Idiom: Psychoanalysis in Spanish
A study of Spanish translations of texts and key words in psychoanalysis, beginning with Freud’s own early interest in Cervantes. We analyze the relation between Spanish translation and the original German, as well as the standard English translation. We discuss the two translations of Freud’s Complete Works: López Ballesteros-Rosenthal (1923-56) and Etcheverry (1974-79). We explore Lacan’s effect on Spanish versions after his “return to Freud.” We explore how Freud’s radical invention, Unbewusst, the Unbewusst, disrupts the structure of all languages because in psychoanalysis they only function as vehicles for the formations of the unconscious. Unbewusst is, as such, untranslatable since “it” speaks in a singular, unrepeatable, uncodifiable lalangue (Lacan), allergic to all bilingual dictionaries.
We counterpose Freud’s exoteric style (classical, Aritotelian) to Lacan’s esoteric style (baroque, Gongoristic). We describe the changes and insufficiencies in the Spanish translations of Lacan’s teaching. We discuss the radical untranslatability between Freud and Lacan in their early texts independent of language due to the difference in styles. Finally, we propose that the difficulties found in translation are fertile for psychoanalysis since they make the multiple versions of Freud, Lacan and their followers all the more necessary in all languages.
The European Journal of Psychoanalysis’s decision to devote a section of this prestigious publication to texts written in Spanish, in addition to those in English, Russian and Italian, is worthy of praise. The quality and quantity of journals and books published in Spanish, as well as the widespread presence of psychoanalysis in Spanish speaking countries point to the opportunity as well as the need. Spanish is the mother tongue most spoken in the world after Mandarin although, from the point of view of cultural exchanges, English (globish) well supersedes them as a universal language for internet users. There are no statistics, nor should there be, as to how many psychoanalysts write in Spanish, but surely it is a huge figure. As to the value of their contributions, the level of these texts is variable (as in all the other languages). There is no doubt that there are few channels of communication between Spanish speaking psychoanalysts. It is not only a question of Castilian Spanish but of Hispanic American languages as well. The analysts who publish in Portuguese, Catalan, Basque, etc. are bilingual. Even if it is not their mother tongue, (Castilian) Spanish is well known and used by all. Freud’s followers find in the language of Cervantes, which changes considerably after the Golden Age, an invaluable vehicle to transmit, listen to and participate in forums with their colleagues, respecting differences in dialect, semantics, phonology and syntax among different nations and regions.
Many roads are possible to consider this new section of EJP. I will try to mention some and avoid repeating information that appears in the existing bibliography. More than providing information, I wish to discuss the singular relationship of the Spanish language with 1. Freud’s German 2. English translation and 3. its polemical translation to Lacan’s French which, as is already known, was put to the test due to his inimitable style used as an idiolect. Lacan’s language suffers an ordeal when translated into the English of England, the English of the United States (erroneously called American) and the Spanish of the Hispanic Americans with the predictable differences between the Spanish, Argentines, Mexicans, Brazilians, etc. There is no shortage of malice, not altogether in error, that posits the need to translate Lacan into French since many of his writings and seminars seem to be crafted in ultra- or meta-French. There are some who seek to imitate him when translating his texts; they write and speak Lacanese.
The theory and practice of psychoanalysis is the effect of Freud’s works not only in its original version but also as the translations transformed and completed it. Without the latter the Freudian texts would not have survived the Third Reich. Freud’s writings and those of his first disciples in German form the bedrock of psychoanalysis, the foundation of its edifice. The following comparison is worth making: the history and destiny of Freudian doctrine are parallel to Christianity, which was able to transcend its Aramaic origins by way of the Bible’s many translations. Freud’s work can never fully distance itself from the German text, to which we must return as its origin and source. If psychoanalysis was able to spread and succeeded in having a global reach, it was thanks to the subversive genius of its inventor and the singular literary qualities of his writing. Through the effort of its translators this can be transmitted in his works to the point of making it the undeniable cultural phenomenon of modern times. The twentieth century was the century of psychoanalysis. It is thanks to its translations, its metaphors (in the etymological sense of the word) that it still subsists in the twenty-first century.
Like other cultural monuments, psychoanalysis has a precise place of origin: the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is inseparable from its singular German language, marked by modes of articulation proper to the Vienna of Franz Joseph I as it moved from the 19th to the 20th century. How did Freud’s works spread throughout the world? At the beginning, its existence was centripetal: the psychiatrists, doctors, philosophers, the curious spirits in general, approached Freud’s office; it was there that the unconscious came to light. They went to Berggasse 19 to drink from the source the knowledge of the unknown (Unbewusst). From then on, a centrifugal current carried what was learned from the teacher-analyst on the couch to other countries, continents, and languages. Or even in their own language, at the risk of disrupting or disarticulating his thought and works. German Switzerland, for example, made room for Jung and Pfister, both close to a Zwinglian Swiss Protestantism; heterodox versions of a Jewish Vienna: the birthplace of the atheist doctrine of the unconscious and sexuality revealed by Freud. Given this linguistic transmigration, national institutions were formed, adapted to each country and its language; unevenly connected to the institutions and publishing houses supported by the Viennese movement. Thanks to or perhaps despite these transcriptions, Freudian thought was cross-fertilized with philosophical traditions from other European nations, as well as their different ways of applying psychoanalysis. This trend extended its reach to other Western nations that had an affinity for Freud’s work.
The story of Freud’s translations is also the story of the ways in which his work and practice were interpreted and assimilated according to what can be called a singular Pentecost. The “apostles” who at first came from Berlin, Budapest, London, Rome, then the United States, were imbued with the original. With the new knowledge and thanks to their language abilities, they carried the good news (euangelion, euangelium) to other lands, grafting it onto diverse medical and philosophical traditions. I am not interested in examining the global nature of psychoanalysis’ clinical or theoretical geopolitics, although it is important to point out the epistemological cost of those transplants. Note the difference with the fate of the sciences: despite the USSR’s best efforts, they were never “national,” nor did they depend on translations. Heisenberg and Bohr could argue in Copenhagen (in 1942) regardless of the countries where they worked or were recognized. Freud did not set out to found a science restricted to the German language, much less a “Jewish science.” The truth of his doctrine had to show itself in whatever language it was written.
I will now focus on how psychoanalysis was naturalized or de-naturalized when it encountered other languages, particularly in the Spanish-speaking world. Along these lines, I will explore the two following points:
One: We cannot fully develop an account of Sigmund Freud’s personal relationship to the Spanish language; I will thus restrict myself to bibliographical references. We have a fascinating, indispensable text by Rubén Gallo (2010) regarding Freud’s early interest in Spanish. The reference is to Freud’s friendship with Edouard Silberstein. Both maintained a passionate interest in Cervantes, studied the Spanish language, and wrote letters in a macaronic style they invented to communicate with each other as members of a “Spanish Academy,” where they were unique and secret participants, assuming Cervantine names and roles. Freud never forgot this passion for Golden Age Spanish, which is curious, to say the least, especially in someone who was not at all interested in learning Yiddish or Hebrew, his parents’ and community’s languages. In addition to Gallo’s work, several other scholars have studied how Freud’s work has fared in Spanish translations.
Two: the reception of Freud’s works in Spanish-speaking countries, particularly those in English and French translation, and the conceptual contributions to theory and doctrine made by his followers: the faithful disciples (or infidels?) of Freud’s teaching, each in their particular language. This second epistemological point needs to be further developed.
Spanish Translations of Freud’s Works
Carlos Escars studied the singular avatars of Freud’s texts translated into Spanish, providing a historical compilation and commentary of the different existing translations of the German text into our language. His thorough, scholarly work cannot be surpassed and I could only copy his fine study. The only tribute I can pay him is to make the full text of his research available, which thankfully has been authorized by his relatives. This introductory issue of the Spanish version of the EJP includes Escars’ article in its entirety.
Although the translator’s name is unknown, the first Spanish translation of Freud’s psychoanalytic work appeared in Spain in 1893, only two months after the publication of “Preliminary Communication” in Vienna in Studies on Hysteria. The medical journals in Barcelona and Granada, where it first appeared, did not provide the translator’s name and it has been impossible to establish his/her identity. The priority of these pioneering versions was acknowledged by the editor of the Standard Edition: “It is the very first translation of a psychological text by Freud published in the world,” wrote James Strachey to Ludovico Rosenthal in a letter dated March 22, 1955.
The surprising initiative to disseminate the unfinished Complete Works by Freud was Ortega y Gasset’s, a leading figure in Spanish philosophy. This erudite writer, ever alert to the novelties of European thought, encouraged Luis López Ballesteros and de Torres to translate the Freudian corpus, thus fulfilling a mission then unprecedented or even imagined by Freud himself. These translations, which Freud approved, produced seventeen volumes between 1923 and 1937, even though the Spanish Civil War and López Ballesteros’ premature death in 1938 prevented the project’s completion. The privilege of completing the first complete translation of the psychoanalytic works of Sigmund Freud belongs to Ludovico Rosenthal (Buenos Aires, 1955, Santiago Rueda Editors). His was the first comprehensive edition of the Complete Works, which included four posthumous volumes missing from the first edition published in Madrid (Espasa-Calpe). No edition of Freud’s complete works existed prior to the one in Spanish by López Ballesteros and the Argentine Germanist Rosenthal; it was an excellent but not impeccable version. Rosenthal took it upon himself to add the then newly discovered letters from Freud to W. Fliess, published by Anna Freud in a censored version in 1950, as we now know. This important correspondence, complemented by Freud’s various “neuropsychological” manuscripts, appeared in Spanish as volume XXII of the Obras Completas with the title “The Origins of Psychoanalysis.” An integral translation of Freud’s works appeared for the first time in Spanish, years before they were compiled in the original German as Gesammelte Werke (Frankfurt am Main. S. Fischer Verlag, 1969-1975) and before James and Alix Strachey’s (1953-1974) great undertaking that culminated in the Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works (Hogarth Press).
There is no discussion of the following point: the first translation of Freud’s work (1893) and the first edition of his Complete Works (1954-1956) were in Spanish. I will not discuss which of the two Spanish versions of the Complete Works is preferable, whether the one by López-Ballesteros, completed by Rosenthal or the one by J. L. Etcheverry. All agree that the former is more elegant from a literary point of view, while the latter is more rigorous and benefits from an indispensable critical apparatus, although deficient in many substantial points of analytic theory. Blessed are the Spanish readers who can compare and choose between two imperfect yet mutually complementary versions. We can enrich them both with several other contributions: Jacques Lacan’s and his commentators in French (J. Laplanche and J.-B. Pontalis); the comments and criticisms included in the Standard Edition that clarified many debatable points and the first edition of the Complete Works in French by Jean Laplanche that does away with the doubts inherent to all translations of essential texts demanding both “poetry and truth.”
The English version served as the Vulgate to which subsequent translations were compared. The work of James and Alix Strachey represented for psychoanalysis what Saint Jerome’s work represented for Christianity. It is not so bold to proclaim the analogy between Saint Jerome’s Vulgate and Strachey’s Standard Edition (Standard in English and Vulgate in Latin are words that translate each other). This allows us to come back to the historical analogy I noted above: Roman Catholicism imposed itself by proposing its version in the language of the Empire and functioned as a paradigm for reading the Old and New Testaments. It became the foundation of the pontifical ecclesiastical power that spread throughout Europe and, after the conquest, reached America and other continents. On the other hand, the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA) established by Freud, turned the English translation into a new imperial language, the essential basis for an “orthodoxy” consolidated as the trademark of psychoanalysis after World War II. This global institution, equally imbued with pontifical pretensions, monitored the progress of national entities, recruitment, nomination as well as members’ compliance with the theoretical and technical regulations of the board that functioned as a cardinal conclave or Central Committee.
The Lacanian Reading (Translation) of Freud
It is well known that the history of the world psychoanalytic movement is that of its schisms and divisions. Now is not the time to review them. It should be noted that these conflicts did not arise from translating or understanding Freud in other languages. It was during the 50s that Lacan’s teaching and his self-proclaimed “return to Freud” erupted in the psychoanalytic world. In Lacan’s opinion the Viennese master had been betrayed and was unknown even to his disciples who adhered to a new officialism which spoke English. Lacan presented himself as a new translator, more loyal to the original, although “heretical” and “schismatic.” Like Luther in his time, Lacan revised the Vulgate. In a nit-picking manner he corrected and sometimes distorted translations he considered insufficient. He coined neologisms, moved away from dogma, shifted the philosophical foundations of theory, and practiced formally and substantively different sessions with his patients than those standardized by IPA. With the intention of “formalizing” his thought, Lacan infiltrated Freud’s core with other ways of approaching subjectivity. Fundamentally and with his own “style” (we will return to this point) Lacan created a Freudian neo-language that is totally idiosyncratic and some have called “Lacanese,” not without malice.
In the 1950s and 1960s Lacan was an agent provocateur of the institution’s unipolar authority, disqualifying its normativity regarding the training of analysts, the duration of sessions and the ways of conducting “didactic” analyses. Even before his death (1981), there was a surge in schools, groups and institutions inspired by his teaching. Much like the history of Protestantism, a galaxy appeared, a Milky Way of convergent and divergent efforts on how to converge. Once the schism occurred, there was no way to recover from the ensuing fragmentation: sects, “teams,” bosses and patriarchs. All these efforts “couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.” Psychoanalysis, like Christianity, can hardly be a movement unified around a paradigm agreed upon by all its followers. The Freudian big bang that was the invention of the unconscious gave rise to a spider-web of many filaments that could no longer be restored as a unifying thread, whether among “orthodox” followers or those who dissented with its prodigious inventor after his death.
Without espousing slogans either of ideal fidelity or purity Lacan upset the lazy readings and ceremonious citations of “standardized” approaches. He installed two new “operators,” unforeseen by Freud, which changed the way Freud was seen. These operators (in the surgical sense of scalpels) were pointed out by Jean-Claude Milner, perhaps the most thorough and attentive of his interlocutors in the philosophical field. Milner noted that Lacan found a new way of reading Freud’s German language and he called it a “dialectical language.” In fact, a review of the index of Freud’s Complete Works reveals the dazzling absence of an author who was essential to Lacan in his reading of Freud: Hegel. From Kojève and Hyppolite, Lacan learned to read the unheard of in Freud. Not because he incorporated Hegel’s German idealism but because he was able to make Hegel’s language his own; a dialectical language (master and slave, negativity, desire of the other, otherness, unity of opposites, thesis, antithesis, synthesis, Aufhebung, etc). The other scalpel, not language but method, was structuralism or structural analysis, by way of Jakobson and Lévi-Strauss. “The Discourse of Rome” is the first text that brings together these two elements, where both converge. With these foreign operators Lacan proclaims a “return to Freud” which is a derailment, a deviation from Freud. We should recall that months before the famous “Discourse of Rome” the Parisian analyst had placed a Trojan horse in the fortress of psychoanalysis. It was in July 1953 that he proposed the thesis of the three registers: real, imaginary and symbolic; “My three are not the same as his”, a controversial distinction he maintained until the end of his teaching. It should be noted that these scalpels or keys for reading Freud were just that: the operators of a new discourse that Lacan “interrogating the practice and renewing the status of the unconscious” challenges throughout the years, calling it “the outdated parts of my teaching” but to whose name (Freud’s) he remained linked in a dramatic entanglement with medicine and psychology.
Let’s be clear: Lacan did not translate any of Freud’s texts into French. He read him otherwise; in an unheard of, unpredictable language. Lacan did not betray Freud; he respected and honored him, all the while deposing him, better to restore Freud to his place as the inventor and assuring for him a new presence. His was a parricidal cult. Lacan’s fundamental discovery was that the Freudian invention of the unconscious and its formations disturbed existing languages. German, like French or any other language, was insufficient to account for the novelty of the “primary processes.” Condensation and displacement, initially comparable to poetic metaphor and metonymy, operate independently of language structures, which years later led Lacan to reject linguistics in the name of a linguistérie. The latter deals, not with languages, but with the speaker’s (parlêtre) lalangue: in the dream, symptom or jouissance resulting from the joke’s defeat of meaning. The analysand does not speak in the language of dictionary translations; he/she speaks in a singular lalangue; it is to the latter the analyst responds. “This saying only proceeds from the fact that the unconscious, far from being structured like a language, which is to say the language (lalangue) it inhabits, is subjected to equivocation … A language among others is nothing more than the set of equivocations that history lets subsist”. The unconscious does not dwell in language (German, French, etc.). “It” speaks (ça parle) and “it” is heard in lalangue that is both singular (the subject’s) and universal (due to condensation and displacement). For these lalangues there are no dictionaries. It is around this point, that Freud made major advances, according to Lacan, displacing linguistics or (dis)qualifying it: “Without a doubt language is made of lalangue. It is how knowledge thinks lalangue.”
We are beyond Freud’s German, Lacan’s French, Strachey’s English, or our translators’ Spanish. Or even the globish of our times that, even when challenging English’s reach you have to do it… in English. It is not necessary to reach Milner’s assumption:
We know how long it took Freud to leave Vienna; during a long time I thought it was because he wasn’t truly aware of the situation. Today I think the reasons were more serious, profound. He knew that leaving Vienna for London forced psychoanalysis into changing language. German would no longer be the language of psychoanalysis; it would be English (Milner 2011, 37-38)
Milner’s is an extrapolation as bold as it is impossible to verify. Although nothing authorizes it, it could be retroactively justified by Lacan’s historical considerations of the effects of psychoanalysis’ displacements: from the familiar establishment in London to the United States of (North)America with its bureaucratic IPA. Not because of what Freud thought when he went into exile, but because of what took place after his death and the war. Psychoanalysis (psychoanalysts) needed to escape from the theoretical and practical regression offered by ego-psychology and for this it was necessary to “return to Freud:” his texts, words, cases and clinical examples. Freud had to be retranslated: his signifiers had to be recovered from having been transferred to a language with scientific pretensions that perverted his concepts (instinct, cathexis, anaclitic, id, ego, superego, etc., are the major examples of this standard deviation). A revision of the concepts and a discussion of their translations were necessary. This was taken up by Laplanche and Pontalis (1967), two of Lacan’s disciples who published a Vocabulary (not dictionary) of Psychoanalysis almost at the same time as Lacan’s own Écrits (November 1966). It proved to be appropriate for those who approached the Freudian work and could follow its historical evolution. In this work the necessary clarifications of the incorrect translations in the Standard Edition stand out. Also included were concepts contributed by Lacan and other authors: M. Klein, Jung, Adler, Winnicott, etc. with the equivalence of each word in other Western European languages.
Lacan did not translate Freud, he interpreted him. He did not betray him but led Freud speak transgressive versions of his own lalangue. Lacan put Freud’s ersatz in motion and gave rise to an unparalleled teaching, interspersed with original and differing conceptions. Did he express himself in French? It is doubtful. Milner states: “I think that early on Lacan perceived that he was using a language-the French language- that was not made to speak what he wanted it to say. Similarly, he perceived the same unsuitability in Freud regarding the German language … [Lacan] had to divert language from its spontaneous course” (Milner 2011). That is, he had to pass from language to lalangue, which is indissociable from his style. Milner adds: “[Lacan] was convinced that in French nothing Freudian could be said. Strictly speaking, this language resists. In this sense what is called Lacan’s style is not in my opinion a style. Rather, it is an exostyle, in the ways that the extimate differs from the intimate” (Milner 2011, 64). A “distillation” we could say. We agree with Le Rider: “Some of Lacan’s inventions, such as forclusion to render Verwerfung, are not translations, but rather creations, metamorphoses that make the return to Freud pure fiction. There is no ‘return’ but reinvention.”
A reflection on the impossible, although necessary, translation of Lacan to all languages, including ours is necessary. As we already noted, the study of language, “is how knowledge thinks lalangue… the unconscious is knowledge, savoir y faire with lalangue.” (Encore 127). Would Lacan say the same regarding his own texts and seminars?: “Those who read me, from time to time, must be aware of the difficulties, to translate me into English lalangue. In any case, one must recognize things as they are: I am not, I am not the first to note English lalangue‘s resistance to the unconscious. To his Japanese readers, he issues a warning: “The Japanese translate, they translate everything that is legible. But I don’t expect anything from Japan, less they should understand me … According to how language works there, I would only have need of a style, but in order to sustain that place I need a style” (Autres écrits 1972). In short, Lacan does not write or speak in a language but in his lalangue; one he did not learn in school, but rehearsed since childhood in an unforgettable babble, like every parlêtre. Lacan’s lalangue is modulated and perfected over decades with what he calls his style. Likewise, our precious Spanish language “resists” the translation of the formations of the unconscious and the languages studied by linguistics. The word Unbewusst can and must be translated. But Unbewusst is untranslatable.
Freud and Lacan’s “Styles:” On his Way to Spanish
It is impossible to approach this subject without first evoking the Écrits‘ “overture” that Lacan prefaces with a quote from Buffon (1785): “The style is the man,” a formula to which Lacan adheres by adding an essential ingredient: “the man one addresses … in language our message comes to us from the Other … in an inverted form”. The style comes from the “public”, not from the speaker or the writer. The proverb, thus corrected, is valid for Lacan as much as for Freud or any other that opens paths in the discourse of psychoanalysis. One must ask: is the recipient of Freud’s speech the same as Lacan’s? The distinction between the two certainly includes the question of language (German or French) and the historical moment (first or second half of the twentieth century) but goes beyond these correct, though limited answers.
Freud is the inventor of the unconscious, as well as the method to manifest it in every speaker and dreamer. His texts initially derive from the field of medicine, later from other fields. He needs to convince a reluctant public of the “scientific” validity of his therapeutic and theoretical findings; to train and inform his followers. For several years he is almost alone in this task of transmitting a new knowledge. His teaching unfolds through texts where he desires and seeks to make himself understood. His protreptic discourse, an exhortation or incitement to adhere to his findings, obeys the requirements of the rigorous man of science and the aesthetic beauty of the rhythmic poet, transmitter of enduring truths: both convincing and seductive. The Other that Freud addresses is the cultured European man, heir to a Greco-Latin philosophical tradition and a humanist formation shaped, either for or against, the monotheistic texts. It is also addressed to an anonymous reader, able to give credit to the book, the printed word: a layman. Hence the exoteric character of his published books, articles and conferences. Freud boldly refuses to join the chorus of the knowledge of his time; he invites us to descend to hell but without falling into the anarchy of the drive’s cauldron (It –Es) that forms the basis of his new world. He proclaimed himself the spokesman of a third “Copernican revolution” and remained consistent throughout his writings. His style (that is, his addressee) does not change; his theses and fundamental concepts do. From Studies on Hysteria (1893) to the Lectures on Introduction to Psychoanalysis (1916-1917) and the New Conferences (1934), to the Technique of Psychoanalysis (1938) the Freudian style is constant, properly exoteric. He expresses himself clearly, presents clinical examples to back up his theses and speaks with imagined interlocutors to distinguish between what he considers proven facts and risky speculations; he “calculates” the anonymous, faceless reader; one in the crowd. In relation to the unconscious he considers himself a “conqueror”; in relation to consciousness he is a literacy worker.
His god is lógos, his compass rational and sensible. Barbara Cassin notes :
Freud immerses himself in the Aristotelian demand for meaning. No detail of the theory or analytic practice gives testimony to the contrary. In summary, the Freudian project consists in infinitely extending the rule of meaning so as to include what was earlier deemed insensible. One. had to return the symptom to the realm of meaning. He explores the immense territory annexed by Freud’s genius and this deserves the just title of “semantic psychoanalysis”: dreams, (Freudian) slips, lapsus, memories, associations, etc.
Returning to the subject of “styles”, Cassin compares Freud, the Aristotelian, to Lacan, the sophist. Freud seeks meaning in nonsense (his book on jokes is the clearest example): “Contrary to Freud, Lacan privileges the nonsense in meaning… [Lacan] turns Freud into a Sophist” (Cassin 2012). To make himself understood Lacan suggests Freud may have ended up “misunderstanding himself” (Lacan, Autres écrits, 407).
Lacan began with a similar, exoteric discourse. This can be seen in his trajectory from his medical thesis (1933) to articles and presentations before and after the war (the article on the mirror stage in its two versions is exemplary) to his “Rome Discourse” (1953), and even to texts published in the 1950s in university format, with precise and well-ordered bibliographical citations. The “style” in these different texts is not like Freud’s; Lacan’s French is combative and does not aspire to “scientific” objectivity. It tends toward diatribe, the disqualification of those he chooses as opponents. Before those readers he criticizes “official” modes of psychoanalytic transmission, for example: “Psychoanalysis and its Teaching,” “The Situation of Psychoanalysis and the Training of Psychoanalysts in 1956.” Certain changes are noted although argumentative reasoning predominates, even when presenting a sophism of “logical time” (1943). In any case, there is a difference between his spoken and written teachings, although he himself does not make the distinction. The Seminar in 1953 marks the beginning of his spoken teaching. The Écrits (1966) begins by transposing the chronological order of its presentation, by placing the Seminar on “The Purloined Letter” first. The distance that goes from Seminar III, The Psychoses, to the text “On a Question Prior to Any Possible Treatment of Psychosis” (singular) is abysmal; as is his presentation on “Position of the Unconscious” in the congress of Bonneval (1960) and his revision in 1964 (Écrits). The distance between the seminars and written texts has been commented on, exaggerated even by many. Several of his written texts are or derive from the seminars. There is no discontinuity between them but a timely and sometimes enervating (or laudable) Moebian continuity.
Beyond the recordings and stenographic versions, the “Seminar” is accessible only through transcripts, written versions of what was said. We will ignore the polemics that surround “establishing” a definitive text of Lacan’s spoken teaching, something that would be needed to address the translations of classes taught in other languages, especially in Spanish. Caution prevails and Lacan himself pointed it out in 1973 in his “Postface to Seminar XI” (Autres écrits, 503-507). “Lacan”, like “Freud”, is a common name in all the languages read. Outside of the written version there is no other means to access the seminars. One can only arrive at Socrates through Plato… with ensuing doubts about the trustworthiness of the disciple who “established” the dialogues or the one who tried to “standardize” Le Séminaire.
In the Seminars there are many references to the published Écrits. In any case, until 1963 they followed the model of a clear transmission within the precepts imposed by the French language. Neologisms are scarce, the use of equivocation is rare, ambiguity is clarified and even dissolved by means of digressions and footnotes. At that time Lacan’s aspiration was to make himself understood, even to orient himself in the field of meaning. The response he gave in the first interview granted to a newspaper L’Express is an example: “An analyst must not be seen as a “soul engineer”; he’s not a physician, he does not proceed by establishing cause-effect relations; his science is a reading, it’s a reading of sense.” Even before his teaching became well known, Lacan ardently defended his style. In those days he defined his style in a taxative manner ascribing it to mannerism “that not only has a great tradition, but a function that is irreplaceable” (Lacan, Seminar V, 30). It is a style made of oblique references, allusions, sarcasm, imbued with a combative zeal, alien to any perspective of conciliation or reduction of differences.
After what Lacan called his “excommunication” in 1963, he was forced to found a new School, the École Freudienne de Paris (EFP) and a fundamental change in style is noticed in both written texts and seminars. What changed? Earlier we anticipated the answer: “the man one addresses.” Until that crucial moment, Lacan worked to refine Freud’s concepts and to justify his deviations from the founder in analytic practice. The recipient of his word, “his” Other, is a public already informed of the Freudian work where Lacan interposed the languages of dialectics and structuralism, following Milner. After he is expelled from the IPA, Lacan’s style becomes esoteric. It is addressed to a cultivated audience of analysts and analysands, a group already initiated or at least aware of what the chatter (bavardage) from the couch represents: his colleagues’ and followers. From the formation of his School, “Freudian” and always “of Paris”, Lacan addresses those willing to follow “my teaching”, pass for “my signifiers;” those who experience the couch firsthand. Before them he can claim his sovereign uniqueness: “I found, as I have always stood in relation to the psychoanalytic cause…” (AE 229).
We psychoanalysts have an opinion on Lacan’s style, whether to praise or execrate him. This necessarily happens with an esoteric teaching that tends to eliminate any pretense of “scientific neutrality.” The Other, the reader, is invited to either adhere to or repudiate texts and conferences. However, a reflection imposes itself: is it possible to make room for Freud’s discovery, who wrote of the primary and secondary processes, without this having an impact on whoever transmits it? It is at this point that Lacan resorts to Spanish through the epitome of discourse, Góngora’s mannerism: “This obliges us to conclude that there is no stylistic form, however elaborate (and the unconscious abounds in such forms)-not excepting erudite, concettist, and precious forms-that is disdained by the unconscious, any more than by the author of these lines: the Gongora of psychoanalysis, as people call him, at your service” (Ecrits, B. Fink, trans., 391). Lacan displays his Gongorism and makes another Spanish reference: Velázquez’s Baroque in relation to his own style (Seminar XIII). We owe to Erik Porge an insightful, comprehensive and documented study of Lacan’s style, which takes into account the circumstances, modalities and precautions taken to ensure a reliable transmission of his teaching.
The change in style is evident if one counts Lacan’s many neologisms. Although 789 néologismes de Jacques Lacan (2002) omits the names of the researchers who carried out the investigation, each of Lacan’s missing words in dictionaries of the French language is annotated in alphabetical order and followed by the date and place of its appearance, both in written texts and seminars. Without calculating it strictly, it is easy to see that more than nine out of ten follow Seminar XI in 1963. With the additional fact that previously, for the most part, Lacan’s reader did not require technical dictionaries, footnotes or explanations. Some examples: patrocentrique (1957), molluscal (1956), délibidinisation (1957), gutenbergien (1962) or gongorique (1955). Compare these neologisms with those after the “excommunication” whose dazzling examples, not the most esoteric, include lalangue (1971), motérialisme (1975), unebévue (1977), lathouse (1970), scabeaustration (1975). A few of them have joined the current discourse of today’s psychoanalysts: analysant (1968), mathème (1971) and are translated without difficulty into other languages. The very titles of the Seminars from XXI (1973-1974) to XXIV (1976-1977) need clarification and do not lend themselves to translation due to the homophonic play that presides over them: (Les noms du Père, R.S.I., Le sinthome, L’insuccès de l’une-bévue s’aile à mourre). As if each class of the seminar required a “user’s manual” or “instructions for use,” much like in the novel by Georges Perec.
I do not think anyone would count neologisms in Freud’s work: he would find so few! No one would say that Freud innovates in the German language; all he does is goethize the unconscious, return it to its mother tongue, overcome its wrongs. Lacan, on the other hand, gongorizes, mallarmizes and joyces his unconscious to deliver it, in the manner of the Irish writer, to a perplexed audience, ready to enjoy the misunderstanding and to decipher neologisms, mathemes, pathemes (pathèmes – pas-thèmes) and knots. Once again, “the style of the man one addresses.” I believe that no one in his right mind would dare to challenge Lacan’s inventiveness and baroque methods. Journalists and university authors aspire to be understood. Lacan from the beginning warned his disciples: “Don’t try to understand! And leave this nauseating category” (Ecrits, B. Fink, trans., 471).
The Mutual Untranslatability Between Freud and Lacan
We have already talked about the vicissitudes of Freud’s translations into various languages. Many of us have dealt with the topic by particularizing the references to the Spanish versions. Every translator uses a flexible bilingual dictionary, printed or not, but it would be impossible to make an Unbewusst dictionary as Freud finds when he compares dictionaries of dreams or confronts Jung around a collective unconscious and archetypes.
On the other hand, the experience of analysis is the specific mechanism of Lacan’s teaching and style; he approaches Freud’s work laterally and of course never met him. Central to Lacanian discourse is equivocation, homonymy, homophony, quarrelsome or ironic insinuation, neologisms, as they occur in the interventions of the analyst during the session. In contrast, the Freudian style is the recourse to reason, the lógos, even if it is turned upside down: “if you say no… surely it is your mother.” The Spanish translators must take the incompatibility between the two discourses as their starting point; the styles, the addressees, something that pierces through languages. What of Lacan’s translations? We have already noted that his teaching can be considered exoteric until the traumatic moment of his exclusion (“excommunication”) from the IPA in 1963. The written texts and seminars produced up until the publication of Écrits (1966) are certainly not easy to translate, they pose challenges to the interpreter, but they do not pose insoluble problems to trained translators. We must now deal with the fate of his Spanish translations. As was the case with Freud, the first version of his fundamental book Écrits, had Spanish as the target language (1971).
The intermediary this time was not a philosopher (Ortega and Gasset for Freud) but a Spanish psychoanalyst based in Mexico (Armando Suárez), director of the collection “Psychology and Ethology” at the publishing house Siglo XXI. The task was entrusted by Suárez to an outstanding Mexican poet: Tomás Segovia, who in turn, was in permanent contact with a disciple of Lacan’s: the psychoanalyst Juan David Nasio. The result was, in principle, regrettable. The editor decided to change the title to make it more attractive. He understood that it was very risky, from the commercial point of view, to put a 900-page volume with an uncharismatic title on the market: the single word Écrits by an unpublished author in Spanish with a reputation for being illegible. Without consulting the author or his adviser, for the Mexican edition someone designed the front cover with the image of a playing card and the back cover provides the title of the illustration:”Freud, wizard of dreams”. Lacan, who had been eagerly awaiting this publication, became angry and demanded it be withdrawn from circulation. The Mexican editor responded promptly: in1972, Volume I of Écrits was released, following the order of the original Écrits (1966), Volume II followed in 1975. Tomás Segovia made it known that this second edition in Spanish :
varies in relation to the first … most of the changes are due to the author’s detailed revision with the help of the Argentine psychoanalyst Dr. Juan David Nasio. The translator naturally adopted all those that seemed convincing, as well as the ones the author insisted on, as was his right. The most substantial of the changes correspond to terms that, in the words of the author “have a conceptual discursive function” and for which he proposes examples.
It is important to stress here Lacan’s attention to the Spanish translation although there are no written observations on his part, contrary to the translations to German, English and Japanese. It is evident that Lacan was very attuned to fidelity in the transmission of his teaching through translations. Years later in 1984 a second edition was published in Mexico that “corrected and expanded” the two volumes that are still circulating and which have sold tens of thousands of copies. In 2013 a new slightly corrected edition was published by Siglo XXI Argentina in two volumes and with Tomás Segovia’s same version.
In yet another similarity between Freud’s and Lacan’s translations into Spanish, it is important to remember that López Ballesteros and Tomás Segovia were not psychoanalysts, but a philologist and a poet. That is why perhaps their elegant versions lend themselves and almost call for a critical, detailed and “technical” review to correct errors and omissions. An Argentine Mexican psychoanalyst, M. Pasternac (2000) counted 1236 errors, errata, omissions and discrepancies in Lacan’s Écrits in Spanish. No translation is beyond reproach, but given the many corrections to be made, we think Lacan deserves a new translation of his Écrits. In the same way that López Ballesteros’s translation merited a second version, as Etcheverry’s version shows. The new bilingual editions of Freudian texts, carefully translated and supervised by the psychoanalysts Juan C. Cosentino and Lionel Klimkiewicz in Buenos Aires for the publishing house Mármol Izquierdo are another example.
In 2001 some texts of the Écrits not included in the 1966 edition were published in Paris as Autres écrits (2001). In 2012, a commendable translation of these texts appeared in Spanish completed by a group of psychoanalysts knowledgeable in Lacan’s work, with a foreword by J.-A. Miller. The same Buenos Aires publishing house (Paidós) bought the copyright and oversaw editing of Lacan’s seminars, with varying degrees of success. It could be said that Lacan’s teaching is accessible to the Spanish reader who does not immerse himself in the verities of phrases, puns and neologisms from the famous “Gongora of psychoanalysis” in a lalangue that was his own, obtained through the distillation of French. Yes, his style comes from a distillation which means dropping or filtering a liquid drop by drop. In both French and Spanish, “distilling” also means exposing the hidden content of something. The style distills, even when etymologies diverge. Psychoanalysis is the practice of distillation.
The next question I pose regards the possible (or impossible) reciprocal translatability of Freud and Lacan, given the differences between who they each address; that is, the one before whom they distill their postulates. Is Freud’s rational, exoteric speech resistant to any version of Lacan’s lalangue? Can Lacan’s mannerist and esoteric style be passed on to or “meta-phorized” in the modalities that govern the Freudian text.Here we go beyond the classical questions posed by “translatology” regarding versions of texts from one language to another, with the distinction between defenders of the language and rhetoric of the original text and those that privilege the supposed understanding of readers so as to enable the assimilation of the author’s saying (“Don’t try to understand!” (Ecrits, 394, B. Fink, trans.).
In one of his last seminars, Lacan said: “One cannot speak about one language, if not in another language, in a metalanguage: what does metalanguage mean if not translation. One cannot speak of one language if not in another language.” He continues:
There is something in which I have dared to operate in the sense of a metalanguage…the metalanguage in question is translating Unbewusst for une-bévue. This does not have the same sense. But it is a fact that given he sleeps, man une-bévue tooth and nail with no inconvenience.
How do we translate this into Spanish? Lacan plays with the homophony between the German word Unbewusst (unconscious) and the French phrase une-bévue (a mistake or blunder). The homophony mentioned is precarious because the vowel u of German sounds very different from the vowel u in French, the double ss of German does not appear in any way in une-bévue, the final t of the fundamental signifier of Freud, Unbewusst has disappeared from its pseudo equivalent in French that would require completing that t with a voiceless vowel that has no parallel in Spanish or German. Is it that Lacan himself, with Freud’s signifier Unbewusst, “une-bévue tooth and nail and without any inconvenience,” although that is to “metalanguage” Freud, especially after having insisted previously that there is no metalanguage?
It is obvious to everyone that translations are possible, indeed they are essential because they include the inevitable loss in relation to the original lost in translation. There is a rest, an object a (@) that is absent, that resists the passage from one language to another. Now, in the “bold” example proposed by Lacan, is there any loss or gain in the introduction of the signifier une-bévue? What do we as readers of Lacan gain or lose when Lacan “metalanguages” Freud with the creation of “a new signifier”? Here I will risk a comparison with the dream, the royal road for deciphering the unconscious. How could the original story not be enriched by the errant search for the closest translation until it stumbles upon the “navel of the dream” (or discourse) which is the untranslatable; a confrontation with the impossible, what does not stop being translated is necessary. The subject comes into language by replacing his childhood lalangue and entering the language/institution of the Other. “You do not say … reusement but hereusement” little Michel Leiris is told when he expresses joy that his toy did not break. The adult “translates” and corrects the “mistake” of the child who retains the trauma of a renunciation imposed on his saying “in the name of the law,” which is that of speech … reusement is untranslatable to the academic because it belongs to lalangue that … ppily speaks in session.
In the experience of an analysis, with the analyst, misunderstanding and ambiguity recover the jouissance of deciphering the untranslated, the loss (castration, -phi) that occurs when wishing to reduce nonsense by traveling the paths of what is comprehensible or logical; that is, the paths of “ordinary discourse.” The introduction of a neologism coined by an analyst produces flashes when the crystal of language breaks. What if the Spanish translator, Braunstein, for example, finds the Freudian signifier par excellence, Unbewusst, sounds in his Spanish lalangue homophonically in the neological word unembuste (a lie), more than the Frenchune-bévue? What is essential about these puns (Witze) is not the theory, but that they are said in session and thus serve to convey the unlikely adventures of the unconscious in lalangue. “Implausible”: the implausible is much broader, more fruitful than the plausible, just as the unconscious and the infinite are much more extensive than the conscious and the finite. The prefix “in” is not exclusive in these cases, contrary to “inactive” or “indifferent”. The value of neologisms, the translinguistic interventions James Joyce sought, is not in what they mean but in what they give space for in the field of signification. Translation’s ideal is to achieve, as Borges once implied, an ironic and paradoxical effect: that the original be unfaithful to the translation. An authentic translation should seek to enrich the source text, not hide its difficulties for the comfort of its readers. The new version should expose the riches by multiplying and making the rare metals hidden in the inert mineral of the text to be translated shine. In-accurate translations pay homage to the original. Diabelli variations do not kill; on the contrary, they perpetuate the famous little waltz.
The original is one, indifferent to the passage of time and translations. It is dead on arrival. Only paraphrases and translations can resurrect it. A paraphrase is a translation in its own language. A translation is a paraphrase in a different language. Both are “interpretations.” Predictably, translations will always fall short, spoil the original source, betray it, hide its polysemy and the misunderstandings that haunt the original. In another sense, translations are fecund, potentially infinite and exposed to expiration; they can die and be reborn with new clothes. That is why, we should celebrate the fact that our Spanish language is proximate, not strange to the three central languages of Freud’s and Lacan’s psychoanalysis. Freud’s German, Lacan’s French that turned Freud upside down, much down like Marx did with Hegel and the English language that sought to globalize him by imposing its technocratic arrogance as a hegemonic imperial language (today globish). Each language is petty in the face of the opulent richness of the workings of the unconscious. These are manifested in the words of a parlêtre who accedes in his lalangue to say everything. We must celebrate the fact that there are two Spanish translations of Freud’s Complete Works, both very different and full of in-sufficiencies. These can be compared, corrected, improved, by the restless reader who does not yield to the temptation he has “understood” when he reads either one. The same is true of texts and transcripts of Lacan’s seminars: if there are “1236” errors, etc. or different “versions” of each seminar that are printed translations (more or less accurate or uncertain) into English or Spanish, etc., does not tarnish or dampen Lacan’s teaching: they polymerize, keep alive and pollinate it.
The ideal and imperishable Translation demon nurtures the ghost that transmission without loss is possible in the psychoanalytic field. That ghost or dream was not Freud’s, but was Lacan’s at a decisive point in his teaching. Lacan wanted to establish what was essential to psychoanalysis definitively and indelibly, such as he discovered in his practice; by building an ideal language that did not require words or syllogisms to translate. A Spinozian teaching, “more geometrico” made of graphs, mathemes, letters invested by the instance of their power: “Mathematical formalization is our goal, our ideal. Why? Because it is only matheme, able to transmit itself fully.” (Encore, 108). In mathematical language all translations would be superfluous once replaced by the letters of an infallible algebra.
We should now briefly review the path of his teaching without losing sight of our objective: Lacan’s translations into Spanish. Milner distinguishes two radical cuts marked by institutional incidents. Let’s summarize the periodization he proposes: first, syllogistic: Lacan aspired to transmit by persuading the need for a “return to Freud”. For Milner it was the “first Lacanian classicism” (Milner 1995, 77-116), dialectical and structuralist, even exoteric, and covering the first ten years of the Seminars (I to X). The texts, classes and conferences lend themselves to language transfers with the resulting ambiguities, errors and contradictions that haunt every qualified translator.
After his “excommunication” in 1963, Lacan is removed from the International Association and decides to found his own school, the Freudian School of Paris in which he takes the place of Director, counselor and maître. Without abandoning the Freudian reference, this event paves the way to a “second classicism” (Milner 1995, 117-158) of a mathematical type, more geometrico. This glorification of the matheme reaches its culmination in the gloriously baroque Seminar XX, Encore (translated in the Spanish title as Aun and not ¡Otra vez! [again] or Más [more] as one shouts “encore!” to the musician at a concert). This Seminar’s cover is a photograph of Bernini’s Saint Teresa, epitome of the baroque.
However, Lacan silently moves away and drops the much praised (“ideal”) way of the matheme to transmit his teaching. He discards algebraic letters and those of regular science and takes an unexpected step in the last part life until 1980. Milner designates this final period “deconstruction” (Milner 1995, 159-173). Lacan no longer demonstrates in the persuasive sense of discourse but shows what is essential through knots and interlocking rings. His is not a spoken teaching but rather research presented in public in collaboration with topologists. Lacan (1975-76) thus finds in Joyce an instrument suitable for his esoteric teaching. From the contingent encounter (which may well not have occurred) with the Borromean knot, the axis passes through topological figures and interlocking rings. Ambiguity and the possibility of translation is excluded. The words that accompany his demonstrations on the blackboard can only be illuminated when they give access to a new, ungovernable, untranslatable script, such as Finnegans Wake. The tower of Babel of speech and words is deconstructed once and for all. No Humpty-Dumpty will be able to put it together again. Let 100 translations unfold at once.
Translated by Silvia Rosman