Norbert Elias, On the Process of Civilisation: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations, translated by Edmund Jephcott, edited by Stephen Mennell, Eric Dunning, Johan Goudsblom and Richard Kilminster (Dublin: UCD Press, 2012 [Collected Works, vol. 3]). xxii + 654 pp. isbn: 978 1 906359 04 1. €60.00
In this sumptuous new volume, which has been several years in preparation, earlier editions have been completely revised, with many corrections and clarifications. We predict that even readers who know The Civilising Process well will find the new edition a revelation.
But first, why the change of title? Why not the familiar The Civilising Process? As the editors explain:
‘One should think twice before publishing a new edition of an already famous book under an unfamiliar title. Dreadful examples are Johan Huizinga’s The Waning of the Middle Ages, which became The Autumn of the Middle Ages, and Proust’s The Remembrance of Things Past, which became In Search of Lost Time – in both cases the new title was more literal but also infinitely more pedestrian in English than the old. The board of the Norbert Elias Foundation nevertheless decided that this volume of the Collected Works should be issued not as the familiar The Civilising Process but under the new title On the Process of Civilisation. This is a more literal translation of Über den Prozess der Zivilisation but not, we hope, more pedestrian. … There are two good reasons for amending [the title], both of them related to widespread misunderstandings to which the original English title has apparently given rise … First, the emphasis in the original German title is – and should also be in English – on the word ‘process’, not on the word ‘civilisation’ or ‘civilising’. Second, by extension, some readers have inferred from the definite article in The Civilising Process that Elias believed that a singular civilising process had occurred uniquely in the course of the last half-millennium or so of European history. … But Elias made many asides both here and in his later writings to stress that civilising processes were found in other parts of the world and in other periods of human social development. He repeatedly asserted that other instances of civilising processes could be observed in other continents and other periods throughout the development of human society.’
Of course, we are not trying to banish the familiar term ‘civilising process’, but we do try to speak of ‘a civilising process’ or ‘civilising procezses’, rather than ‘the civilising process’ in the singular.
One of the most immediately striking features of the new edition is that, probably for the first time in any language, it includes full-colour plates of all of the 14 pictures from the Mittelalterliches Hausbuch to which Elias refers in his celebrated discussion of ‘Scenes from the life of a knight’. The rather astonishing fact that Elias did refer to as many as 14 of the pictures we owe to Patrick Murphy, who meticulously worked through the text alongside reproductions of the Hausbuch. Patrick has also contributed an appendix, written with Stephen Mennell, about the drawings. In retrospect, it seems obvious that no one could fully understand Elias’s discussion without being familiar with the drawings themselves.
Besides carefully checking and correcting the text, the editors have inserted numerous explanatory notes and cross-references to other parts of Elias’s writings. The explanatory notes are especially important in the long discussion of state-formation processes, where Elias seems to have written on the assumption that every reader would come equipped with a comprehensive detailed knowledge of European medieval and early modern history, especially of France and Germany. That assumption was probably never realistic, and has long since to be safe for later generations of English speaking readers. The notes will help to navigate the reader through the maze of the distant past and among unfamiliar monarchs (many with very similar names!).
One other new feature, among many, needs to be mentioned. Elias often hid away important discussions in extended notes which, tucked away at the end of the book in tiny print, were probably rarely studied by the exhausted reader. In line with modern practice, these have now been transformed into appendices (and sometimes themselves annotated). There are as many as 27 of these new appendices, for which the editors have created titles. They include, for example: ‘On feudalism in Europe and Asia’; ‘On law and political development’; ‘On the Chinese form of centralisation’; ‘On British national character’; ‘On the strength of tensions, population pressure and international economics in hegemonic states’; ‘Some American authors on habits and fears’; ‘On ideology, Realpolitik, and American sociology’. Even included is a long note that Elias dictated for the Dutch translation of the book.
The next volume to be published, in July 2012, will be:
Norbert Elias, What is Sociology?, translated by Grace Morrissey, Stephen Mennell and Edmund Jephcott, edited by Artur Bogner, Katie Liston and Stephen Mennell (Dublin: UCD Press, 2012 [Collected Works, vol. 5]). xviii + 236 pp. ISBN: 978-1-906359-05-8. €60.00
The new edition will include a ‘missing chapter’ on Marx and another shorter text on ‘The sociogenesis of the concept of “society” as the subject matter of sociology’ never previously published in English, both translated for this edition by Edmund Jephcott. The translation of the original book made by Grace Morrissey and Stephen Mennell in the early 1970s (the first translation into English of Elias’s major works) has been substantially revised in the light of later translations – especially by Edmund Jephcott – of other works.
Buy online: Copies of any of the volumes of the Collected Works may be purchased online at a 20 per cent discount, directly from the publishers, at www.ucdpress.ie. Postal charge (outside Ireland) is 6 euro for the first volume in an order and 4 euro for second and subsequent volumes in the same order.