Logos Multilingual Portal

2 - Ideology of consciousness and consciousness of ideology

"[...] language can't reproduce events and shouldn't
attempt to [...]"1.

ON THE NET - english

Some of the works of Mihaìl Mihàjlovich Bahtìn have been published signed with the name V. N. Voloshinov, in which he points out that, presumably, would not have been compatible with the ideology expressed with his other name, with which he is world-famous. In one of these, titled Freudism and modern movements of philosophical and psychological thought, we find some interesting points to stimulate a discussion of the problems tied to the passage from internal mental language to verbal expression.
  In the translation process, the verbal text of the prototext is absorbed and interpreted by the translator. Bahtìn explains that this means giving an ideological imprint to that text:

Conscious individual experience is already ideological and so from the scientific point of view is not a primary, undismountable reality: rather, it is already a specific ideological elaboration of what exists. The most confused content of a savage's consciousness and the most perfect work of culture are just the two extreme links in the same chain of ideological creativity. Between them there is a whole series of uninterrupted steps and passages. The clearer my idea, the closer to the formalized products of scientific creativity. Moreover, my idea will not be able to reach a conclusive clarity if I don't find an exact verbal formulation for it2.

What Bahtìn calls "an idea", some could argue, has nothing to do with the translator's activity. She works with a prototext, but has no need to express her own ideas, on the contrary, she is asked not to express her own ideas but translate the ideas already formulated by the author in another language.
  This argumentation is undoubtedly valid, but we shouldn't forget that the prototext is first absorbed then reformulated by the translator; the author's ideas, then, and his ideology, before being put into words are interpreted and re-ideologized by her. There is a stage, just before their verbalization, in which Bahtìn's statement about ideas is tailored to the translator's activity.
  "Any man's verbal expression is a little ideological construct"3 states Bahtìn, and such a statement finds solid basis both in the Freudian theory about the unconscious, which inspires the Russian researcher in this occasion, and in Peirce's theory of the interpretant. If any perception is an interpretation, we need take no further logical passages to say that any perception is ideology: a personal ideology, distinct from those proclaimed by philosophers and politicians.
  In the Seventies there was a slogan used that said "what is personal is politic as well": people wanted that a person's private life, his ideology about interpersonal relationships, be considered on the same plane as proclaimed, "political" ideology. On this track many movements were developed - like Feminism - that tried to transfer some principles - in the case of Feminism parity, equality, justice - from the political to the personal, family plane.
  Something similar is held by Bahtìn when he proposes calling" the inner and outer language that permeates all our behavior"4 "private ideology", or "concrete ideology", or "everyday ideology" [zhitejskaja ideologija]. The conflicts between conscious and unconscious mind described by psychoanalysis are nothing but conflicts between inner and outer language, i.e. conflicts about concrete ideology. In Bahtìn's view, such conflicts are ideological and not spiritual because they don't go merely beyond consciousness, they go beyond the individual, reflecting his belonging to a given social class. Bahtìn finds the moral aspect in Freud's theory that is hidden between the lines (for example, the critic of homosexuality,

Content and composition of unofficial layers of private ideology (i.e. in Freud's opinion the content and composition of the unconscious) are conditioned by the time and social class in the same measure as its "censored" layers and the system of formalized ideology (moral, law, world vision)5.

There is some distance between official and unofficial consciousness: the larger the hiatus between personal ideology and that prevailing in society, the more difficult the transformation of inner language into outer language, i.e. to put ideas into words. Transposing this principle on the plane of translation, consequences are self-evident.
  We said that a text's translation is translation of a culture (expressed by that text) into another culture (in the terms in which the text can be understood by the receiving culture). That implies a change of implicit, unconscious ideology in the passage to the new language at two levels:

  • The unaware expression of the author's unconscious, implicit in the prototext, is translated into/substituted by/added to the translator's private ideology;
  • The expression of the ideology of the source culture (implicit feature of the prototext) is translated into/substituted by/added to the expressive potential of the ideology of the receiving culture (implicit feature of culture, elements of the unsaid present in any text belonging to a given culture).

This is a fundamental point in the translation process that is seldom dealt with, maybe in part because of its unsaid nature, its often unconscious element. It is the most important point to be made. Another fundamental element is the part of the two preceding bulleted paragraphs highlighted in bold. How are the two ideologies - the individual's and the culture's -treated in the translation process?
  Is there an ideological overlap of the two cultures, and consequently redundancy and the creation of a metatext itself wears traces of the travail that generated it like a sort of historical album?
  If an ideology is substituted for another and, in such a case, is the substitution transparent (the reader is informed) or hidden (the reader thinks he is dealing with the prototext's ideology)?
  If one ideology is translated into the other, is its supposed ideological homologue searched for in the receiving culture?
  The first step to gain some control over all these phenomena is the acknowledgement, by the translator, of the role played by her unconscious - personal and political -in the translation process and, in particular, in the process of text production, generation.


Bibliographical references

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

VOLOSHINOV V. N. [BAHTIN M. M.] Frejdizm i sovremennye napravlenija filosofskoj i psihologičeskoj mysli [Freudism and modern movements of philosophical and psychological thought, in Frejdizm [Freudism], edited by V. Mahlin, Moskvà, Labirint, 1993, ISBN 5-87604-013-4. Original edition: Moskvà 1927.

1 Marías 2001, p. 7. «[...] la lengua no puede reproducir los hechos ni por lo tanto debería intentarlo [...]» Marías 1998 (2000), p. 9.
2 Vološinov 1993, p. 86.
3 Vološinov 1993, p. 87.
4 Vološinov 1993, p. 87.
5 Vološinov 1993, p. 88.