The go-to edition of "The Spirits' Book"
Beoordeeld in de Verenigde Staten op 12 november 2019
ABOUT THIS NEW EDITION:
The translation of “The Spirits’ Book” published by Luchnos (translated by E. G. Dutra) is the best English
version available, by a very wide margin. The translator has a keen ear for English prose and has taken a
very careful approach to the project, as spelled out in the appendix at the end of the book. This new
version is in a league of its own.
Let’s take the case of questions 640 and 641, two very representative examples. First, let’s see how
another edition (FEB-Edicei) translates the passage:
640. Are those who do not do evil themselves, but who take advantage of the evil committed by others
culpable to the same degree?
“It is as if they themselves had committed it; upon taking advantage of it, they participate in it. Perhaps
they would have recoiled before the deed itself, but once it was done and they then took advantage of
it, it was because they approved of it and would have committed it themselves if they could have or if
they had been more daring.”
641. Is the desire for evil as reprehensible as evil itself?
“That depends. There is virtue in willingly resisting the desire for evil if one desires to commit it,
especially when there is a possibility of satisfying the desire. However, if it is only because the
opportunity did not present itself, the person is culpable.”
Sentences here aren’t clearly constructed, and I feel forced to read the passage a number of times, and
even then, I’m still not sure I understand what the text means exactly (for instance, what is to be
understood by “there is a possibility of satisfying the desire,” that the person can satisfy his/her desire if
he/she so wishes, or that it may happen as a matter of course, independent of the person’s actions?).
The choice of verb tenses is also awkward. If feels like a word-for-word translation that fails to convey
the actual meaning.
Now, notice how the meaning emerges clearly on first reading in Luchnos’ translation:
640. Is he who does not do evil himself, but profits from the evil committed by others, culpable to the
“It is as though he had committed it himself—partaking of the fruits of evil is taking part in evil. Maybe
he would have hesitated to commit it, but if he, upon finding the wrongful deed already consummated,
goes on to take advantage of it, it is because he approves of it, and would have committed it himself if
he had had the opportunity—or the courage—to do it.”
641. Is the desire for evil as blameworthy as evil itself?
“That is as the case may be. There is virtue in willfully resisting doing evil if one harbors the desire to
commit it, especially when in possession of the means to bring one’s plans to fruition. However, a man is
already guilty if all that he lacks is the opportunity to carry out his plans.”
Not only the meaning is clear, but sentences are also carefully crafted, and made very effective through
a precise choice of words, making the text sound like an elegant example of prose written originally in
English. A confusing sentence in Edicei’s translation (Upon taking advantage of it, they participate in it) is
transformed into a powerful maxim in Luchnos’ version (Partaking of the fruits of evil is taking part in
evil). The play on words “taking part in” versus “partaking of” possibly does not even exist in the French
original. In the answer to question 641, an unclear sentence (especially when there is a possibility of
satisfying the desire) is written with absolute clarity (especially when in possession of the means to bring
one’s plans to fruition).
Most importantly, in a number of tricky passages where all other translations stumble this one gets
things consistently right. Another reviewer wrote a detailed comparison of previous translations on the
review thread of FEB/Edicei’s edition, I suggest checking out the questions raised there. For instance,
this is the only version that correctly translates the second part of question 811, where “systematique”
means “dogmatic,” not “framer of systems” (Edicei-FEB), and much less “visionary” (AKES). Questions
203, 217, 358 and 776 are similar examples.
Furthermore, although Luchnos’ version purportedly does not adopt a “modern” approach to language
(gender neutrality, etc), quite often it is the only translation that actually sounds
neutral/nonjudgmental. Take question 203: “Parents of limited intellect may have intelligent children,
and vice versa.” Edicei’s version reads “Daft parents may have intelligent children, and vice versa.” AKES
reads “A stupid father may have bright children.” I recall many other passages like that. In question 212,
AKES uses “Siamese twins,” an expression that many people will find offensive, rather than the
standard, neutral phrase “conjoined twins” which Luchnos uses.
A lot of handholding is offered through chapter endnotes prepared by the translator. These are
consistently insightful, so make sure you keep a bookmark handy. For instance, right off the bat,
questions 2 and 3 may sound strange to the modern reader (2. What is to be understood by the infinite?
3.Could we say that God is the infinite?), but the translator comes to the rescue by pointing out that “In
here Allan Kardec is confronting the Spirits with the Cartesian “Ontological Argument” of “God as the
Infinite” (René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, Fifth Meditation) …” and then goes on to
This is done systematically throughout the book, as opposed to previous translations, which do it
unfrequently, if at all. By reconciling such potentially cryptic passages with the various thinkers or
theories that Kardec constantly draws from, this translation allows the book’s greatness to truly shine
through. As said in the preface, “Kardec’s knowledge of the most diverse schools of thought, ancient and
modern, can be inferred not only from the comments he wrote but, perhaps even more revealingly,
from the questions he posed, as they represent, as it were, the backbone of the book: which subjects
are covered, and how they unfold.” Pointing out what those references are represents a unique feature
of this translation.
In our center we used other translations in the past, but have switched over to this new one.
NOW, ABOUT THE BOOK ITSELF (all excerpts from the Translator’s Preface of this edition):
“Despite the relative brevity—considering its large scope—the book represents nothing short of a
philosophical treatise. Most important, however, is that, beyond its comprehensive content, the work
stands out because of the ideas it conveys, some of which were truly revolutionary at the time. Some of
them can, in fact, still be considered revolutionary to this date.”
“The book came out two years before Charles Darwin published the classic On the Origin of Species.
Remarkably, question #50 of The Spirits’ Book (question #21 in the first edition) already stated that “the
man you call Adam was neither the first nor the only one to populate the Earth,” acknowledging that
“physical … differences come from … climate, lifestyle, and habits” (question #52 in the second edition,
#22 in the first edition), and that “living beings … are … subject to the law of progress.” Indeed, Kardec’s
book went on to state that “the race that populates the Earth today will disappear someday and will be
replaced gradually by more perfect beings. Such races will succeed the current one, just as the current
one succeeded others that were even more primitive” (question #185 in the second edition, #138 in the
“In other instances, the book makes surprising predictions of scientific discoveries, such as the existence
of matter that does not conform to the classical definition that prevailed in the nineteenth century—any
substance that has mass and takes up space—because it is “so ethereal and subtle as to not make any
impression upon [our] senses … yet, it is still matter, even though [we] do not see it as such.” (#22). The
detection of the electron in 1897 was only the first step in a series of discoveries that proved the
limitations of the classical concept of matter. Similarly, in question #29 we read that particles exist
which are “imponderable”—in other words, massless, something that science would only confirm well
into the twentieth century. Equally surprising is the later confirmation by science that “there is no void”
in “any part of universal space” (#36), since fields—electromagnetic, gravitational, or otherwise—fill up
“In its coverage of ethics, many of the book’s tenets are radically pioneering. Question #822 establishes
that “in order to be fair, human law must sanction the equality of rights between men and women. Any
special privilege granted to one and not the other is contrary to justice. The emancipation of women
heralds the progress of civilization; their servitude is an indication of barbarity.” This was advocated at a
time when women’s rights were severely lacking in all areas. In the case of voting rights alone, the
United States would enact women's suffrage in 1920. France would only do it in 1944.”
“This small sample gives us a glimpse into the wide scope and advanced concepts present in the book. In
fact, the word Spiritisme did not even exist before Le Livre des Esprits was published, which is
tantamount to saying that it does not make sense to talk about the Spiritist Doctrine without recourse to
Kardec in general, and to The Spirits’ Book in particular. Kardec’s later books may all be seen as the
expansion of themes that can be traced back to this foundational work.”
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