Logos Multilingual Portal

19 - Equivalence - second part

"[...] a salir un rato después de ella como un literal pinchaúvas"1.

"[...] leaving it some time later as a literal pinchaúvas or "puncturer of grapes", which is a way of saying ne''er do-well or good-for-nothing in Spanish [...]"2.

The intellectual meaning of a statement is precisely the same whether it refers to past or future time. To say that a piece of porcelain is soft before it is baked is equivalent to saying that if anybody during that period tries to scratch it with a knife he will succeed, and to say this is again equivalent to saying that every experiment which is logically necessitated, if this be true, to turn out in a certain way, will turn out in that way; and this last statement has a corresponding equivalent, and so on endlessly3.

Peirce sets up the question of equivalence on the basis of logical arguments, specifying that he refers to an "intellectual" equivalence. Transferred into the context of a translation, intellectual equivalence has nothing to do with textual equivalence, because we know that in many texts the form of the content takes precedence over the substance. These arguments of Peirce''s can tell us something about equivalence provided that we stay in the narrow framework of the purely denotative texts, the so-called "closed texts".
  Observing Peirce''s reasoning, we cannot help but notice the affinity of the "endless" logic concatenation of equivalences to the "endless" concatenation of the signification process, in which the interpretant in the previous triad becomes sign in the next one:

sign m   object
  interpretant k  
  sign (2)  
interpretant (2) m    
Ô object (2)  
sign (3)    
interpretant (3) etc.    

But of this endless series of equivalent propositions there is one which my situation in time makes to be the practical one for me, and that one becomes for me the primary meaning4.

Equivalence, a theoretic application, needs to be distinguished from non-equivalence, a practical application. Notice that the primary meaning is not attributable to the intrinsic worth of the proposition, but only, uniquely, to the chronotopical situation in which I, reader of the text, translator of the text, find myself. It is a sort of equivalence in the form of concatenation of interpretants; it is a contiguous position in the chain of interpretants, which works only here and now and for me, within me. More than equivalence, it is a coincidence, a matching that, however, I cannot justify, I have no need to explain, because it is a mental inner phenomenon of mine. It is mental contiguity that I can use for communication outside of myself only if I can hope that it also works for a significant number of individuals beside me that compose the population from which I extract my contingent notion of "model reader" for the communication act I am performing.

As long as the porcelain is not yet baked, I mean by calling it soft that if anyone tries to scratch it with a knife he will readily succeed. But after it has been baked, and nobody has taken occasion to try that experiment, it is a different experiment among the endless series of equivalents that now expresses my primary meaning. The nature of the fact does not change; but my relation to it and consequent mode of conceiving do change, although I all the time recognize the equivalence of the different meanings5.

Peirce''s choosing the example of a scientific experiment to speak of equivalence is significant because it openly refers to the scientific context in which such a concept can be understood.

Then you maintain, do you, that when you directly act upon a thing in making an experiment, this direct action consists entirely in the fact that subsequent experimental investigators will ultimately be led to the conclusion that you did act upon it?6

Peirce''s imaginary interviewer in this passage tries to get him to say something concrete, to unbalance him on the plane of pragmatic applicability of such a reasoning, of the objectivity of the concatenation. But Peirce wants just to insert some distance from such a practical interpretation:

Ah, that I have not said, but have carefully guarded against such an interpretation by saying that it is only of conceptions, that is, of the intellectual part of meaning that I was speaking. The pragmaticist need not deny that such ideas as those of action, of actual happening, of individuality, of existence, etc., involve something like a reminiscence of an exertion of brute force which is decidedly anti-intellectual, which is an all-important ingredient of the practical, although the pragmat[ic]istic interpretation leaves it out of account7.

Peirce, therefore, thinks equivalence possible only in an intellectual sense and only when referring to a given contingent chronotope.
  Such a term - chronotope - was not yet created, and I attribute it to him for comfortable exposition''s sake within the context of this course in which many a time it was explained. Even if, for truth''s sake, Peirce uses another term, a not easily translatable one, indicating the presence "there and now" of some object:

Yet while he may admit that this idea of brute thereness, - or whatever best names it, - is quite distinct from any concept, yet he is bound to maintain that this does not suffice to make an idea of practical reality .8.

Such reasoning has the purpose, as far as we are concerned, to undermine the basis of any attempt to create a theory of equivalence having value for a translator and her readers. The perspective opened on the possible existence of concatenations of equivalents on the plane of subjective interpretants is, on the contrary, very suggestive and potentially dense with useful consequences in the debate on the possibility of creating a shareable theory of the translation process.
  In accepting Peirce''s argumentation, one suspects that those who insist too much on the notion of equivalence - not only in translation, but in other fields as well - have an imperfect view of the limitations of one''s Self as compared to the Other. That there is, in other words, too optimistic a presumption that the mental mechanisms and concatenations working for oneself should necessarily follow the same path for the rest of the world. If that were the reality, translating - more generally, understanding each other - would be definitely easier.


Bibliographical references

MARÍAS J. Negra espalda del tiempo, Punto de lectura, 2000 (original edition 1998), ISBN 84-663-0007-7.

MARÍAS J. Dark Back of Time, New York, New Directions, 2001 (translated by Esther Allen), ISBN 0-8112-1466-4.

PEIRCE C. S. The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, v. 1-6 edited by Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss, v. 7-8 edited by Arthur W. Burks, Cambridge (Massachusetts), Harvard University Press, 1931-1935, 1958.

1 Marías 2000, p. 137.
2 Marías 2001, p. 112.
3 Peirce, 8, 195.
4 Peirce, 8, 195.
5 Peirce, 8, 195.
6 Peirce, 8, 195.
7 Peirce, 8, 195.
8 Peirce, 8, 195.