(As we prepare to celebrate the UN’s International Translation Day on September 30th, this article on the – still prevailing – abysmal treatment of literary translators has been sent to three national representatives at the UN: Geraldine Byrne Nason (Ireland); Martin Bille Hermann (Denmark) and Karel van Oosterom (Netherlands). All three countries are relevant to my story and that of other translators.)
How I was vanished from my own book
What I have to say below has nothing to do with my word against somebody else’s. Every important statement that I make is supported by incontrovertible evidence.
If your name is on the front of a book as an author, not only does literary and publishing convention sate that you are the author of that book, the buying public believes the same. This is so obvious that it should not need spelling out, should it?
Here is the book in question:
The above very well produced book – ‘Fraternité Avant Tout’ – containing my translations of world renowned Danish painter Asger Jorn’s essays on art and architecture was published in 2011 by ‘010, Rotterdam’. As is clear, my name and that of my co-author Ruth Baumeister are on the front of the book. The same goes for the inside cover page:
That red mark you see on Le Corbusier’s open hand sculpture in the two-sheet cover page is the designer’s mark up (in Dutch), in readiness for the actual printing of the book. It tells the printer that the image is to be free standing. Some readers will be aware that ‘Le Corb’ designed this hand to express: “the hand to give and the hand to take; peace and prosperity, and the unity of mankind.” It is a fitting symbol for the beginning of a book about Fraternité. The socialist Asger Jorn would have approved, despite his subsequent fall out with Le Corbusier.
The reason why I have a mark-up copy of our book is that I was the one who proofed and corrected the whole book, except for the introduction which I was never shown and never saw until I got a physical copy of the book in May 2011. We shall return to the question of the book’s ‘missing’ introduction shortly.
Thus, dear readers, it is clear that I was co-author of the book ‘Fraternité Avant Tout’ and we have seen just a small bit of the compelling evidence for my intimate involvement with it. This involvement represents the guts of five years of my life. But to remove any remaining doubt on the question of my co-authorship of ‘Fraternité Avant Tout’ let us look at the publisher’s 2010/2011 catalogue where our book features prominently, as you would expect:
It may be difficult for some readers to see, but the writing in red below the book’s title names Paul Larkin alongside Ruth Baumeister as the ‘editors’ of ‘Fraternité Avant Tout’. Let us have a look at this in close up:
I was perfectly happy, and am still happy, to be described as translator of the book, but my broader editorial role is clear and was important. The editorial role of translators is often ignored or misunderstood. There was also a laborious element to that editorial work because the book features scores of graphic images and captions, which I copied – one by one – from the original essays and pasted into caption documents, so as to make our translated essays as much of a mirror image of the originals as possible. Here is just one page from our book, in this case my/Jorn’s essay – ‘Yin/Yang- The dialectical materialist philosophy of life.
Snake decoration – Swedish Bronze Age rock carving
I estimate that I spent at least six months on the captions alone. Another important aspect of the above publisher’s catalogue is that it mentions a jointly written introduction by the editors.
Before we come to the huge turn in this story – which you all feel looming – let me stress that my co-author Ruth Baumeister, to whom I bear no personal ill-will and who is now an internationally known academic, also did a huge amount of work on our book and, within her own fields of expertise as an art historian and architect at least, she is extremely adept.
It’s also important to stress that I regard, and will always regard, Ruth Baumeister as the co-author of a very fine book we created together about and ‘of’ Asger Jorn.
Though she completed her 2009 PhD on Asger Jorn in the Netherlands, at Delft University, she is now a professor at Aarhus School of Architecture in Jutland, Denmark. Needless to say our book helped her career as a Jorn expert and raised her academic esteem generally. The book should also, and equally, have given your author a much higher profile in Jorn studies. But didn’t.
Professor Baumeister wrote to me on the 2nd April 2010 in order to get our lines right about our joint authorship and our joint introduction. This is what she said:
(Please bear in mind that English is not her first language)
“Since for quite some time we are talking about ‘our’ book, I was assuming that we co-author also the intro. The other day, in an e-mail, you were talking about a “short translator’s introduction”. My understanding was that in terms of translation, your part is 80% and mine is 20% and in terms of the intro, the other way around and this would finally make “our” book, please correct me if I am wrong. ……There is no immediate hurry, I just wanted to make it clear so that we do not suffer from misunderstandings as we go on the way.”
I was happy with this; not least because Ruth Baumeister wanted to make sure there would be no misunderstandings in the future about our co-authorship. In terms of our joint introduction, I simply wanted to make some references to Asger Jorn’s passionate interest in Nordic myth and identity, and also his interest in Kierkegaard and what we might call artistic spirituality. I submitted the galley proofs early in 2011 and the book was sent to the printer. I then looked forward to seeing the printed version of ‘Fraternité Avant Tout’ in early April 2011.
But I then got a mail from Ruth Baumeister on the 22nd of February 2011 telling me that my part of our introduction had not been included in the finished book:
I just delivered the intro myself and looking back at how it went now, I must admit that it was pretty naive on my end to ask you to do this together. And yet, I did so but unfortunately did not keep my promise for this one and I want to apologise to you for it. I am sorry for this and it was certainly not the correct procedure how I did it.
Hope you will survive this mail.
Needless to say I took a deep breath. But then decided not to make a big issue about the introduction. Overall, I was still very pleased with the book, as was the Danish Arts Council, which had partially funded our book. It was, however, an omen which in hindsight I should have noted. For if a big deep breath was required by me over my precious Fraternité book in 2011, I have never recovered from what happened next, in 2016.
It wasn’t until 2016 that I learned that, in 2014, my co-author had published a commercial version of her 2009 PhD and that this contained thousands of words from my translations in our Fraternité book and thousands more again in paraphrasing. I wasn’t told about this book prior to publication and my permission was not sought for the use of my translations. Nor was I credited as co-author of ‘Fraternité Avant Tout’. Furthermore, I was not paid for the extensive use of my work. I am not even thanked in the book. I am simply vanished.
Is this really the way the publishing of University PhDs works? I asked my astounded self.
It so happened that I knew a lot about Ruth Baumeister’s 2009 PhD from Delft University, because I had happily given Prof. Baumeister, and thereby Delft University’s Urban Architecture department, free use of two of my essay translations. One from Danish and one from Swedish. These were included in full in Ruth Baumeister’s 2009 PhD.
In that same 2009 PhD, which is in German, my co-author praises me to the heavens and tells the world that we are working together on a coming anthology of Asger Jorn’s essays
“(Note 76) Letztere sind Teil der Anthologie von Jorns Texten zur Architektur in englischer Übersetzung, die ich gegenwärtig zusammen mit Paul Larkin erarbeite.”
“This latter forms part of an anthology of Jorn’s essays on architecture in English translation on which I’m presently working in collaboration with Paul Larkin.”
Yes we wrote a book together. That ‘anthology’, that book, is the book that came to be called ‘Fraternité Avant Tout’.
Now look at this picture of my translation of Asger Jorn’s essay ‘Dreams and Reality’ as it appears in our 2011 book ‘Fraternité Avant Tout’:
The above essay is quoted (several times) in my co-author’s 2014 book, but look at the footnote reference for the quote:
Jorn, Dreams and Reality, part 1 (1948), in Baumeister (ed). Fraternité Avant Tout.
As is immediately obvious, my name is no longer there.
It’s worth reproducing the text, my text, to which this footnote in the 2014 book refers, not just for its beauty, but precisely because your author translated it from the original Danish:
“When le Corbusier says that a machine-turned sphere is more beautiful and complete than an apple, this is due to the very fact that he does not understand that the beautiful and complete is what lives; the thing that exists as part of life. He does not understand that the very same stalk which breaks the apple’s perfect spherical shape, or geometry, is also the umbilical cord that binds it to the material world, to the universe. This same principle also applies to the door of a house, the stairs and passageways. It is this that is the most significant point. For it is this that links the house to the world around it, makes it an element of the social and urbanist whole, which in turn is nothing more than an element of the universal whole. It is precisely for this reason that the perfect and complete is to be found in the fragmentary, the open; objects that are organically linked with other living elements.”
We now also understand that whilst my name has been removed from the credit for the book from which the above text came, the text itself, my text, has been used extensively.
There was worse to come. Not only has my name as co-author and translator for the above quote been removed at this place, it has been removed hundreds of times in the 2014 book, for hundreds of quotes. In a book of, I estimate, around sixty five thousand words, the number of words used from my texts is over four thousand and that’s not counting paraphrasing. Again, it is a book in which I am not even paid or thanked for suffering the indignity of being ‘rifled’ and having my name as author removed at the same time.
If readers want to gauge my shock when I read this 2014 book for the first time, we can simply take the footnote references for the same page (page 71) as the above quote, with five of my essays quoted across pages 70 and 71, all with my name removed:
On pages 70 and 71 alone in this commercial PhD there are 424 of my words and that’s not counting the paraphrasing of my translations.
In total, right across this 2014 book by Professor Baumeister, seventeen of my finely crafted and beautifully written essays are quoted, paraphrased and cited, often at length as we have seen above and my name has been deliberately detached from all of them. Five years of my life as a translator, author and artist vanished. My essays chopped up and used in ways I would never have agreed to, if I had been given the chance to decide – as per copyright law.
Copyright law and academic practice also state that, where permission is not sought, an author may only quote a restricted amount from another person’s work and, even then, the relevant author must be credited. We have already seen the massive scale of my work used in the 2014 book and the absence of crediting.
So what exactly was this 2014 book – see picture above – that contains so much of my work without my permission? Again for the sake of clarity, it is an exquisitely produced commercial version of my co-author Ruth Baumeister’s 2009 Asger Jorn PhD from Delft University – entitled ‘L’architecture Sauvage’. The publisher was ‘Nai010’ of Rotterdam, which is a sister publisher to our original book’s publisher ‘010 Rotterdam’. What a shame I wasn’t invited to my own party, apart from a ‘fig leaf’ passing mention of my name at the head of the chapters that contain scores of my fine translations. How tacky.
According to the publisher of the 2014 book, Professor Baumeister has signed a contract with them claiming ownership of all the contents of the above book, ownership therefore of all of my essays. Ownership of me.
So by 2014, I was disappeared as author of ‘Fraternité Avant Tout’, but by September 2019 – literally just weeks ago – my co-author is to be found publicly describing our jointly written book in a quality Danish newspaper as: “the book I wrote in 2011.” I am not even history. I am not even toast. I’m just erased. As is any notion of Fraternité.
The Danish newspaper which raised my case recently is called Kristeligt Dagblad, which despite its ‘Christian’ title is seen as one of the most culturally sophisticated publications in Denmark. Kristeligt Dagblad is a really excellent non-sectarian (in the religious Irish sense) newspaper and has a broad, discerning and growing readership.
Though behind a paywall and therefore subject to copyright, the two articles in ‘KD’ can be – partially at least – read here, if you have Danish, or if you are just curious to see the headlines:
Translation: A close intellectual collaboration on Asger Jorn has ended in threats of legal action-
Translation: Asger Jorn at the centre of a copyright dispute
The articles were published after Kristeligt Dagblad learned that I had approached a well known and highly respected Belfast human rights lawyer, Niall Murphy of KRW Law, to help me restore my artistic name and dignity.
One of the striking things about these newspaper articles, which caused quite a stir in Denmark, is that Professor Baumeister refused to respond to the points put to her by the newspaper. Only when the articles were published did she finally reply with a response that was published several days later. Rather unusually, the newspaper gives a response to Baumeister at the bottom of her letter, pointing out that she had refused to answer the specific points put to her, despite being given ample time to respond.
Professor Baumeister’s short letter is astonishing and does her no favours. She says, for example, that we have no joint copyright contract for a book.
Here is the wording of our 2009 joint copyright contract, which clearly refers to the production of a book and the shared royalties on “the public sale of the work”, though at that point our book had a different working title.
Professor Baumeister’s letter to Kristeligt Dagblad also states that she alone is the author of ‘Fraternité Avant Tout’. That she still felt able, considering the irrefutable evidence above, to make this statement after reading the newspaper articles is some feat. Not least because one of the articles also makes clear that the Jorn Museum’s own website describes me as the co-author of ‘Fraternité Avant Tout’, along with Professor Baumeister and Asger Jorn as the originator:
Moreover, the newspaper revealed that it was none other than Professor Baumeister herself who had confirmed our co-authorship to that very same Jorn Museum back in 2010. Here is her email to me in May 2010 confirming. not only that everybody at the Jorn Museum, and certain Jorn experts, were delighted with my translations but also that we are co-authors of our book:
4th of May, 2010
“… (they said) you really succeeded in bringing over Jorn’s irony and translating the special character and sometimes twisted character of his writings … I made it very clear that we are both authoring this book.”
So, just as with Professor Baumeister’s confirmation of our co-authorship – “our book” -n April 2010, which we have seen earlier when discussing our joint introduction, the very next month Professor Baumeister is found to be again making clear that I was the co-author of the book which bears my name on its cover. In fact in 2011, on the eve of ‘010 Rotterdam’ publishing our book, Baumeister made clear that we are the contracted authors and that we – both of us – licensed Fraternité Avant Tout to the publishers.
8th February 2011
“As we have described in our contract, we have the copyrights on the translations, which is the normal situation at 010 as with any other serious publisher. At the same time, now that the book will be published with 010, we give them the license to publish the material. This license will expire 2 years after the book is sold out and 010 has, on written request by us, no intention to publish a next edition.”
No joint copyright contract? No co-authorship? Deary me. The facts and Professor Baumeister’s own copious testimony speak for themselves.
But let us be clear about the literary and social dynamics that are at play here. My co-author badly needed something she didn’t have – without my permission – which was a set of priceless, never before translated, essays that unravel and illustrate Asger Jorn’s most complex and profound thoughts, and rather than admitting my expertise and the need of my help, she simply took them and used them to help fill up her book. The word for that in English is plagiarism. She has been able to get away with this behaviour because she is fully aware that I am not a man of means and that the Universities to which she is attached in the Netherlands and Denmark – which both have grand mission statements about ‘reaching out’ and the sacredness of learning – say it’s nothing to do with them.
At all times through this nightmare, I have simply asked for an apology, an admission that a ‘mistake’ was made, and a correction of the crediting error. A thank you note and the gracious gesture of a payment for the use of my work might also help. Translators being respected, credited and paid properly for their work? Whatever next?
Yet a high profile academic can simply ignore my – three year long – reasonable attempts at coming to a settlement; something she also freely admits in the letter referred to above, in which she accuses me of harassment for having the temerity to raise these issues. How very dare I? She has also ignored solicitor Niall Murphy’s attempts at correspondence, but responded to a newspaper immediately once this scandal went public.
Would she have ignored such missives from a famous, celebrity academic? Would she even have contemplated using a celebrity’s work without permission? Would such industrial scale purloinment of another artist’s finely wrought works of art have happened to a well connected middle class author/academic/celebrity with influence and friends in high places across the literary and university spectrum? Not a chance.
So there we have it on this day for translators – ‘ITD’ (International Translation Day). A day devised by the UN to celebrate the vital cultural mediation and exchange role of translators. Or as UNESCO has put it: “… ITD highlights the role of translation in promoting an understanding of the intangible cultural heritage of others in order to encourage mutual respect in our changing world.”
Mutual respect? In all of the above, there has been zero respect shown to translators.
Weyland the blacksmith – fire walk with me …
Though you wouldn’t know it from studying most Jorn books, Asger Jorn had an abiding interest in the peasant legend of Weyland the blacksmith. Weyland, or Vølund in the Danish, was so good at his craft that the elite of bygone days cut his leg tendons so as to hobble him for life and curtail his flight. To vanish him if you like. Weyland is of course also Hephaestus or Vulcanus. He is even Oedipus – the deliberately crippled Οἰδίπους (Swollen Foot).
Jorn loved the Weyland legend, not just because – like the original Danish ‘Amled’ (Hamlet) story – it depicts the brilliant artistry of the common man (and woman), it also speaks of a peasant belief that though the elite may hobble you, a natural justice will always prevail in the end.
My interests in Asger Jorn explore his own deep engagement with questions of spirituality, Kierkegaard, Danish and Nordic identity and artistic materialism. How that individual artistic freedom can be married to social concerns also. A perfect alternative look at the current ‘hygge’ zeitgeist and comfy coffee table books, one would have thought.
As Jorn things stand, I don’t even have a name, let alone an identity.
But, with the help of good, ‘common’ people, that will change.
Carraic, Derrybeg, County Donegal