DAVID AMES CURTIS: TRANSLATOR'S REPLY TO THE AUTHOR'S RESPONSE TO THE TRANSLATOR'S FOREWORD FOR STEP BY STEP: AN ESSAY ON EVERYDAY WALKS IN AN URBAN SETTING
DAVID AMES CURTIS
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Jean-François Augoyard, Step by Step: Everyday Walks in a French Urban Housing Project (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007)
David Ames Curtis:
Translator's Reply to the Author's Response
To the Translator's Afterword
Dear Jean-François Augoyard,
Having had a chance to address directly the reader (who, I have always hoped and imagined, would be female in at least half the instances), I take this opportunity to address you and to thank you straight off for all your help in bringing this book to an English-speaking reading public.(1) Your response, with its wealth of complementary and new information in relation to your book and my Afterword, not only sheds additional light on the background and motivations of this thesis turned into a briefer volume, but also offers the occasion for carrying out something that I, as a professional translator, have dreamed of accomplishing for two decades: transforming the traditional translator's foreword format into an experimental dialogue between translator and author in order to provide the reader with a glimpse of the difficult but important process whereby a volume's ideas, references, and very language are themselves transformed so as to render them accessible to and practicable by users in another section of the International Republic of Letters.
To provide an adequate and accurate account of all the references and influences speaking as accompanying voices in a work is, I said, "a nearly impossible, to not say infinite, task."(2) You agree. Together, we had already added Erwin Strauss's name to note 20 in the fourth chapter as a way of indicating Strauss's continuing and growing importance for you and your work. And yes, my word-count does indeed indicate that the psychological term "derealization" appears four times more often than "deconstruction"--which reinforces my point that Derridean terminology and influences are to be "taken in stride" rather than overplayed in your tome. My concern was for the English-speaking reader to have some of the elements necessary to judge for herself the distinctiveness and seriousness of your work in relation to what Cornelius Castoriadis called "the French Ideology"(3) and what the French now label, after its reimportation from the United States, French Theory, using the English-language term.(4)
As suspected, and as I had stated, you ultimately would not want to identify with the incoherent or duplicitous position of Heidegger on Vorstellung. (I doubt that any true Heideggerian will be moved by either of us.) Your key issue concerns the elucidation of a "conceived space" that objectifies processes and "reduces" people's lived experiences, rather than any inflated claim that representation is itself, always and everywhere, (Cartesian) objectification. What concerned me, beyond your phrase objectifying representation, was the binary opposition between representation and lived experience: "inhabitant expression lived in space and in time . . . does without streams of representations."(5) While this stand is not taken directly from Heidegger, it does seem to derive indirectly from him, via Deleuze (whom you quote as saying: "what is expressed is sense: . . . deeper than the relation of representation"). I was wondering why--especially from your own Renaissance-inspired perspective, which (as often also in Ancient Greece, I might add) deals with issues in tripartite terms--there should be, in representation, such a stark contrast to lived experience, whereas representation could have easily gone along with intention and affect in a three-term description of the constituent elements of lived experience, even as that experience is expressed as sense/meaning/direction (sens). The job of the translator, in his Foreword, is not for himself to prescribe to the reader what she is to think about a book but, rather, to offer a reflection on his own process of bringing words and ideas from one language and thought-world into another, highlighting issues along the way that might not otherwise be noticed so readily or taken up so explicitly. ("Objectifying representation" seems so Heideggerian at first glance.) It is quite often the issues ostensibly posing the least problem that are the most profound when reflection is brought to bear on them.(6)
Similarly, I had not thought that the Merleau-Pontean epigram contrasting "geography" with "countryside" (wherein, one would always already be familiar with "what a forest, a prairie, or a river is") could be the last word for you. You are indeed that urban and urbane writer on the expressive poetry found in people's narratives of their daily municipal treks who would contrast himself with the lyric sylvan German world of Heidegger (or even with a French pastorale). Your book's subtitle [which properly translates as "An Essay on Everyday Walks in an Urban Setting"] announces your intention as well as depicts your self-representation. The opposition between a conceived space and lived experience comes to a head in a cityscape; and we are moved, in this urban setting, to explore how social significations containing an imaginary element circulate between those two poles.
As I informed you on the phone, the full quotation in question from chapter five reads: "And yet, spanning affectivity, feeling, and motor function, these same symbols produce imaginary resonances that are capable of mobilizing the presently lived act." We concurred that "produce" is unfortunate here, as it would lead the reader to believe that you see the imagination as produced instead of producing, let alone creative. You helpfully explained that you speak more often now, in such contexts, of "inducing" rather than of "producing." We agree, as I stated, that not only have you "articulate[d] the imaginary in terms of a ‘spanning'" (enjambment) here but that these "imaginary resonances" are indeed "mobilizing." It was the word "resonances," with their own resonance of Merleau-Ponty's ambiguous way of discussing the imaginary, that had unfortunately reinforced the false impression that you would somehow want to view social imaginary significations ("strewn . . . garbage" was another "symbol[ic]" example besides "graffiti") as mere secondary byproducts.
A last point, on science, lived experience, everyday life, and their conditions of communicability within the International Republic of Letters. I believe that I was able to render audible and to communicate to the reader some of the issues involved in your own struggle to make yourself heard and understood in a French scientific community that was, a quarter century ago, indifferent or hostile to the specific kind of contribution you wished to make to the reasoned investigation of the role everyday experience can play in creating and transforming the urban world. In a translation, however, it cannot be assumed that the audience will be the same, or even "similar" in some orderly, univocal, one-to-one transformative fashion. For example, the idea that hermeneuticians and phenomenologists would be working in "laboratories" might strike many an English-speaking reader as either bizarre or funny. And the CNRS has no exact equivalent in the United States, where the very fact of public funding for social research produces periodic scandal.(7) Neither can it be assumed that the exact sciences/human sciences distinction is articulated in the same way in America as it is in France: several of the techniques and disciplines employed in your book are often those employed, instead, by the "humanities"--which are, still today, strongly contrasted with all "the sciences."(8) Published in North America, your new English-language volume on Sonic Experience will therefore be an interesting test of how "audible" your later work can become there today as well as a gauge of how much, over the past twenty-five years, change has also occurred in what the French call the "Anglo-Saxon" scientific world. Nor can we predict in advance who the readers of the present volume will be. At best, one can attempt to call into existence a broad and varied readership by endeavoring to welcome a wide variety of people. For a translator, even as he endeavors to render ideas accessible in another language, that does not mean fooling with the meaning of the original or tampering with its language. My examination of the existence of "scientific jargon" was not meant as a criticism of you but intended as a way of highlighting, by way of contrast, two other domains: that of the everyday life you wish to remain close to via study of walking narratives (along with the implicit political implications of such an endeavor) and that of potential readers in another language--who, we hope, will come from a wide variety of fields and disciplines as well as include many members of that category we call the general reader. For, I believe that your work constitutes a significant departure from many of the usual "social scientific" ways of analyzing behavior and can offer a positive contribution of interest to various specialists, but also to people in many other walks of life.
And thank you, finally, for your breathtaking commentary on my seventeenth footnote and your introduction of a "motive principle" expressed in terms of "the essence of being in a situation." For you, student of everyday walks, "being is moving." The "cosmogenetic point," therefore, is not to be conceived as stationary. Would this "motive principle," which you do not dissociate from Derridean "purity," be Aristotle's primum movens, the first cause or mover, who/which is an "unmoved mover"? Or might the radicality of your assertion entail that being contains in/as itself its own principle of movement, starting right in/as the messiness of everyday effective actuality? These questions, inspired by the profundity of your thought, leave us in anticipation of further books written by you that might also be made available to English-speaking readers.
1. In translating your response, I have condensed it slightly after having incorporated certain minor suggestions and corrections into the final version of my Afterword. In the François Dosse book you cited, Michel de Certeau was quoted as saying that "Pas à pas is one of those books that are not prefaced." In accordance with your wishes, Françoise Choay and I have now doubly challenged that assertion.
2. This was a sly reference to Edmund Husserl: Philosopher of Infinite Tasks, written by my teacher of Alfred Schütz's sociological phenomenology, Maurice Natanson.
3. Another reason Castoriadis seemed an appropriate reference for comparison was that he often described the individual human being as a "walking and talking fragment” of society and of its institution.
4. See François Cusset's French Theory: Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze & Cie et les mutations de la vie intellectuelle aux Etats-Unis (Paris: Découverte, 2003). Just recently (in the issue dated February 10, 2006), Le Monde des Livres--Le Monde’s weekly literary supplement--devoted two pages (VI-VII) to such importations from America of "French Theory."
5. With regard to this asserted absence of streams of representations in inhabitant expression, we might look back at your examination of acts of bifurcation, wherein one chooses "as if 'without noticing anything more about it.'" "This unnoticed quality," you said however,
was not the equivalent of something "random." Depending upon the walker's mood in his actual conduct, while there is still a "game," it is no longer played on the field of some overall probability but, rather, within the competition between indetermination and anticipation; it plays itself out through all that the walker's temporality can offer that is different and unforeseen within the fore-seen space to be traversed, through all that the conduct of the walk may have anticipated, and it throws the order of perspective off its game.
Perhaps in the imaginary act of anticipation, and even more in its "competition" with "indetermination," we might find a source for representation as an imaginary positing of "unnoticed qualit[ies]" within everydayness that would go along there with affect and intention. No more than a Heraclitean river, should a "stream of representations" be taken as establishing a fully coherent and independently graspable sameness.
6. I had already dealt with this problem of représentation/representation at length in my Translator's Foreword to Pierre Vidal-Naquet and Pierre Lévêque's Cleisthenes the Athenian. An Essay on the Representation of Space and of Time in Greek Political Thought from the End of the Sixth Century to the Death of Plato, trans. David Ames Curtis (Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1996), now available at: http://perso.wanadoo.fr/www.kaloskaisophos.org/rt/rtdac/rtdactf/rtdactfcleisthenes.html . This book is itself a useful contribution to the study of the building and experiencing of an urban space wherein political thought and representation play a major role from the outset.
7. On the other hand, one of the top domestic political issues in France the past few years has been inadequate public funding for the CNRS and other research institutions, occasioning and indeed being spearheaded by large petition efforts as well mass protests and demonstrations on the part of scientific researchers themselves.
8. A French-to-English translator of all but the most strictly technical texts must today, in the aftermath of the Sokal Hoax, be acutely aware of such conflicts. Alan Sokal's successful skewering of unwarranted pretensions and sloppy thinking in the contemporary humanities is an important lesson, even if some of his own contrasts and claims might prove too stark and unreflective.