12 - Dream reading
"he could write without the anguish of
having his own act become concrete in
some material object" 1.
In the previous unit we have seen how important the role of the
reader's unconscious is as to the possible interpretations and the role of
interpretive deformation in the history of psychoanalysis itself. The points in common
between the reading of a text and psychoanalysis are numerous, particularly if you have
a broad concept of "text" as in the case of total translation.
In this sense, the essay by Carol Schreier Rupprecht2 devoted to the interrelations of translation and dream processing offers us a valuable contribution. Such interrelations, that in the essay are viewed as potential contributions for the evolution of the dream theory, in our case, can be considered in a complementary way: the dream theory has a strong potential as a contribution to understanding the mechanisms of translation, of reading in particular.
Let us start with Freud's argument that
|Ein Traum ist in der Regel unübersetzbar in andere Sprachen und ein Buch wie das vorliegende, meinte ich, darum auch3.|
That is to say
|It is impossible as a rule to translate a dream into a foreign language and this is equally true, I fancy, of a book such as the present one.|
As you can see, if we want to read it in these terms, in a sense, Freud himself is
the first to lay the basis for the total translation view with this extended metaphor
of a dream as a text. The dream is one of many types of text, its interpretation is one
of many kinds of translation and, to be precise, it is a multiple translation.
First the dreamer - dealing with often fragmentary memories of images, sounds, sometimes conversations in many languages sometimes invented, scenes occurring without any evident logic, smells, tactile sensations - has to translate into words this material belonging to another code in order to be able to express it, tell it, transcribe it or report it to the psychoanalyst: a real intersemiotic translation. Secondly the psychoanalyst must translate the material reported by the dreamer and reconstruct the dream thoughts, i.e. the mental material the dreamer has translated into words in order to be able to tell it.
Freud affirms that the dream thoughts and the dream's content present themselves as two versions of the same subject in two different languages. The content (patient's telling) is a sort of transcription (Übertragung) of the dream thoughts in another expressive mode. Comparing prototext and metatext, the translator (psychoanalyst) must understand characters and syntactic laws of the dream, with an abductive process4
. What in textology is considered as the author's strategy, that the translator-critic tries to unveil starting from the text (result), here is the strategy of the manipulation of unconscious thoughts (latent content), that the translator-psychoanalyst tries to unveil starting from the manifest content of the dream (result).
According to Freudian theory, the unconscious uses a sort of 'incomprehensible translation' to express repressed mental material - as it is inconvenient for Ego functioning - in the shape of symptomatic acts, dreams, inexplicable behaviors. The metatext of such incomprehensible translation is called "manifest content" and the psychoanalyst's aim is to back-translate it into "latent content". Outside of the limited patient-psychoanalyst dynamics, we can say that anyone attempting to understand one's own dream using an interpretive key founded on the existence of the unconscious and of its dream expression finds herself in the same position as the critic-reader of a translation trying to understand, from the result (metatext), what translation strategy was adopted, without the possibility - granted to the critic of the verbal translation - to compare the metatext to the prototext: a real abductive process.
Persons desiring to learn to interpret dreams are polyglot translators facing a text aware of their ignorance of the code both in lexical and in syntactical terms. It is maybe comparable to someone wanting to listen to the dialogue of two unknown persons randomly encountered whose code must be adducted in order to make sense of their dialogue's content.
Another interesting similarity between dream interpretation and translation lies in the distinction between the primary and secondary processes. In dream theory, the primary process is the translation of the prototext into words, while the secondary process transforms the words - metatext of the previous operation - into a new prototext, and its aim is to produce a second metatext that, more than being made of words, has a textual coherence and cohesion.
Let us see with some examples what that means. Here is a dream exposed according to the primary process standards:
|Lavatories cleaning sponsor. Deletion graffiti out of spaces. Educational software. Scatology decrease.|
Here is a translation into secondary process standards:
|A sponsor was found for public lavatories that were always dirty. The sponsor, a cooperative distribution company, provides for their cleaning, and also installed bulletin boards for graffiti. A sign warns that graffiti written out of the appropriate spaces will be deleted. An electronic display gives detailed information, and the users can ask for specific information through an interactive online software, about sex, sexual illnesses prevention, and about the use of lavatories without damages for other users or cleaners. Social psychology studies have concluded that, if the space for graffiti and for scatological expressions is institutionalized, transgression is lacking and as a consequence there is a lesser need for scatological expression and the artistic quality of graffiti improves.|
Secondary process intervenes to fill gaps in the syntax in the primary text's
understandability. There is a close kinship between primary process and adequacy, and
between secondary process and acceptability. The former element has the goal of changing
the message code, the latter to make it usable. In the latter the risk is though that
the readability of the text in some cases corrupts its coincidence with the prototext
In other words, the textual cohesion that in the metatext derives from secondary processing is not always matched by textual cohesion in the prototext. Sometimes such cohesion is produced by an exaggerate mediation effort by the translator (or by the dreamer describing her dream), inducing to add material and to change the prototext so as to make it more readable.
The extension of total translation to the mind/verbal expression, dream/interpretation dialectics, although not foreseen in the original formulation of the theory of total translation, in our opinion is both coherent with the spirit of such theory and productive on the plane of reciprocal enrichment of psychological theory and translation studies, in particular, the theory of reading.
CALVINO I. If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, translated by William Weaver, London, Vintage, 1998, ISBN 0-7493-9923-6.
FREUD S.Die Traumdeutung, Leipzig, Deuticke,1900.
RUPPRECHT C. S. Deaming and the impossible art of translation, in Dreaming, Association for the Study of Dreams, vol. 9, n. 1, 1999.1 Calvino 1998, p. 178.
2 Schreier Rupprecht, 1999.
3 Freud 1900, p. 104.
4 Su questo torneremo nelle prossime unità.