on the reliability of published steiner lectures

This is interesting. Peter Staudenmaier writes:

I think it reveals how much anthroposophical interpretation has always gone into the process of rendering Steiner’s lecture transcripts into printed texts. With the new 2011 edition of Zeitgeschichtliche Betrachtungen, everybody must by now realize that all of the other hundreds of lecture volumes in the Gesamtausgabe are potentially subject to the same ‘revision’ and ‘correction’ — who knows what other surprises lurk in the recesses of Dornach? For Steiner’s followers in particular, it poses an uncomfortable question: What if my personal favorite lecture cycles turn out to be just as unreliable?

For those who don’t know what we’re talking about, in 2011 the Rudolf Steiner Verlag in Dornach, which oversees the official edition of Steiner’s published works, brought out a revised version of Steiner’s lectures about World War I. They revised it by going back to the original shorthand stenographic transcripts and completely reconstructing the text from the ground up. This produced a set of lectures which in many passages read like an entirely different text from the previous edition. But since that previous edition (on which the existing English translation is based) had the full imprimatur of the anthroposophical authorities, the new edition inevitably leaves readers wondering just what might be — and might not be — a reliable version of what Steiner actually said in the first place.

Not only are translations of lectures sometimes unreliable, the same risk appears to exist for published German editions. Here’s the volume of lectures referred to.

19 thoughts on “on the reliability of published steiner lectures

  1. Peter S. writes that anthropops may wonder: “What if my personal favorite lecture cycles turn out to be just as unreliable?” Perhaps, but Staudenmaierians should definitely wonder if their favorite anthropop-basher is reliable at all. He says that a certain lecture cycle “had the full imprimatur of the anthroposophical authorities”. Although Peter’s current Jesuit bosses may need a imprimatur to publish something, there are simply no anthroposophical authorities to say yea or nay to the Rudolf Steiner Verlag, who not only do not follow the orders or indications of the Athroposophical Society (which some may consider an authority) but have been at odds with it from the get-go. They are completely independent.

  2. Apparently the Steiner Verlag endorsed the previous edition. I had assumed authorities on the work of Steiner were employed there. But maybe they’re just random fools of the ordinary kind and no experts.

  3. Alicia,

    You say “But maybe they’re just random fools of the ordinary kind and no experts”. I think you may do them an unjustice there. Random they are definitely not, neither ordinary, as they propably constitute as tightly a knit group of old cronies you´ll ever find. Experts? No one can be considered an expert on the good Doctors intentions, only on the hitherto published texts. Concerning the original stenographic copies, the early ones are in different (and often personal) shorthand systems, the later mostly by a steadily engaged shorthand writer (that Steiner evidently trusted) whose name I cannot remember. Neither can I at present find when this person started her (it was a lady) shorthanding of the lectures. Under these circumstances I find it a very bold enterprise to revise the earlier texts, as shorthand systems vary enormously in interpretation possibilities. The later ones should be safer to deal with so it becomes a question if the abovementioned lectures (where I know the originally published text rather well) are shorthanded by any old volunteer or by the steady lady.
    Anyway, I must read the newly published books and see. If you have already started on them, please give us some feedback on the impression you get.

  4. Well, I don’t want to suggest they’re fools, but I had to open up for the possibility… I mean, if they aren’t authorities on the work of Steiner, what on earth are they and what are they doing in that place?

    I suppose the old edition is quite old, and obviously those who were now involved in the new edition were not involved in publishing the old one.

    The good Doctor’s intentions are of course a difficult matter. However, one hopes that the published works are as close to the transcripts as possible — as accurate as possible. His intentions might still be… hidden in a fog.

    I’m not reading the books, and I haven’t read the earlier edition either. Didn’t seem extremely interesting. And, darn, it’s expensive.

    … oh, wait, I think I’ve read something in Karma of untruthfulness, actually. The english edition. I assume that’s the old translation of one of the books.

  5. Peter S wrote on the critics list:

    ‘For a recent example, see the confused reply from Frank Smith on Alicia’s blog yesterday, addressing this very topic. For those interested in the particulars, the Rudolf Steiner Verlag — publisher of Steiner’s works — and the Anthroposophical Society are not just different institutions, they are fierce rivals and have been at each other’s throats for decades, though in recent years a kind of rapprochement has begun to set in. Both organizations are headquartered in Dornach, but developed out of competing factions among Steiner’s followers, a split exacerbated by Marie Steiner’s troubled relationship with other anthroposophists after Rudolf Steiner’s death.

    As much as some anthroposophists may chafe at the notion, the Rudolf Steiner Verlag does indeed have the authority to publish Steiner’s works, and they are responsible for both of the editions of Steiner’s Zeitgeschichtliche Betrachtungen, a substantial collection of his vocally belligerent lectures about WWI. These two editions of the exact same lectures resulted in two sometimes spectacularly divergent texts. The first edition of Steiner’s Zeitgeschichtliche Betrachtungen was published by the Rudolf Steiner Verlag in 1966, then re-printed twice, in 1978 and 1983, each time claiming full authorization and authenticity. The new edition appeared in 2011, making a mockery of the earlier edition from the very same publisher.

    Both of the English editions of the book (most recently 2005 from Rudolf Steiner Press), under the title The Karma of Untruthfulness, are translations of the first German edition, which is now completely obsolete.’


    (It’s a very good thing they change their minds though. And that they revise editions when the old ones aren’t good enough.)

  6. Processing transcripts into texts is quite messy, the reliability varies a lot.

    @curt: the name is Helene Finckh. Read about her here: http://biographien.kulturimpuls.org/detail.php?&id=432 She transcribed 2500 lectures, wow! More on her and the other people behind the sources: http://www.rudolf-steiner.com/gesamtausgabe/geschichtliches/die_stenographen/

    Some reading on working with the transcripts of Steiner lectures: http://www.rudolf-steiner.com/uploads/media/Nachschriften.pdf

    From what I’ve seen, early editions of Steiner lectures are more edited to be book-like while later ones try to stick to the actual spoken words. For example, I stumbled upon a quote which was from an older edition. This sparked my curiosity and I got hold of that edition and compared a few pages to the current edition. The most interesting part was a sentence that was quite tricky, it really relied on the exact wording. So Steiner repeated himself just to make sure the listeners could still follow him. But the publisher clearly didn’t get this, removed the repetition and even mangaged to get the sentence wrong!

  7. Peter S. ‘For a recent example, see the confused reply from Frank Smith on Alicia’s blog yesterday, addressing this very topic. My post is not at all confused. Neither is Peter’s. The difference is that he twists the truth and I don’t. The fact is that the Rudolf Steiner Verlag is completely independent.

  8. I’m trying to find out more about social pedagogy/currative education from an objective source and wondered if you could help. I tried to ask an anthroposophist who works in Camphill about it and just got circular answers.

  9. Re: Social Pedagogy. Thanks, Alicia, it’s the first tme I’ve seen the expression. Anyway, it’s great news that the Univ. of Aberdeen is waking up to the effective care of people and kids with special needs. Frank

  10. I didn’t use the word social pedagogy (‘Anonymous’ did), although it is used quite often in Europe.

    As Mark H, I recommend James Grey’s post and the documentation he published. These documents were quite revealing. I’d also recommend Anonymous to read Steiner’s curative education lectures. http://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/CuratEducat/CurEdu_index.html To know the ideas that underlie curative education, reading Steiner’s own words is probably necessary.

    As far as I’m aware, there is very little written about the topic by objective persons and very little research. Almost everything there is, is written by anthroposophists.

    I feel even more sorry for the special needs children who are subjected to curative education than I feel for those ordinary kids who are subjected to waldorf education. The former have an even harder time knowing their rights and protesting when they’re maltreated based upon various ‘spiritual’ ideas about how to treat disabilities. Stuffed away in these institutions, chances are nobody will care because nobody will hear these children at all.

    I hope people will wake up to the contents of Steiner’s curative education lectures before they send their kids away. And I hope they are aware that curative therapists often have no other education and no other training in caring for special needs than the anthroposophical courses (which usually aren’t run by universities…).

  11. “Anyway, it’s great news that the Univ. of Aberdeen is waking up to the effective care of people and kids with special needs.”

    Yeah, because Camphill in Aberdeen is doing such a great job with their special needs children, right, Frank? It really isn’t a hotbed for child abuse, right?

  12. Here’s a thought… According to Steiner, people with special needs are working out some karmic debt from a previous life. Is there any reason to coddle them? Of course not… they are disabled for a reason… it’s really OK for them to suffer… in fact, it actually helps their karma if they are suffering a little…

    My ex wife worked at Aberdeen (and admitted she abused children) as a 16 year old… I suspect what I said above sets the framework for the abuses that happen there.

  13. Hi Alicia (and others), I notice that Pete K has popped up, and even addresses me. I resolved long ago on Waldorf Critics to neither reply to nor even read his posts, because I believe that doing so encourages his socio-pathological self-destructiveness. Frank

  14. Luckily, it is voluntary.

    As for the personlities or personal failings of either Pete or Frank, I hereby wish — for my convenience and in order to protect my sanity — to discourage any further discussion on that topic…

  15. “I resolved long ago on Waldorf Critics to neither reply to nor even read his posts, because I believe that doing so encourages his socio-pathological self-destructiveness.”

    I’d rather be self-destructive, than be responsible for helping to destroying the lives of other people’s children, Frank. Whatever you say about me is speculative… What I say about you is obvious. Your enthusiastic involvement in a movement that harms children time and time again speaks volumes about who you are. Your pronouncements about my character says absolutely nothing about who I am. (And that’s all I’ll say about it, Alicia).

  16. Thanks Pete.

    I personally don’t understand what curative education has got to do in a university — the whole foundation of it is so far from being possible to study academically that I doubt it has any potentional in that regard whatsoever.

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