On translating the term Psychism II

To Aaron a note on translation
Oct/2017

Hi Aaron.

Yes. The question always comes down to what people will understand while reading that term! But also to at what point we (translators) are pandering to the reader instead of clearly translating the writer. I mean by that we always risk subtly (or grossly)  changing the sense of the original to make it more palatable for the reader, even at the risk of distorting the authors intent. Psyche, as opposed to psychism, is clearly one of these, since the author firmly and repeatedly rejected the change.

But there are many (even most) cases where that kind of change is the correct action. Otherwise one is trapped by things like “false friends”. Or simply missing reasonable accommodations. If I use the example of the erroneous translation of the English term volubility (being talkative), for the Spanish volubilidad (changeable, fickle), I could also point to contrary seeming examples.  For instance I recall Salvatore Puledda discussing not wanting to use the Italian term registro for the Spanish word registro. He said, they sound identical but the meanings don’t overlap correctly. I still think it is likely that N was stretching the common Spanish usage, just as we did in the English with the word register, and it would work for Italian. However, after much discussion Negro however agreed that they should use the Husserl’s erlebnis, a German word and a technical term in his phenomenology, and  use that as the guide (I don’t recall the Italian term on which they agreed). 

I think this is a problem with which all good translators wrestle. And since translating dates back before civilization, a lot of smart people have written and thought about the problems associated with even taking simple ideas from one language to another.

I would add that, Negro often spoke of the Traduttori traditori  (“traitorous translators”) a phrase well known to students of translation.  

So there we are, as always, caught between pandering to our (imagined) reader and betraying our author.

I say imagined reader because often it is ourselves, our understanding and our prejudices to which we are pandering. But if we are inflexible and “literal” we betray the author in the other direction. Here all of us are – always in that same battle. I would have concerns about a translator who thought it was easy finding the path between those two (and many other) errors.

Oh well. That’s how it is and it’s only one of our ever present problems. One solution that Negro encouraged us to use, is the “translators’ note” that explained a particular dilemma and allowed the reader to understand what underlay a our taking one path or another. Of course, some texts would quickly become burdened with too many notes. But used judiciously it is a very important possibility.

I think it is also worth adding that the problem is not just one of translation. Over and over Negro’s terminology, and methods, etc were challenged — not by outsiders but by our own people — who wanted him to simplify, to moderate or to change a term into something more familiar and closer to current usage or ways of thinking. They felt (feel?) like he was almost purposely impeding our “outreach” and unnecessarily baffling the understanding of people we were trying to reach, i.e. putting resistances in the path. Maybe so. Maybe not. He also expected/encouraged us to translate the strategies, and modify tactics to suit our country, neighbourhood, street — or time. 

In any case this to was a problem in translating, not from one language to another, but from one mind to another. And N’s response typically might have been the same: Traduttori traditori.

I always try and fall back on what I understood as the fundamental injunctions I was given: Make sure there are no major conceptual errors, and try to make it read as if it had been written in English.

Warmest greetings (abrazo – hug) 

Danny (and no doubt sometimes Judas)