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Jiménez, J.P. (2004). Between the confusion of tongues and the gift of tongues: Or working as a psychoanalyst in a foreign language. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 85(6):1365-1377.

(2004). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 85(6):1365-1377

Between the confusion of tongues and the gift of tongues: Or working as a psychoanalyst in a foreign language

Juan Pablo Jiménez

The author worked as a psychoanalyst for 5 years in Germany. In this paper, he attempts to answer the question ‘How was it possible that, in spite of his imperfect knowledge of German, notwithstanding a deepening understanding of the language during his residence in the country, he was able to successfully treat so many patients?’ He starts by putting forward some distinctions between the activity of interpretation as translation of the unconscious with the patient in session and the activity of translation of texts. After a brief exegetic review of the myths of Babel and Pentecost, he suggests that the analyst working in a foreign language moves between ‘the confusion of tongues’ and the ‘gift of tongues’, that is, between Babel and Pentecost. He presents some vignettes to illustrate typical situations he encountered in his practice. Finally, he draws some conclusions from this experience of psychoanalytic polyglotism, mainly on the basis of the communicative function that modern infant research assigns to affect attunement and verbal language.

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