Holy Ball-Broth! The world's most eminent Bataille scholar has plagiarized my intellectual property! Yep, renowned translator Stuart Kendall, who once scathingly wrote, "The publication of Mark Spitzer's version of the poetry of Georges Bataille only serves to remind this reader how well English language readers of Bataille would be served by an adequate translation of this and other still untranslated poetic writing by Bataille," actually stole the exact work he bashed fourteen loser-years ago, then passed it off as his own.
The quotation above comes from the lit journal SubStance (issue 92, volume 29, no. 21, 2000), and specific instances of Kendall's brazen plagiarism are provided at the end of this review. Or polemic—in which a smarmy old-school academe is exposed for swiping entire stanzas from The Collected Poems of Georges Bataille (Dufour Editions, 1998) and Divine Filth: Lost Writings by Georges Bataille (Creation Books, 2004). Since I translated and edited both of these books, it made sense for me to review Kendall's new Bataille book Louis XXX, just published by Equus Press in London. Basically, I opened that sucker up and saw my own previously published translations staring back, word for word, line by line.
This oblivious, credibility-ruining blunder on Kendall's part, however, doesn't just disqualify his latest "work" as legitimate scholarship; it's a slap in the face to twentieth-century French lit that must be addressed. Whether Kendall's overt plagiarism was intentional or not, he did make a visible conscious effort to employ alternative word choices in other poems he hijacked for his book. For example, whereas I used the word "luck" in the poem "A Little Later," Kendall employed the word "chance." Given this fact, one can't help wonder why Kendall didn't make the same conscious effort to avoid using my exact syntax in his versions of "The Tomb of Louis XXX," "The Oratorio," and other poems he didn't even have the legal right to include in this collection. Perhaps Kendall was just being sloppy—but even that is no excuse for such a rank and disgraceful offense. As a professional, he should've known better—and he did.
Hence, I don't even need to argue my case. Kendall's slimy, sleazy, weasly actions have already embarrassed and indicted him for crimes of copyright infringement. Éditions Gallimard granted Dufour Editions exclusive world-wide rights to publish and sell the abducted verse in a contract dated "le 24 juillet 1997," and the "moment of conception" clause of the International Copyright Law of 1976 automatically protects the translations published by Creation Books (whose publisher is a thief as well, but that's a whole nuther story). The bottom line being: Equus Press didn't even have permission to publish what they published, because I paid $1,500 for Dufour to have those rights.
Nevertheless, the more serious crime committed here is that Kendall's own egotistical accolades are served by this book more than our understanding of a major visionary erotic-surrealist from the French canon. This is why I'm also glad to take douche-clown Stuart Kendall to task for reasons that do not involve Unethical Pomposity.
II. The Shithammer Descends
Louis XXX reads like an unremarkable, analytical, shitpot of intellectual masturbation, because that's what it is. Never mind the fact that Kendall gives us nothing new in parroting poetry that has already been published before; the translated prose (which he probably stole from somebody else) also has little to offer, and for a damn good reason. As Kendall notes in his preface, "Georges Bataille never planned to publish the texts contained in this book together" (p. 7). In fact, much of this book consists of self-obsessed, theological blather that was stated much better in later revisions. Bataille, no doubt, felt that the brunt of this work was either too immature or not quite realized, so that's why he never pursued publication of this material under his own name or a pseudonym.
Plus, there's a coherence problem with this collection, which Kendall tries to dance around with the disclaimer, "But what of these two texts? They stand apart in an oeuvre that stands apart. Bringing them together here will not change that, but hopefully it will permit us to glimpse the source of the laceration that binds them together under one name" (p. 8). But no such luck.
First of all, there are more than two texts in this book. There's poetry, there's drama, there are "meditations," there's an abandoned preface to the novella Story of the Eye, there's overwrought journal scrawlings, and finally, there's a braincell-deadening fifty-page paper on Bataille authored by . . . guess who? The translator! Meaning nearly half the book isn't even Bataille's writing, which further complicates the gelling of this extremely diverse and scattered collection.
Also, the invasive footnotes and endnotes don't help the momentum of the book. Such intrusions are the mark of a translator who can't find creative solutions for rendering information and noting differing contexts within the text. Such notes also supply an anal-retentive, micro-managing undertone to works that end up suffering from analysis. Besides, most readers of Bataille know who Kierkagaard is, so resent being told what they already know—whereas words like "Laocoönian" are shoved down our throats with the assumption that we are all up to snuff on the Trojan priests of Poseidon. Let's face it: It's annoying to halt in the middle of a text to locate a notation, then be told practically nothing.
In the interest of objectivity, however (a quality Monsieur Mungsucker never afforded me), I'll take the unbiased high road for a moment to note some positive things about this book. First, the cover image—from a Man Ray nude—is gorgeous and provocative. The paper is also of fine quality, and the pocket-size presentation makes it highly portable.
Secondly, the piece entitled "The Little One" offers an intriguing take on a moral psyche reminiscent of Genet. While celebrating the concept of evil, Bataille trendily aligns the act of writing with good ("to write engages partially in the path of the good," p. 21). This contrast, of course, is confusing, because it's not explained. Nevertheless, it might be worth muddling over. I.e., why is writing good? Is there some sort of social responsibility inherent in the act of writing? And if so, how does this viewpoint account for the politics of writers like Adolf Hitler, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, or the syphilitic, violent prose of the Marquis de Sade?
Thirdly, some fun atheistic insights such as "God does not endure an instant of thought; this is why he cannot exist" (p. 23) and "God saves me no more from my shitty nudity than from rotting in the earth" (p. 76) randomly punctuate this textual hodge-podge, giving the reader pause for reflection.
Still, I condemn Kendall's consistent use of the word "arse," which clashes with more explicit terms for genitalia used throughout the book. The classic black and white beaver-shot on p. 63 is good to see and in league with instances of more daring argot employed throughout the text, but there is no synthesis of voice in this collection, where the usage of contemporary and archaic slang are definitely at odds. Kendall's translations therefore suffer from a lack of the exact opposite of what he accused me of when he leveled his mean-spirited complaint in SubStance about my "enthusiasm for racy lyricism," an aesthetic which Bataille clearly embraced.
The upshot being: Kendall doesn't even understand the language he's working with. Bataille never shied away from graphic words like "cunt" and "cock," but Kendall does. Thus, Kendall's fear of in-your-face language becomes a form of censorship that fails to adequately represent Bataille's voice. In this sense, Kendall aligns himself more with the latters than the formers in his statement that "The novelist or poet may often venture where the theologian or philosopher should fear to tread" (p. 90).
My point being: Kendall fears to tread where novelists and poets dare to go, because he lacks a basic understanding of how to communicate on a non-condescending level. In other words, Kendall is the incarnation of the stodgy professor who deconstructs artists he can't comprehend in order to provide the illusion that he can. So what we get, ultimately, is a colorful writer of scatology and erotica interpreted through the lackluster eye of a dust-farting "philosopher of culture." That's how the book feels as a whole.
Now I'm no fan of negative reviews, especially since I am a fan of one of the major tenets behind Translation Theory, which is this: Even bad translations are good, since they add to a dialogue that helps us understand the intention of a text. Kendall's translations, however, don't even qualify as bad, since they're just as criminal as they are lacking in basic human understanding of how to connect with an audience. The sum of these factors being: Louis XXX is a reeking skidmark upon the face of French literature and scholarship.
Therefore, to paraphrase another lame-ass attack Stuart Kendall launched on me in that sour, jealousy-driven "book review" he sharted out fourteen years ago, since somebody is misrepresenting somebody's work, thereby impeding reader comprehension, English-language readers of Bataille are still in need of an adequate translation.
III. Plagiarized Moments in Louis XXX
the SKY inverted in your eyes
little flower / little ear you know
The wound is fresh
The Whore, 90 years old, dying (she was adorably beautiful at 20; one day
The Priest, 30 years old.
To the sewer
I am the sewer
Herr priest says:
I am Herr priest
your little boy
while . . .
. . . stone says:
I am God
I hit you on the head
I kill you
did it in her mouth
in tears . . . .
a dying whore
God relieved himself
The Georges Borchardt Agency in New York, who represents Bataille's English-language rights, looked into this matter. They contacted Éditions Gallimard in Paris, who represent Bataille's estate, and Éditions Gallimard replied that they only granted Dufour "non-exclusive rights, ad [sic] that they don't find it surprising that different translations of the same texts would always have similarities" (email from Georges Borchardt, Feb. 4, 2014). Editor Duncan May at Dufour Editions then informed me that "There were several drafts of the contract between Dufour and Gallimard, which might have led to this recent confusion over ownership of the rights. The first draft of the contract with Gallimard gave Dufour exclusive world rights, and Dufour had operated with the assumption of holding world rights for some time following this draft. However, the signed contract, in Dufour's present reading, tends to agree with Gallimard's."
Meaning Éditions Gallimard switched contracts on Dufour so as to be able to double dip on the sales of the rights. Way to conduct business, fellas!