Translation, Knowledge, and Culture – On Freudian Psychoanalysis and Vilém Flusser’s Translation Theories

Flusser and Freud have a lot in common: Both were multilingual and came from Jewish families of what was then the Austrian Empire. Both were forced to abandon their country, as well as the German language that had served as their most important instrument for reflection and expression. In exile, they experienced firsthand the discomfort and misunderstandings that life in a new language and culture entails. And both sought ways out of this impasse by creating new and challenging ideas.

Sigmund Freud lost his homeland in the last year of his life, when he fled from Vienna to London. However, according to Altounian (2003), the influence of not only his own forced migration but also that of his forefathers can be felt in many of his texts. This influence is important not only to Freud’s understanding of culture and the human psyche, but also to the development of his key concepts (e.g., compulsion, drive, regression, cathexis, fixation, etc.). Vilém Flusser left Prague at the age of twenty and initially settled in London as well. There he began his academic education. Later, he migrated to São Paulo (Brazil), where he became an important thinker in the fields of cultural and translation studies.

Language (as the symbolic) was for Freud the key to a new clinical method that enabled a new understanding and treatment of an affliction that befell body and soul. In his masterpiece The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud describes psychoanalysis as a translation between systems: between the unconscious and the conscious. Flusser, the migratory thinker, wrote his first book Language and Reality in Portuguese even though German was his first language. In so doing, he tried to show how one becomes influenced and limited by one’s mother tongue in terms of worldview, modes of thinking, and possibilities of expression. For him, translation (including self-translation) was a powerful tool for overcoming philosophic and linguistic borders.

Through a combined close reading of both authors’ texts, this project investigated the capabilities and limitations of translation in developing knowledge between cultures in fields both scientific as well as philosophic and literary.

Fellowship through the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) 2016
Head researcher(s): Pedro Heliodoro Tavares