- by Mark McAlister
“I’d like to buy a copy of Occult Science by Rudolf Steiner.”
“I’m sorry, it’s out of print.”
This dialogue happened recently in a Waldorf School bookstore. (English-language editions of this book are in fact available, even though the US edition is out or print at the moment.) Even experienced booksellers and librarians have difficulty keeping track of our vast and complex literature. You might think that Internet search engines and database tools would help, but they only seem to be making things worse. It’s all so confusing!
In this article, I will discuss some of the bibliographical issues involved with Rudolf Steiner’s work, and give some guidelines for making sense of it all. I hope this will be helpful – not only for experienced anthroposophists – but for anyone wanting to learn more about anthroposophy. Please offer your comments and suggestions so we can continue to make improvements to our library services.
The “Gesamtausgabe” – Rudolf Steiner’s complete works in German
The “Gesamtausgabe” (GA) contains approximately 350 volumes, with another 40 or so in preparation. It is organized under the following main headings: Writings, Public Lectures, Lectures for members of the Anthroposophical Society, Lectures on particular subjects, and Artistic works. Most of the lecture publications are based on shorthand notes unrevised by Steiner, and inevitably contain many errors and omissions. Today, the Rudolf Steiner Archive in Dornach employs people to scrutinize the archival material and ensure that the published GA texts are as authentic as possible. This continuing editorial work is the basis of their claim for copyright protection. (Rudolf Steiner’s original works are now in the public domain.)
The entire GA is available in searchable electronic format from the Rudolf Steiner Verlag in Dornach for 999 Euros. The texts are also available for free download on many websites, although they are not always reliable on account of scanning and computer errors. In many cases, such downloading violates copyrights.
Rudolf Steiner in English translation
In his book After Babel, George Steiner (no relation) makes the case that translation is in fact a process of cross-fertilization that can result in the enhancement of culture. From this point of view, English-speaking readers of Rudolf Steiner may be seen to have an advantage. By wrestling with the (sometimes awkward) translations, we experience new shades of meaning that are not available to the German-speaking reader. (For instance, think of the difference between “philosophy of freedom” and “philosophy of spiritual activity.”) Who can really say what Rudolf Steiner “meant”, or how he would have said it in English?
Keeping track of translations and assessing them is a very difficult task. Modern editions are often prepared by professional translators, but this does not always lead to a better result. It can be healthy to have several translations in circulation. For instance, there are countless versions of the “Calendar of the Soul” and no-one seems too concerned about agreeing on a “definitive” edition.
Having said that, there is a need for a standard edition of Rudolf Steiner’s work in English translation. The Collected Works (CW) is a joint project of Steinerbooks (USA) and Rudolf Steiner Press (UK). They have adopted the same organization as the GA, so the contents of books in the CW series will match those in the GA. An important feature of the CW project is the commissioning of Introductions that help readers to see the work in a modern context.
Whether you are doing complex literature searches, looking for a single book, or simply browsing, there are several helpful tools available on the Internet. They each have strengths and weaknesses, and unfortunately, you cannot find everything in one place. They are relatively easy to use once you become familiar with them. The following chart is a summary of some of the main ones.
Growing, searchable collection of lectures and writings by Rudolf Steiner, translated into English and available for download. Includes chronological list of most of the lectures. Many other helpful tools are available, but they are limited to works in this collection.
Full library calatalogue data for all available works in English by Rudolf Steiner. Pathfinders (subject guides) prepared by the Librarians.
Collected Works plan; in-print catalogue; some basic titles available for download.
Overview of Gesamtausgabe in German. (Some out-of-print titles not included.)
Tool for cross-referencing GA with English editions