Idiom: Translation / Transduction
To Néstor Braunstein
Because of translation the work of thought is transposed in the spirit of a different language, and suffers thus an inevitable transformation. But this transformation can also be fecund, because it makes appear under a new light the fundamental position of the question.
That translating forms part of the psychoanalyst’s know-how is a statement that is as old as psychoanalysis itself, repeated and rarely challenged, though it is most definitely questionable. This is probably due to the fact that Freud himself, in his early works, introduced translation as a procedure inserted in the very fabric as the passing from the Unconscious to the Conscious, and in a way also as one of the fundamental aspects of the analyst’s task. And in effect, isn’t it the duty and prerogative of the psychoanalyst to clarify the unconscious meanings of the discursive productions of the analysand? Does this not enable a knowledge that elucidates the enigmatic darkness of the unconscious representations within the conscious contents? Is this not the objective that seems to be derived from some of the various ‘translations’ of the famous “Wo Es war, soll Ich werden”?
The reflection on translation in psychoanalysis, as rightly affirmed by Heidegger, makes “the fundamental position of the question appear under a new light”. We turn thus unavoidably towards the question: what similarities and differences exist in the translation procedure as performed by the translator of texts and by the psychoanalyst? But this will lead to the different and falsely naive: does the psychoanalyst translate? Our title itself foreshadows that we will propose a different answer, which does not rule out the first, but does displaces it. What of the essential ”transformation” of that which operates in the act of translation? To address this question assumes that the “fundamental position of the question” that concerns us is not only the act of translation and its implications, but also that of the conditions that make possible the very act. In effect, all translation is realized on the basis of a text (whose nature would need to be specified), but on the other hand it is necessary that the act be performed by an agent who will put into action the act of transposition, of “translation” or of ”transduction”. What is the desire that animates the one willing to perform such an action?
Now then, getting back to our original question: acknowledging that the psychoanalyst “translates”, can this operation be limited to a simplistic image of the transposition of one language (the Unconscious) to a different one (the Preconscious-Conscious)? Certainly not, and still less so if we think of the ‘simple’ restitution of meaning. In reality, the translatological operation of the analyst confronts them with all the difficulties posed by translation such as has been explained by the best of authors. The psychoanalyst is confronted by these difficulties… and others as well. Nevertheless, it is not because of the nature of the technical challenges that we will address this question. Not because there isn’t a wide field of study around this problematic (related for instance to: meaning, reference, the different kinds of interpretation/translation: intralingual and interlingual, the intrasemiotic and intersemiotic, rewording, etc.). What interests me here is to question in the first place the conditions of the very procedure in order to displace it to a second time onto its “agent”: the translator subject. What desire is put into play for the one who surrenders to the delicate, subtle, difficult, and even treasonous task of translating?
Freud and Lacan, Translators?
Many of the references are known. The first one is foundational, the letter to W. Fleiss from 12.6.1896 – originally known as “letter 52” though it is actually number 112 in the complete version of their correspondence. There Freud points out that the transition from the contents of the unconscious to those of consciousness would suppose a translation from one system to another. A fundamental point that would be picked up again 20 years later in the metapsychological texts. This conception of Freud, as it is known, was reformulated in chapter VII of The Interpretation of Dreams. Translation is thus implied from the very beginning in the very nucleus of the investigation of the functioning of the psyche. From here two problems immediately present themselves; on the one hand, that of the “nature” of this translation. A translation from what and into what? Can this be considered to be the same kind of difficulty in the translation of one language to another? Would it be possible to speak of an Unconscious language and of a Preconscious-Conscious language? What kind of processes would be involved in this translation?
On the other hand, the second question: what is it that enables the effectuation of the procedure of translating? Is it the analyst who is responsible for the effectuation of this translation? And, in this case, based on what properties/elements/tools/means?
Freud does not provide clear unequivocal answers throughout his work, in spite of the fact that he maintained a consistency with regard to his core ideas. As far as Lacan, as we will see, he will effect a change of direction. If from the beginning of his elaboration these questions (and especially their answers) closely followed closely the Freudian position, Lacan was already positing, in parallel, another dimension, one not equivalent to that of translation. His teaching moved progressively in a different direction, one that led him to marginalize a certain concept of translation, and to orient himself in another direction that seems to us to address the most profound and radical Freudian questions.
From a theoretical perspective, to the initial conception of a system shift —from the Unconscious system to Preconscious-Conscious system— Freud provided an answer whose complexity is still with us: that of proposing that the system change supposes a change in terms of the type of representation at play. Said another way, the “translation” would operate between one type of representation and another. In Freud’s terms: the passage from the thing-representation (Sachvorstellung) to the word-representation (Wortvorstellung). Let’s remember that both forms of representation are, according to Freud, of a different nature. The thing-representation is most of all visual and characterizes the functioning of the unconscious system, whereas the word-representation is essentially of an acoustic order. The link between them is what characterizes the Preconscious-Conscious system. The thing-representation is originally conceived as close to the mnemic trace, with the passage of time a difference is introduced: “the thing-representation is consists in an investiture if not of direct mnemic images at least of mnemic traces that are more distantly derived from them.” Whereas the word-representation is presented from the outset, from the “A Project for a Scientific Psychology”, as a link between verbalization and the coming to consciousness, the mnesic image could acquire the index of the quality of consciousness. In “The Unconscious” Freud will return to this conception insisting on that the conscious representation includes the thing-representation with the corresponding word-representation, whereas the unconscious representation includes only the thing-representation. Let’s add that as an additional difficulty, for Freud the passage, the tie between one and another representation consists in a change in investiture from one system to another. There is therefore, a passage from one form of representation to a different one, but there also exists a modification in the economic equilibrium of the psychic energetic charge. And, up until 1920, according to Freud it is the analyst who brings to light this link between systems, who “translates” from one system to the other, in spite of their heterogeneity.
In effect, if we momentarily set aside the theoretical-metapsychological aspects to turn to the clinical, it is necessary to recognize that for Freud translation was, in the vast majority of cases, the work of the psychoanalyst, of a psychoanalyst who operates from their knowing and their know-how (savoir-faire). There is in Freud, at least to a certain point in his work a quasi-systematic and flagrant assimilation of the interpretative action and translation, both being nearly equivalent. To avoid the unnecessary duplication of quotations we will direct the reader to the different and numerous references.
With the passage of time, and with the progressive appearance of difficulties, in particular those dealing precisely with interpretation and its limitations, and the inevitable reworking of the theory, the notion of translation tends to vanish from the Freudian vocabulary. As if the limits of interpretation, signaled explicitly starting with “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”, opened another space of inquiry and another problematic (corresponding to something not yet denominated as jouissance). It is a space in which the pretension of a ‘simple’ translation from the contents of the unconscious to the conscious through the clarification of the therapy were no longer sufficient, not from a clinical nor a theoretical perspective. Another psychic force is at play that acts not only beyond the pleasure principle but also beyond sense. With “good sense”, one understands.
In flagrant fashion in those two great texts at the end of Freud’s work that are “Analysis Terminable and Interminable” and “Constructions in Analysis” he does not speak again of translation . In effect, if translation is realized from the repressed to the conscious, the acknowledgement that there is an inaccessible repressed, that there are repressed elements that do not reappear as a return of the repressed but that, nonetheless do not stop producing effects, it necessary to contemplate the practice from a different angle. Hence Freud’s proposition regarding “constructions”. But, this is not the only alternative, as will be seen later. This evolution in the work and Freudian practice will have a different echo in Lacan’s teaching, one that will take to consider in a different way the place of translation in psychoanalysis, in what will appear as a relation of both proximity and difference with regards to literary translation. We will return to this later on.
What is this different perspective that Lacan opens up? We find an interesting and explicit formulation in his 11.29.1967 lesson within his seminar on “The Psychoanalytic Act”:
It is between these two terms that the suspense of what is dealt by us within the context of the analysis is realized. of a retranslation… I say re because in this instance the first inscription of the signifier is already a translation of something… Is it that the organization of the signifier structured as language is precisely what applies to our interpretation? Or, on the contrary, is our own interpretation that is somehow a procedure of a completely different order that reveals a design (dessin) that has thus far remained hidden?
Lacan clearly outlines two possible and different paths of deciphering: one by translation, and the other one, to put it quickly, through revelation. Without a doubt the Heideggerian notion of aletheia had been present for some time in Lacan’s elaboration; nevertheless, until a certain point in his teaching, the translation was considered from a perspective close to that of Freud, while at the same time maintaining open another perspective. Without multiple quotations it is possible to affirm that presence of a double movement. For Lacan, on the one hand, translating was part of the psychoanalyst’s task falling under the same regime as interpretation. Faced with a lack of knowledge of the subject “…we are taken, in the presence of what can be analyzed, to a divination procedure, of translation, to phrase it differently, that aims to relax, beyond the subject’s language, ambiguous in the plane of knowledge, a truth”. A position that does not prevent him from stating shortly thereafter in that same seminar: ‘What is it that Freud describes as Übertragung? It is the phenomenon that is determined by what follows: “that for a certain desire repressed by the subject there is no possible translation”. He continues:
This desire of the subject is prohibited (interdit) by its discursive mode, and cannot be made known. Why? Because there is among the repressed elements something that belongs to the ineffable. There are fundamental relationships that no discourse can express sufficiently, except as that which I designated as ‘between the lines’.
There is therefore in Lacan a tension between two poles that would represent two different types of “translation”. On the one hand, an organization of the signifier “structured as a language” and that will tend towards a search for an “Other signification”, through the passage from one signifier chain to another. It is because of this that, as he points out in his seminar on the subject of “Transference”, “For something to signify, it is necessary that it be translatable in the place of the Other”, The passage through the Other, this alterity, is what makes possible the transition from an enunciated to the space of enunciation. But, as in all translations, that entails a trek along steep paths where the goal is essentially to make emerge a truth that goes beyond the translation of meaning. It is because of this that there is a confrontation with that which cannot be translated. There is, argues Lacan, at the root of all neurosis, something that lies closer to a rejection (Versagung) than to a frustration, an original rejection. And he adds:
It becomes glaringly obvious that this untranslatable Versagung can only be achieved within the context of the sagen, just as long as the sagen is not just the process of communication, but the saying, the emergence as such of the signifier as long as it enables the subject to refuse.
To conclude: “it is within the context of rejection, foundational and primordial as it is, that we psychoanalysts operate”.
The second pole would then reunite in a single limit the saying that confines together what cannot be translated, and that which lies beyond communication and meaning. A point of unspeakability that nonetheless aims nonetheless at a form of truth. How to reach it? For this, it is perhaps necessary to first reexamine the position of the translator and the type of translation. Before moving forward with our reading based upon psychoanalysis, we will take a detour and briefly look at how has this fundamental question been approached in the neighboring field of translation. We will see how the kind of inquiry produced of some theoreticians of translation produce surprising echoes in the work of the psychoanalyst.
Ethics and Desire of the Translator
In our opening lines we pointed out that it is not the technical issues of translation that that interest us here, but rather the question of the very act of translation itself and the desire that sustains whoever accepts risking themself in the effectuation of this act.
To speak of the desire of the translator is to echo, first and foremost, the title of the famous and seminal article by Walter Benjamin: “The Translator’s Task”. Of the translator and not the translation, which is the consequence. For there to be a translation it is necessary that task be incarnated and taken on by a subject. From this observation: what can be said of the desire of the subject that presides, that orients, that pushes the translation?
All the authors we will make reference to here face this question either implicitly or explicitly. In what follows we will lean particularly on the elaborations of Antoine Berman, who tackled this problematic in the broadest and most acute fashion. Berman’s conception of translation rests on a rich conceptualization that distinguishes, among other aspects, the point of the view of the translation, the horizon of the translation, the “translating subject”, the translation of the letter. These elements lead to the formulation by Berman of a couple of concepts that cannot but solicit the psychoanalyst’s attention: that of an “ethics of translation”, which is in solidarity with ”a translator’s desire”. These two terms may seem surprising; they are less so if we know that work of Berman was marked by his interest in psychoanalysis in general and by Lacan’s work in particular, in which he found multiple resonances with his own questioning.
It is not irrelevant that Berman relies on a very specific term, that of the “ethics of the translator”. It must be understood by this an ethic proper to translation. Now then: if the goal of this ethic is the ‘literary deed’, it is based upon a desire. Berman, a student of Lacan’s works, uses this term to refer to the sticking points of the act and commitment of the translating subject. In Lacan’s eponymous seminar, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis he proposes that it is an ethics of desire. How would this ethic implicate the translator?
In a similar fashion, his contribution of the “desire of the translator” is a concept that opens up a number of perspectives. This syntagma, echoing that of a “desire of the psychoanalyst” of Lacan, introduces at once a double question: what is it that specifies a translator and guides their actions? And what joins and distinguishes these two desires, inasmuch as it is said (or assumed) that an analyst is also a translator. We leave these essential questions in suspense for the time being to which will later return. We will first define the axes upon which Berman’s trajectory is based and which lead us to this ethic and this desire of the translator. For this we have to consider Berman’s contribution as articulating itself in the unfolding of 4 essential axes.
In the first place, the “ethics of the translation”, which consist in “clarifying, refining and defending the end goal of translation itself”. Translation cannot be defined only in terms of communication, of transmitting messages or of an expanded rewording. We will see later on that this ethic essentially entails an “otherness”, that is to say a radical form of alterity.
In the second axis, which is as important as the first: Berman advocates for an “analytics of translation”. The translator must “enter into analysis”, detect the systems of deformation that threaten their practice and operate in an unconscious fashion at the level of their linguistic or literary options. These systems imply simultaneously the registers of language, of ideology, of culture, of literature and of the translator’s psyche. Berman establishes in this regard a suggestive parallel, in speaking of a “Psychoanalysis of translation” just as Gaston Bachelard spoke of a “Psychoanalysis of the scientific spirit”: the same quest, the same self-scrutinizing endeavor.
A third axis is what Berman, following Novalis, defines as “the other side of the text”, that is, that the translation, beyond the gain or loss it incurs, makes another aspect appear, one that does not come into view as manifest in the original, of putting into operation a “potentialization” of the work.
The fourth and final axis is what Berman defines as “the drive of translating”, a drive whose function would be that of transmitting “the desire to translate which constitutes the translator as such”. This last point should be considered an answer to the proposal made by Walter Benjamin in his article “The Translator’s Task”. W. Benjamin considers that translators thrust themselves in their endeavor, to the search, beyond the empirical languages, of “pure language” that each language carries within it. For Berman this search must be considered as metaphysical more so than ethical inasmuch as, in a platonic way, it aims at a “true” “beyond” of natural languages. Berman believes, contrary to W. Benjamin, that the question must be posed differently, precisely from that of the ethical aim. For him the “drive of translating” has a goal which would be that of ‘denaturalizing’ the native language. Quoting Schleiermacher, the drive of translation would be the opposite of what he described as “das heimisches Wohlbefindem der Sprache”, the intimate well-being of language. According to Berman the drive of translation always postulates the Other language as ontologically superior to one’s own. This brings about a distinction. In an interesting formulation Berman suggests that “… it could be said that the metaphysical goal of the translation is the failed sublimation of the translative drive, while the ethical finality would be to surpass it (dépassement)”. In this “surpassing”, would be at play the manifestation of the desire to establish a “dialogical” (dialectical?) relationship between the foreign language and one’s own language. Let’s demarcate that this does not preclude, at least not from our perspective, the establishment of an irreducible boundary between them.
These four axes are fundamental; to them we should probably add an additional aspect with regards to this “ethics of translation”: the term “Foreigner” which has as a function to accentuate in a radical way the notion of otherness. This notion, which is situated at the heart of the act of translation itself, acts as an intermediary, as a “between-two”, something that designates an object (according to Berman), but that can also be considered as a space that is neither the text to be translated nor the translated text. We will see later that this position is in proximity to that of the transferential situation. The term itself of “Foreigner” is derived by Berman from the mythical figure of the “supplicant” who, in certain religious traditions, would be an intermediary between humans and the divine.
Berman makes a detour not through Lacan but rather through Levinas (Totalité et infini) in an attempt to respond to the question all those attempting to translate a literary work should ask themselves: how could an ego enunciate something about an other (in this case the literary work) if this other is greater, and exceeds the ego to a radical extent? The question —and dilemma—of the translator would be how to enunciate a text that is infinitely foreign to their saying? Levinas’ answer to this question —an answer Berman adopts as his own— that is to say, about this tension between the ego and the Other, it’s that the I does not say anything about the Other but speaks to this Other. To speak to it is, as we understand it, is to interpellate it. Applied to a translator’s work this means that translators must recognize themselves as being constantly at risk of being surpassed by their task, that the text is always situated in excess with regards to the possibility of translation, while at the same time the translation, if it is effective, can situates itself in excess of the original text. It is because of this that Berman brings in this notion of “Foreigner”, a figure which provides intermediation between the translator and the work or text to be translated.
But this conception goes far beyond that: by speaking to an Other that is greater than us, that radically exceeds us to such an extent, means, on the part of the translator, an effort of poeticity (poeticité), as opposed to the poetica. The translator’s effort of poetics is a forcing of language as the place of the Other, of the language as, according the Berman’s beautiful phrase, “the shelter of (what is) the Foreign”.
We must consider this “effort of poeticity” on the part of the translator, a point to which we will return later, as an element that occupies a strategic place. Henri Meschonnic, in addressing the “translating what words don’t say but rather what they do” defines it in a radical way:
the poetic seeks to reach, through what the words say, to go towards what they show but do not say, towards what they do —which is subtler than what contemporary pragmatism has sought to reveal— it is the acting of language. This acts upon us, even when we are unaware of it. And rebegins. And we don’t know that which, upon the field of language, the speaker does not known or need to know about how it functions in order to be spoken.
It is on this point that Meschonnic evokes “personal prosodies”, which seem to have a close bond with “the experiences of exquisite difference” of Serge Leclaire, of which we will speak momentarily.
As we can see, we are confronted by an equation with two unknowns: one concerning the “nature” of translation, and more specifically the matter itself of the translative process. If we bring it back to the domain of psychoanalysis: from the unconscious to the conscious, from Sachevorstellung to Wortvorstellung, from enunciated to enunciation, from signifier to signification (rather than signified), always with that permanent and problematic backdrop of the question of meaning. We clarify that, as occurs with translators, the different conceptual options the analyst has from a theoretical perspective have a direct impact on the translation itself. Is the unconscious translated in the same way from the perspective of Klein, Winnicott, Bion or Lacan? Of course not, and later on we will provide an example with respect to this.
This brings us to our second unknown: that of the translator. The analysis of the proposals by different authors, of Berman especially, inspired by Lacan, clearly shows that this question challenges in a radical way the position of the subject, of ethics and the desire of the translator, be it literary or psychoanalytic.
We referred to what we perceive as a shift in Lacan after seminar VIII “The Transference”, which leads to the double question we quoted from seminar XV about “the psychoanalytic act”. Between the two, there was an event we deem to be a turning point, which we feel illustrates, in an exemplary manner, this other space that must be taken into account when we consider the relationship between translation and psychoanalysis. We will call it “the Poor(d)JeLi moment”.
The Poor D’ Je Li Moment
Poor d’Je Li is the condensation, in exclamatory form, of the syntagmatic elements of the foundational fantasy of a subject, proposed by Serge Leclaire on the basis of the analysis of his “unicorn’s dream”. The temporal mark (“moment”) signals the character we give it: not only of a paradigmatic example but also, for this reason, that of presenting an essential shift in relation to the thematic that concerns us.
This dream, its analysis, and the consequences that will be derived from it, were presented and developed in four successive stages. It was introduced for the first time as one of the aspects of the joint contriibution of S. Leclaire and Jean Laplanche “L’inconscient: un étude psychanalytique” during the Colloquium of Bonneval on ‘The Unconscious” organized by Henri Ey in 1960. This first version was published the following year in issue 183 (July 1961) of the magazine Les Temps Modernes, before being reprinted in the acts of the fifth Colloquium (5 years later). Leclaire made a second presentation within the context of a private seminar by Lacan in 1965 (Le Séminaire XII – Problèmes cruciaux pour la psychanalyse – 1964-1965); in this presentation was the first mention of the he the expression Poor d’ Je Li. The definitive text was published in 1968 in Leclaire’s book Psychanalyser – Un essai sur l’ordre de l’inconscient et la pratique de la lettre. Here we will concern ourselves primarily with the presentation that took place within the context of Lacan’s seminar on the 1.27.1965, and on the debate that took place during the seminars of the 24th and 31st of March of that same year.
I will not attempt to summarize Leclaire’s presentation; because of its exceptional character, as much as because of the complexity of the subject matter and the apertures it introduces, it demands a careful and detailed reading that we leave in the reader. For our purpose here, I will limit myself to “trimming” the points and sequences I deem essential. The fundamental core is that of a double ‘translative’ time: that of the analysis of the dream’s subject material, which elucidates a signifier series, and from this, the emergence of the Poor d’Je Li formula, an exclamation that conceals within its condensation the fundamental fantasy of the subject, intimately linked to that first movement (and which opens to other questions, such as for example the incidence of the unconscious in one’s own name, and through it, the Name of the Father).
Of the work on the unconscious text of the dream, from the associations of the analysand, the following signifier sequence is established:
Lili – beach – thirst – sand – foot – horn
Let’s point out that in French the first syllable (Li) and the last word (corne-horn) make up the word “Licorne”, the Unicorn of the dream.
Presented in this way, in isolation, this sequence appears as enigmatic. A hieroglyphic text that is made up of the unconscious chain of signifiers; we make an abstraction, as we said, of Leclaire’s detailed elaboration of the different moments of the analysis of the dream like that of the mechanisms of condensation and displacement, metaphoric and metonymic that bring, as Leclaire remarks, the clarification of “…this absurd chain of signifiers, hieroglyphic, composed (composit) and extravagant, but insistent and unbreakable”. It condenses the cipher of the subject’s singularity, as if branded by fire “and where we recognize the empty mask of the unconscious”. (Lacan, “Problèmes cruciaux”, 70).
The key point appears at this moment in the analytic work. Leclaire underscores that he could have interrupted the analysis on this sequence, with the elucidation of this chain of signifiers. From a strictly Freudian perspective, this singularization of fundamental elements might seem as enough in our attempt to “translate” the unconscious of the subject with regards to the determination of the subjective history. If taken further, if the analysis pushes further it is because it manages to situate what Leclaire terms “experiences of the exquisite difference” in which the unconscious element properly speaking appears as the connotation of a sensorial experience of the difference, connotation of an experience of a differential distinction as such. This takes the form of a series of what are no longer signifiers, but rather phonemes, which bring us back, according to Leclaire, to the articulation of the fundamental fantasy of the subject. A secret exclamation, a jubilatory formula, an onomatopoeia of jouissance that focuses on the aforementioned formula: Poor d’ Je Li. Let’s add that it is on this point that it seems possible to us to establish a contact point with the “personal prosodies” that were mentioned by Meschonnic. In a most radical way, it can be said that it is also here that a change in register appears, one that marks a difference with regards to the “simple” level of translation.
- Leclaire acknowledges that it is extremely rare that an analysis succeeds in elucidating this sort of formula, those most obscure. The next step will consist in attempting to show the articulation that is to be found between the proper name of the subject, the chain of signifiers, and the condensed fantasy condensed in the exclamation “Poor d’ Je Li”. We agree with and therefore direct the reader once more to Leclaire’s text, which provides the necessary elaborations and details.
Let’s move to examining some of the provisional conclusions that can be derived; Leclaire himself proposes a few that seem to us extremely important. On the one hand he estimates, with good reason, that this example highlights the singular style of the analytic task “in its essence, its paradoxes and its rigor”.
On the other hand, this level of analysis poses, and even demands the necessity for accuracy with regards to the criteria by which it is possible to distinguish, isolate, underscore this or that signifier or phoneme. In this regard Leclaire proposes three particularly pertinent criteria. In each case, the following would need to be considered: (a) the repetitive instance of the signifiers, that is to say “that singular trace, unique, irreplaceable, differential and ”symbolic”; (b) the difficulty in the “confession” (aveu) of those traits, signals of the proximity to the fundamental fantasy, to the singularity of the subject, and (c), their ”vitality index”, their active and constant presence which signals, that underscores their irreducibility. Lastly, and especially important with regards to the matter that concerns us:
This level of analysis underscores in an obvious way the constitutive absence of the ‘logical relationship’ between the primary, unconscious level and its secondary preconscious-conscious elaboration. What we commonly encounter within analysis are, in fact, the unconscious replicas of the fundamental fantasy.
Leclair shows how it would have been possible, once the signifier series had been isolated, to end up with a formula “translated in language”, that is, the language variants of the different signifiers, when the point is to not too quickly believe in the path of a supposed “analytic comprehension” (the path of meaning) and one that, more often than not, leads to a sort of translation of this or that into phallocentric language. ‘What matters here is to see that our interpretation tends to constitute itself (se porter) in general (le plus souvent) as a “faulty (fautive) translation in language” of the fundamental fantasy. Such is the fascination and the privilege of the known-sense over the unsense (a term I consider preferable to “nonsense” to translate “non-sens”, DK)”. Effectively, the critical point is: what destiny should we assign to those key signifiers that reveal the singularity of the subject? It is not about converting them into elements of a “normalizing” interpretation (even if “Oedipal”, for example), supposedly supported by theoretical justifications.
Leclaire’s presentation triggered an intense, passionate and riveting debate to which we now turn our attention. We underscore three central points. The first one (supplied by Conrad Stein, who had already commented on Leclaire’s intervention at Bonneval), is that “Poor d’JeLi” is constituted as a dream, subject to the same mechanisms of transformation of images into words: condensation and displacement. The dream and the fantasy treat images as if they were words or, as we pointed out already according to Freud’s proposal, treats the representations of words as the representation of things. Stein insists on the problematics of the term “representation in language”, and points out, quite justly that “if we look closely, this would appear to us as being of a different level than that of translation”. This causes Lacan to interpellate Stein to clarify that in this case there is a “strict application of the method, a knowing, a prevalence of the signifier over the image” and that “that enables us to delineate the singularity of the subject”. 
The second point, addressed by several of the participants (Valabrega, Major, Mannoni) takes aim at the question of whether or not the Poor d’Je Li is itself the fantasy, or if the formula contains only the signifier elements at the basis of the fundamental fantasy. For his part, Mannoni points out that Leclaire exposes the “unsense” (non-sens) of the fundamental fantasy in the sense of “translations in language” (or lenguajeras), and that this presents a true knot of extremely important problems. Above all with regards to the “translations in language” and the shift from of register, it seems to us that this is the fundamental element at play.
To these critical comments Lacan will reply from a distance, in a different text, that strongly accentuates the fundamental point:
That Leclaire’s power to consider the unicorn sequence as unconscious should be questioned, on the pretext that he on for his part is aware of it, means that it doesn’t seem as if the unconscious makes no sense except in the field of the Other – and less still that which can it be derived from it: that it is not the effect of sense that operates in interpretation, but rather an articulation in the symptom of the signifiers (without any sense) that are trapped therein.
So the ”Poor (d’)JeLi moment” is invested with a particular importance, even a critique,. It can be said that Leclaire puts into act a radical approach to the analytical cure. This “moment” illustrates in an exemplary fashion that beyond of the interpretation as translation, much more important to signal inasmuch as Leclaire himself admits that he could have remained at the level of the analysis of the signifier sequence. Incidentally, it can be considered that we find here a certain anticipation of some of Lacan’s later elaborations on the letter, but this is not what is essential. What is essential is that it clearly shows a process of analysis that sketches a “beyond the translation”, a beyond that will have to be specified. This “beyond” does not challenge what since Freud denominated or considered translation, but it does introduce a significant difference.
This difference plays out, at least according to the hypothesis we are presenting here, on the edge of a shift of register. The translation can be considered as that movement that introduces or enables a reading of discreet elements of the unconscious. This is an obvious aspect that underscores its relevance to the know-how of the clinic. In spite of that, and as Leclaire points out at a certain point in his presentation, the analyst must be aware of these traits of absolute difference that push the analyst to not have satisfaction nor take refuge in the comfort of what is indicated by the knowledge of the theory (a bit of Oedipus, a bit of castration…), which would constitute a deadly trap for the practice.
Consideration should be given to two moments, structurally close to one another, but nonetheless different and not necessarily contiguous. We would have, on the one hand, translation. Nothing needs to be added in this respect to what Freud first, and the early Lacan later on, were able to advance. The translation is in this case, always in proximity a certain conception of interpretation, consists in enunciating as “Other of what in the subject’s saying emerges as a discreet element of the unconscious: dreams, lapses, forgetting, failed acts, jokes (Witze). Lacan has shown us his limit, of which he made us aware including against Freud. This sensitive point is that of sense. In this interpretation/translation is the ever-present risk of supplying or even imposing a sense (in all possible … “senses” of the term) to the patient’s occurrences. A whole school of psychoanalysis has fallen, and continues to this day to fall into this attitude. We have acknowledged that this is unavoidable in certain circumstances; the risk appears when the task of analysis limits itself to that. That is to say, when the analyst is not the subject-supposed-to-know but rather the “knower”, who “knows” the meaning of the patient’s speech. Or when the analyst operates within the “obedience” to a doctrine rather than forgetting what they know during the time of the session in order to privilege the method. This is flagrant in the case of analysts who perform Kleinian, Winnicottian, Kohutian or Lacanian readings. Evidently, this does not preclude the production of effects, at a therapeutic level, thanks to the transference. These effects are often closer to suggestion than to true analytic effects. Fortunately most analysts (at least it’s what I want to believe) by producing interpretations as translations, provide readings of that which the patient’s associations enable them to hear, often beyond what the analysands themselves are willing (or have the conditions) to hear. If done properly, that is respecting the literality of the analysand’s saying, important clarification can be obtained about discreet elements that appear in the diachrony of the sessions. Sedimentations that, with the passage of time, can make it possible for a different kind of process to have a place.
We see then that the possibility of translation resides essentially, and not fortuitously, in the position of the agent. Let’s recall that W. Benjamin, A. Berman, and H. Meschonnic indicate clearly the implication of the subject-translator in the act. There is an ethic and a desire acting when is addressed, be it literary or unconscious. This is not reduced to technical procedure; it rests essentially on the translating subject’s (literary) decision which is in an essentially conflictual and potentially “transgressive” relationship with regards to the limits of the “source” language as it relates to the “target” language. The example of Leclaire’s Poor d’ je li shows that, in what concerns psychoanalytic practice, there is something that it that is of the same order and at the same different. A difference that brings with it a series of modifications and clarifications with regards to Freud’s initial position. Let’s recall that Freud uses in quite a few instances the notion of translating to characterize both the translation of unconscious elements into the realm of consciousness, by relying on different notions (from the consciousness-perception to the mnemic traces and conscious representations in letter 52, to the passage from thing-representation to word-representation in the metapsychological article on “The Unconscious”). Let’s remember above all that the use of this notion in translation literally disappears from Freud’s work precisely as of 1920, as if Freud himself, in a way that was concomitant to the discovery of the limitations of interpretation, conceived that what is at stake is a another kind of action, one that is not totally foreign to translation but which is of a different nature. From our point of view this supposes a triple perspective and a triple difference: with regards to interpretation, with regards to transference, with regards to the desire of analysis.
The interpretation, as we saw, always runs the risk of finding itself locked into the production of meaning. We insist: it is a common procedure that is part of the psychoanalyst’s work, it cannot be eliminated. The constant risk is that of limiting —and limiting the analysis— to that perspective. Yes, at times the interpretation points at, and has to point at to a production of meaning that is both needed and welcomed. This does not mean that another perspective on interpretation should be forgotten or set aside, another perspective on interpretation that is more radical and more important. The one that according to Lacan points to ‘faire des vagues’ (making waves/rocking the boat). This is what Lacan indicates in the passage from “The Psychoanalytic Act” to which we made reference earlier, and which was implied when Lacan resorted to the notion of Aleteia, which itself corresponds to ‘the final Lacan’ questioning an eventual “new signifier”. The interpretation, from this perspective does not and cannot correspond to the translation of a meaning that would be “already there”, which would proceed through the transcription of a certain number of representations to a different chain that would reveal a secret meaning, that is written yet ignored. This procedure is analogous to that of Champollion, that of finding an equivalent chain that would make the reading possible via transcription.
What Lacan —and the last Freud— propose is a different procedure. There would be in this case the emergence of a signification by “the unravelling [outcome] of meaning” that emerges properly from the “insu”, of the “unknown”, of the not known, of what is ignored by the subject… and by the analyst.
It is here that we measure the impact that is brought about by the paradigm shift introduced by Lacan with regards to the transference: the subject-supposed-to know.
According to the indications by Freud, the analyst, thanks to their knowledge, thanks to their awareness of the unconscious processes (condensation, displacement, figurability, censorship, etc.) is the one who is in a position to propose a translation of those repressed elements, of the unconscious representations that manifest themselves in the patient’s discourse, whose meaning (it would be better to say: signification, and better yet: signifierization) escapes them because of the resistance, of their defense mechanisms or their complexes (to reclaim that old term that has fallen out of favor).
Lacan’s elaboration produces in this regard a radical change (one that is so seamless that it no longer even draws attention). In effect the engine and core of transference is the supposition of knowledge that is made to the Other, directed to another, an incarnate Other, precisely by someone who doesn’t take themselves as such. If the analyst embraces this imposition in either of its two forms (incarnating and taking on the role of the Other or that of the “semblance of object a’” it is because their own crossing of the analytical experience has enabled them not only to distinguish and understand the mirages that make up their own imaginary, and to reveal the illusions of understanding and meaning, but also to realize that there is something that lies beyond meaning. This opens us up to the multiplicity of possible significations (of possible translations) that bring into focus not just the relative inconsistency of knowledge, but also its limits. Limits that enable us to approach or “reveal” (Heidegger) a truth that, as the navel of the dream, as the back of Irma’s throat, shows a Real that exists beyond the reach of representation, one that is located on the edges of what can be nominated. A limitation that Pascal Dusapin describes clearly, albeit in a different realm, that of music, and more precisely in that borderline moment in which the music stops:
It is not that it (the music) does not designate anything, but when it stops, in each instance, the only thing that remains within us is a sentiment that is alive, an almost uncomfortable feeling that is delicately painful. A sort of sorrow. The music shines and dissipates, as an illusion. But its echo always comes too late. Music is the perpetual mourning of the moment.
Of the moment of truth, is the only thing that should be added.
In order for this delicate operation to take place, and for which we consider the example of the Poord’JeLi as paradigmatic, it is necessary, it is an essential condition, unavoidable that the analyst be in agreement with their desire of analysis. This desire that enables them to embody that function of subject-supposed-to-know in the two currents we described. We reiterate what has been said many times: knowledge acts as a supposition. The analyst is not the repository they do not possess knowledge about the analysand, about their unconscious or their truth. It is on that point that it must be insisted, along with Freud, on the psychoanalytic method. Only the analyst knows that they must bracket their knowledge, that their job is to create the necessary conditions through the analytical device that will enable, eventually, the analytic experience to take place.
Lacan once referred to an old Jewish story in which a rabbi tested a gentile (a non-Jew) who was determined to learn the Talmud. The test was to solve a logic problem: if two people descended together through the same chimney, with one emerging with a dirty face and the other with a clean one, which of the two would wash their face? Regardless of the story, which is as subtle as it is hilarious, I think it is relevant to insist on the fact that if the analysand and the analyst descend down the same chimney (a situation that quite apropos evokes, the ‘chimney sweeping’ of Freud’s beginnings), it must be considered the necessary asymmetry of the situation: it is the analyst who provides the chimney flue, but it is indispensable that soot come from the analysand.
Now then, when we define the process in these terms, are we still talking about a “translation”? I don’t think so, and the process in question would be more rigorously defined (following here, as we said, a terminological suggestion by N. A. Braunstein) as a transduction. The term itself retains a welcomed proximity to translation, but introduces an important difference. This word is used in a number of fields, from electricity to genetic biology. In the first case, it is defined as the shift from one kind of energy into a different one. In second one, it is defined (citing Larousse) as “the transferring of genetic information from one cell through to an other through a the intermediary of a vector”. In a different definition (Webster), “Action or process of converting something, and especially energy or a message into a different form”. Now literally, from the Latin Ductuo, from Ducere: to conduct. Transduction is then: to conduct through, or in our own terms; a transformation of register that operates by transference by means of a vector. Is this not precisely that to which is aimed with regards to the analysand’s discourse under transference? And is this not the essential function of the psychoanalyst? That of enabling the psychoanalytic action to take place, through a device, by enabling the subject to go from one register to another. From the complaint of the symptom to the demand and from there to the twisted paths, tortuous and bifurcated by the desire that animates them, to reach their limits. That is what makes it possible that “the jouissance be reached on the inverted scale of the Law of desire”.
Let’s open here a digression to point out a major difference between the action of the interlingual translation, that is between different languages, and let’s add, textual ones, that is to say a translation from one text to another. In effect, there are two fundamental differences that must be considered between the translation of a written text and the psychoanalytic “text”. The written text, the “source” text is fixed, unmovable. “Bereshit bara Elohim et Ha Shamayim ve et Ha Aretz”; “En un lugar de la Mancha de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme…”, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”, or “Longtemps je me suis couché de bonne heure”. Translations will vary, we could debate if “Bereshit” should be translated as “In the beginning”, “At first”, “In the first moment”, but no matter what, the original text will still be enunciated as “Bereshit”. The text will be multiplied, it will become enriched by the different readings and translations. The same does not happen with the psychoanalytic text, an oral text, whose variation can only be reduced by clarifying a certain number of invariants, that is of fundamental signifiers. The psychoanalytic “text”, as we have seen through the example of the “Poor (d’)JeLi”, is a text that is to be constructed. From the magma of associations that erupt from the analysand’s discourse, deployed through the diachrony of the sessions, there may emerge the series of privileged signifiers that weave the plot of the unconscious text. But this text is a living substance that is in constant motion, like the word itself. In order to constitute it is imperative to go through a series of criteria, like the ones proposed by Leclaire. Or, to quote Dusapin once more, as a composition (a musical one in Dusapin’s case, that of the text of the unconscious of the analysand for us) that is perhaps a translation, but a translation of that which did not exist before. To compose, says Dusapin “as if the goal were to invent the fissures, the interstices and the differences from which other music will escape.”
As Leclaire himself said, this does not happen in all analyses but, in a few instances, that essential leap can be achieved from which a series of fundamental signifiers can emerge, and in it the unconscious cypher of the fundamental fantasy.
In this procedure, is the analyst the translator? The transductor? I would say both, depending on the moment of the cure, and the transferential opportunity, but not both at once. It is the operator that, as a catalyst, enables it to take place. But this does not put the analyst in a passive role. Quite the contrary.
It is now that we can return to what, on the translators’ end, we glimpsed with Berman and Meschonnic: the effort of poeticity to which the analyst, as a translator, is called. The analyst is but a recipient of the analysand’s discourse. Their listening, which is less of a knowledge than of a resonance, should lead, in the best of cases, to listen to that which had never before been heard, to formulate what could never before be expressed, to reach the confines of what, by the saying of a subject, can be ‘signifiable’. In this, the action of the analyst is essentially poetic, and therein lies also its limitation. Lacan painfully confirmed this at the end of his life:
The ingenuity of man is to fill all this, I have told you, with the poetry that is a byproduct of meaning, but also of the effect of the hole. There is nothing but poetry, I told you, that leaves room for interpretation, and it is here that my technique can go no further: I am not a puet (pouâte), I am not puetical.
Lacan’s acknowledgement is valid for all analysts. But isn’t this the psychoanalyst’s greatest challenge?
Translated by Clea Saal