubly linked in a single apparatus  of performativity.

The politics of translation is at its most powerful and insidious when it is applied to the translation of politics. Political cultures, or at least the cultures of the political class, remain strongly bounded by their national circumstances despite globalisation and this imposes particular difficulties. Even on the Left, which is supposed to favour an internationalist outlook, we find ancient insularities at work. The British Left and Labour movement has traditionally been hostile to Europe and to continental traditions of political philosophy. I well remember giving a talk to a Labour Party conference about ‘Listening to the Electorate’, and drawing on ideas from psychoanalysis and ethnography, only to be told ‘We don’t go much on Freud here- he didn’t understand our way of doing things’ – which was possibly true! As for Malinowski, he was Polish…. The anarchist movement, which historically has been most receptive to ‘foreign influence’ in the shape of Jewish immigrants and refugees, has a strong home-grown attachment to a libertarian tradition running from Godwin, Shelley, Blake, and the Romantic movement, to Herbert Read, a tradition still steeped in the quest for a deep England freed from the yoke of alien tyrannies.

It was in revolt against the petty provincialism of English intellectual life and its narrowly focused radicalisms that the New Left helped create a space for the translation of continental Marxist and Euro-Communist ideas in the 1960’s, so that the work of Gramsci, Lukacs, Korsch, Goldman, Sartre, Timpanaro et al was translated and entered into general circulation within newly emergent arenas of political debate. A Francophile culture quickly put down roots in universities on both sides of the Atlantic and this in turn paved the way for the stars of the Parisian intellectual firmament to gain new disciples amongst a generation of students and teachers whose political ambitions had all too quickly become sublimated into academic ones.

In principle, both structuralist and post-structuralist epistemologies reject correspondence theories of every kind; in practice the translation of these canonical texts reinforced the old problematics of naïve fidelity, as little gangs of Alhusserians, Derrideans, Foucauldians, etc, vied to establish their separate interpretive communities and knowledge /power domains around their own protocols of faithful exegesis. The notion of betraying these founding texts, of re-inscribing them, was simply anathema to these devotees of deconstruction. In the case of the situationist texts however no such shibboleths applied. Where other authors fiercely asserted their moral right to be considered the sole authors of their texts,  the situs  exhorted their readers to appropriate  them and use them for whatever purposes they wished. Nor was much cultural or intellectual capital to be made by translating this body of work until its recent canonisation. As a result there was a proliferation of ‘free ‘ translations that pressed The Society of the Spectacle and The Revolution of Everyday Life into the service of ideological struggles of the moment.

Today the politics of translation has moved on to new ground. Bios politikon is in bad shape throughout the Western world. The symptoms are well documented. A widespread disenchantment with organised politics of any kind, the decline of the mass party, withdrawal from civic engagement and the public realm into ever more privatised and evanescent areas of self fulfillment, the hollowing out of political language by discourses of managerialism and the market. The advent of the sound byte and ‘touchy-feely’ conviction politics has filled the vacuum created by the end of the hustings and the tradition of stump oratory that went with it. This de-politicisation of politics has been accompanied (and some would argue accomplished) by its migration  into ever new areas of personal concern: identity politics, sexual politics, cultural politics, the politics of nature, etc., etc. This diffusion and diversification of political rhetoric is accompanied by the dilution and dispersal of political agency. Politics is happening everywhere but in politics, one political scientist recently complained. These new translations of the political in turn require a new politics of translation if the bios politikon is not to be permanently traduced.

Against this background Vaneigem ‘s book, in this brilliant re-working, stands out for an exuberant and unrepentant optimism that the life force is still with us and will prevail; as such the new edition must be considered part of a wider movement within the republic of letters to create an alternative language of public deliberation, one that breaks the shackles of its restricted codes and helps forge a new creative commons:the mind at last dancing in step with a body politics of general emancipation and to a tune that this eccentric Belgian philosopher composed. Author with many noms de plume, expert in the history of heresy and advocate of a revolutionary strike in which transport workers provide services for free and refuse to collect fares, Vaneigem remains a faithful prophet of our ever new times.

In their conclusion to their article for the special ‘Situationist’ issue of  October  in 1997 Donald Nicholson-Smith and T.J. Clark had this to say:

Sooner or later the history of the S.I. is bound to  serve in the construction of a new project of resistance. The sooner the better; there is no reason to think the moment  will be long in coming. What that project will  be like is still guesswork. Certainly it will  have to struggle to reconceive the tentacular unity of its enemy and articulate the grounds of a unity capable of contesting it. The word ‘totality’ will not put it at panic stations. It will want to know the past, And inevitably it will find itself retelling the stories of those moments or refusal and re-organisation – the S.I. being one of them-  that the dreamwork of the Left  excluded from consciousness’

More than a decade and a half later, during which we have seen  just how resilient  and recuperative global capitalism can be, as it  weathers the collapse of its financial institutions, reinvents itself with a eco-friendly face, and penetrates into every nook and cranny of  both psyche and civil society while visiting its afflicted powers on the wretched of the earth,  the unification its forces of seems more in evidence than that of its opposition. We have had to learn to be patient and to equip  ourselves with the resources, both intellectual and emotional, for a struggle of long duration, a war of attrition without a foreseeable end and without the consolation of the old teleological narratives that guaranteed  eventual success. The Revolution of Everyday Life for all its faults, is one such resource.



Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life (trans D Nicholson-Smith) Oakland, California: PM Press, 2012

Patrick Keiller, The Robinson Trilogy BFI Films 2009

Susan Bassnet-Maguire , Translation Studies London Routledge 1999

Michaela Wolf, ed., Constructing a Sociology of Translation J Benjamin  2007

Lawrence Venuti, ed. The Translation Studies Reader. London: Routledge, 2000

Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic ImaginationUniversity of Texas press 1982

Walter Benjamin, ‘The Task of the Translator’ (1923) in Venuti (above).

Wilhelm von Humboldt, On the Diversity of Human Language and Its Influence on the Mental Development of the Human Species Cambridge University Press 2010

William Hazlitt, On the Pleasure of Hating  Penguin Books 2004

John Law, Traduction/Trahison: Notes on ANT (1997)

Bruno Latour, Re-assembling the Social Oxford UniversityPress 2005

Donald Nicholson-Smith and T J Clark, ‘Why Art Can’t Kill the Situationist International’. October 79 (Winter 1997)