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Goldberg, A. (1984). Translation between Psychoanalytic Theories. Ann. Psychoanal., 12:121-135.

(1984). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 12:121-135

Translation between Psychoanalytic Theories

Arnold Goldberg, M.D.

Translation is a part of every psychoanalyst's life. It begins of course with the translation of Sigmund Freud's words from German to English or any language (and the debate over the accuracy of that effort still engages many scholars [Bettelheim, 1982; Mahoney, 1982]). It extends to the daily work of translating the language of dreams and the unconscious to the common-sense terms of the analytic consulting room. It lives in the mind of every analyst who tries to explain an idea in a set of words and sentences that will be “understandable” to a patient or a colleague, and it struggles for life with all of those feelings and images that never or hardly ever seem to gain access to the ease of communication that translation hopes to achieve.

Anyone who translates knows that the simple exchange of word for word or word for image will never do. Good translation requires conceptual bridges that encompass whole sets of ideas and feelings, and bad translation can be dangerous as well as uninformative. To translate is to carry or convey and therefore to bear the burden of the weight of information moved from one locale to another. So very much has been written on translation (Steiner, 1975) that it might be well at the outset to acknowledge the fact that some people feel that translation is always inadequate or, in some cases, impossible (Quine, 1969). The intent of this essay is, however, to examine the exercise of translation between psychoanalytic theories. It assumes that people can and do succeed in conveying information to one another, do manage to feel understood and to operate as if they comprehended what was intended by another.

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