Monday, January 04, 2010

Was Freud a Mistranslated Experiential Therapist?

Entry for 3 January 2010:

It's beginning to sound like most of what we in the PCE tradition hate about Freud is a really a result of mistranslation: expert, experience-distant, intellectualizing terms like "interpretation",“transference”, “defence”, “cathexis”, “parapraxis”, not to mention, “ego”, “superego”, and “id”.


My friend Jo Hilton, who teaches part time in the Counselling courses at the University of Edinburgh, sent the following to me, from the Translator's Preface (p. xxix) by Alan Bance of the new Penguin edition of Freud’s Wild Analysis (Adam Phillips, General Editor):

" ... English, no doubt tends to euphemism. It certainly didn't seem quite right - and neither did it to earlier translators to translate the brutally honest "erraten" literally as guess in contexts that related to the analyst's attempts to put a construction on the meaning of the patient's revelations. "Conjecture" or "interpret" seem more respectful terms, offering fewer hostages to fortune. But if the equivalent of "guess" was good enough for Freud ...? This is an example of the way that the translator can begin to identify with the translatee, even to the point of trying to protect the latter's posthumous interests"

Jo notes, “He [Alan Bance] goes on to talk about the way that Freud is careful always to manage the ambivalence between art and science that exists in psychoanalysis - he talks about Freud's humorous intelligence and avoidance (for me, like Rogers) of idolatory.”

She says, “I think that Strachey along with Freud's acolytes did him a disservice in over Latinising his work. I have always referred to Jeremy Holmes’ position that meta-phor [in] Greek means "carry across" and is an equivalent to the Latinised trans-ferre ... and so to transference.”


Thus, the German word Freud used for what has been translated as “transference” was Ubertragung, meaning to carry over or across. In other words, transference is a “carry over effect”.


Strachey also translated the German Abwehr as “defence” rather than the colloquial “fending off’ or “warding off” (with which it is cognate).


And what started the whole exchange with Jo: What is today referred to as interpretation was erraten in Freud’s colloquial German: "to guess", as in "to take a guess, or to guess at the answer to something", but also "to figure out". This is uncannily similar to what we call “empathic conjecture” in Process-Experiential/Emotion-Focused Therapy.


And what about “ego”, “superego”, and “id”? These are Strachey’s translations of Freud’s ich (= “I”), ├╝ber-ich (= “over-I”), and es (= “it”), perfectly good German pronouns and a pronoun-based linguistic construction.


Jo says that people in the psychoanalytic/psychodynamic community are now trying to reclaim Freud from these bad translations, something that should bring psychodynamic and humanistic-experiential traditions closer together, if it is successful.

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