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11 - Interpretation of psychoanalysis and psychoanalysis of interpretation

"Torn between the necessity to interject
glosses on multiple meanings of the text..." 1.

Psychoanalysis has the peculiarity of being considered, according to different points of view, a science born in a humanistic field or a humanistic discipline conceived in a scientific context. A fate non very different from that often dealt to the science of translation, even because hermeneutics, from the Greek hermeneuien, to interpret, "the science of interpretation"2, is sometimes considered an opponent to science:

A modern debate, with terminological confusion of its own, rages as to whether Freud, despite his intentions, developed a clinical theory that was hermeneutic rather than scientific3

  Freud, although educated as a physician, had a wide humanistic culture that induced him to express many concepts with a figurative and evocative language, that gives an idea of modesty and tentativeness, of being concrete or temporary but never absolute. As to that, as Mahony also emphasizes, the Vienna physician would have agreed with the fundamental methodological tenet of modern science, enunciated by Popper, that "Every scientific tenet must remain tentative forever"4.
  As we have seen in previous units, according to Whorf, the mother tongue structure has an important influence on the individual's way of viewing the world and life. Without going overboard, we can state that the language used, although it does not completely exclude the expression of some concepts, can't help but favor some expressive modes. In Mahony's opinion, Freud's breeding in a German-speaking environment positively influenced the development of psychoanalytical theory, fostering its peculiar expression, shunning sterile scientific style5.
  The translator of the official English version of Freud's works, James Strachey, seems to have overlapped to Freudian view and its expression an ideology more typical of the British psychoanalysis of Jones, tending to 'science-ize' the metaphorical and evocative form of Freudian concepts.
  One of the first examples Mahony shows us is the translation of the title Neue Folge der Vorlesungen zur Einführung in die Psychoanalyse, translated by Strachey as New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, while, more literally, it could be rendered as "new series of lectures toward introducing psychoanalysis". As you can see, Freud's style is more flexible, offering us varied possibilities, is less absolute, more "tentative" as Popper says.
  Another example, a well-known quotation from Freud that was the calling card of the whole Lacanian movement, is the sentence:

Wo Es war, soll Ich werden
which Strachey translated in this way:
Where id was, ego shall be.

One of the fundamental features of this sentence is its dynamic sense, its view implying a gradual evolution of the individual, sense conveyed by the verb werden that can be translated as "become". The sentence then takes on a rather different sense:

Where id was, ego shall become.

The individual's evolution is a gradual transformation of one's unconscious material into conscious material, or, in other words, man is progressively less and less driven by unconscious drives, desires, mas-tering them more and more consciously. Effectively Strachey's version does not convey the idea of gradualism implied in Freudian utterance.
  Another rather striking case of ideological deformation regards libido, which in German is characterized by Klebrigkeit, translated by Strachey as adhesiveness, while the German word suggests a strong idea of "stickiness" rather than "adhesiveness". Individuals striving to transfer libidinal investment toward the therapist have, in Freud's view, a sticky libido, which gives a much more precise idea of the negative connotation of such condition.
  The most paradoxical aspect of such constant interpretive deformation of the Freudian text by the British translator consists in the fact that it is exerted precisely on a discipline that can be rightfully enclosed among the hermeneutical sciences. The great intuition that stands at the basis of talk-based psychotherapy is the fact that the translation of mental material into verbal material is not a series of equivalences but, as in all translation processes, adds and simultaneously removes something from the original. The analyst's work is often concentrated precisely on the 'translation loss' of such expressive work of the patient.
  Or, in the case of the interpretation of dreams - that will be analyzed in the next unit - psychoanalyst must do an actual translation from dream material into words. The process by which the therapist gets to know the patient is comparable to the therapist's learning of a code. If all the dreams of all dreamers 'spoke' the same language maybe a dictionary or a handbook for dream interpretation would be enough to decode them. But every individual has his own idiomorphic way of dreaming - and to unconsciously codify - and the therapist must be able to understand such code in order to be able to translate it.
  The translator runs the constant risk of working like Strachey did - we are not interested at the moment in deciding how much of his interpretation was induced by conscious ideology and how much by unconscious deformation - manipulating the text according to her views, when different from the author's.

If ... the translator is not fully aware of the important yet sometimes subtle differences - professional, political, and social - between his views and those of the person translated, various ideological distortions are bound to creep into the secondary text. The more complex the source text is, the more the translator should be self-aware of his own different positions and their contaminatory potential6.

This consideration, in our view valid for any translator, holds for any reader too because, as we have seen, reading itself is a translation process. Going back to the scientific/hermeneutic diatribe, and taking a view of translation studies as a science, maybe the best way to construct a scientific foundation to such undoubtedly hermeneutical discipline consists in seeking to give a scientific base to the art of interpretation, preventing the unconscious to play tricks on the interpreter.
  Eventually we will return to the methodological similarities between translator and psychoanalyst later in the course. Now we have the pleasure to close this unit with a last quotation taken from Mahony's profound essay, intertwining the motives behind translation, betrayal, and psychoanalysis with poetic irony:

The siren call of the inexhaustible unconscious lures every psychoanalyst, monolingual or not, into being both translator and traitor7.


Bibliographical references

CALVINO I. If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, translated by William Weaver, London, Vintage, 1998, ISBN 0-7493-9923-6.

MAHONY P. Hermeneutics and ideology: on translating Freud, in Meta. Journal des traductuers. Translators's Journal. Montréal, Les Presses de l'Université de Montréal, 1994, vol. 39, n. 2, p. 316-324. ISSN 0026-0452. ISBN 2-7606-2456-0.

POPPER K. The Logic of Scientific Discovery, New York, Harper & Row, 1965.

WEBSTER'S NEW WORLD DICTIONARY ed. by D. B. Guralnik. Cleveland (Ohio), Collins, 1979. ISBN 0-529-05324-1.

1 Calvino 1979, p. 68.
2 Webster's, p. 656.
3 Mahony 1994, p. 319.
4 Popper, 1965, p. 280.
5 Mahony 1994, p. 317.
6 Mahony, 1994, p. 321-322.
7 Mahony 1994, p. 322.