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Birksted-Breen, D. (2010). Is Translation Possible?. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 91(4):687-694.

(2010). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 91(4):687-694


Is Translation Possible? Language Translation

Dana Birksted-Breen

Translation is always interpretation and the psychoanalyst is a translator/ interpreter. The psychoanalyst translates the unconscious. Words, images, affects, bodily signs are translated into interpretations. Mahony (1980) describes Freud as “one of the great thinkers and innovators in the domain of translation. […] for he gives the concept a scope, extension, and depth in his work that appeared nowhere previously in history” (p. 462).

Freud's ‘talking cure’ translates blocked emotions, hysterical symptoms, and impulses into words. But just as there is no one-to-one equivalence of words and sentences between national languages, so too there is no one-to-one equivalence between the productions of the patient and the possible translation by the psychoanalyst. In the gap between the two resides the whole field of psychoanalysis in its many cultural, theoretical and personal variations. It is inherent to the principle of overdetermination that various ‘translations’ can only each give a partial perspective. “If the psychical mechanism consists of stratification of transcriptions, then one can also assume the coexistence of multiple transcriptions or translations” (Hinz, 2008 p. 122).

Psychoanalysis is essentially polyglot, with its ‘social’ variations but also the variations of each dyad who come to learn each other's language through back and forth translations and often the construction of a common language, which would need translating to an outsider.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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