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The Valve - Closed For Renovation

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The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Neuro-Freud, Strachey Revised

Posted by Bill Benzon on 05/09/07 at 09:48 AM

Bookslut has an interview with Mark Solms, co-director of the International Centre for Neuro-Psychoanalysis and editor for the revised version of James Strachey’s 24-volume The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Quotes below the fold on neuro-psychoanalysis and correcting Strachey.

On neuro-psychoanalysis:

But I think that I would be dishonest if I was not to stick to my belief that [psychoanalysis] the most highly articulated methodological and theoretical approach that we have to the study of the mind from a subjective point of view—in other words, studying the mind as a mental thing, on its own terms—that psychoanalysis, for all of its faults (and I am the first to admit that it has plenty of faults), that psychoanalysis has nevertheless done more than any other approach to develop that point of view. And so I think that if we are going to start from where psychoanalysis leaves off, then we are not being honest if we don’t call what we’re doing psychoanalysis, even if it becomes something rather different in the years to come.

... The reason I focus so strongly on Freud, however, in my neuro-psychoanalytical work is because it’s a very complicated task to try and link psychoanalytical concepts with neuroscientific ones. To start with the most rudimentary, the most basic concepts, simplifies the task, and that’s a first step. And I think once we’ve been able to ascertain the neural correlates of our most elementary psychoanalytic concepts, that is to say Freudian concepts, then we have a bedrock upon which we can build more elaborated psychoanalytical models into this correlative effort. But I think that we do need to start with one particular model, because there are such a plethora of mutually incompatible, in many respects, psychoanalytical models these days. ...

Psychoanalysis, far more than any other school of psychology, has elaborated methods and theories about the subjective. It has a whole conceptual vocabulary derived from a very sophisticated methodology, which treats subjective experience as an object in its own right worthy of study. Evolutionary psychology also tries to understand something of the biological basis of or correlates of the mind and of behavior, but it doesn’t give privileged place to subjective experience and the study of the human subject. In fact, evolutionary psychology gives privileged place, if I may say so, to a sort of speculation, and doesn’t seem to have a hell of a lot of observation of any kind. What we’re wanting to stick to is the observation of the mind from the point of view of inner life, of subjective experience.

On the Strachey:

Strachey, in his preface, said, “I am imagining Freud as an English gentleman of science, of wide education, born in the middle of the nineteenth century.” He has turned Freud into an English man of science. I think that there are distortions that come with that which are inherent in that approach to translation. But if he were to take the alternative approach, which is to say, “I am going to remember that Freud was a German-speaking man of science and the humanities of this particular era, and I am going to translate him as if I were writing for German speakers,” then the English-speaking reader wouldn’t recognize this as something that they are familiar with. The main criticism, or one of the two main criticisms, of Strachey, is that when the English-speaking reader reads Strachey’s translation, he or she doesn’t have this immediate understanding that the German-speaking reader has when reading Freud in German, because of the everyday descriptive language. But that loss is inevitable. It’s in the nature of translation that you can’t evoke the imagery for a second language reader that the first language evoked for a reader reading in the same language that the writer intended.

I really do think that Strachey translated Freud as if Freud were an English equivalent to what he was, in the time that he wrote. With that comes, first of all, the loss of concrete, direct, literal translations from the German. He’s not doing that—he’s producing an English equivalent in the idiom of English writing. Secondly, remember he says that he’s imagining Freud as an English gentleman of science of that era. The conventions of German scientific writing and of English scientific writing are different, particularly in this matter of descriptive, everyday terminology. In German neuroscience, we use descriptive, everyday terminology for anatomical structures. Whereas in English neuroscience, we use Latin terms. It’s conventional in English neuroscience to use this abstract, dead language; it’s not conventional in German.

... The sorts of thing that I’ve done are: first of all, what I’ve done is added new Freud material that’s come to light since the Standard Edition, and there’s a surprisingly large amount of Freud material, some of it very interesting, that’s come to light since the Standard Edition. Second, what I’ve done is I’ve corrected errors. That is to say, where Strachey has left out a whole sentence or a whole paragraph—and it happens amazingly—also where he’s left out clauses or where he’s misread a German word in the Gothic script which he wasn’t very familiar with. Those are unequivocal errors and I correct them. The border of error is reached in the translation of the German term, Trieb. To translate that as “instinct” is in my view an error. There is no debating it. There is a German word for “instinct” (Instinckt), which is different in its meaning entirely from the German word Trieb. And Trieb is the direct equivalent of what we call “drive” in English.


This new translation should be very interesting.  As a native first-language speaker of German, I can attest to the fact that the old Strachey translation is, in many parts, not as precise in that it doesn’t exactly capture the grammatical implications of the German.  So, this is something to look forward to ...

By Charlotte on 05/09/07 at 12:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

If you’re on Bookslut you could do worse than check out the ‘Specific Floozy’ column.  Not relevant to this discussion, mind you.

By Adam Roberts on 05/09/07 at 01:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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