Vol. 29 No. 19 · 4 October 2007

After Strachey

Adam Phillips writes about the new translations of Freud

5756 words

It’s never, in any way whatever, by another person’s excesses that one turns out, in appearance at least, to be overwhelmed. It’s always because their excesses happen to coincide with your own.

The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book XVII:
The Other Side of Psychoanalysis

Now that the Freud wars are over it seems a good time for a new translation. This is certainly a good time for psychoanalysis: because it is so widely discredited, because there is no prestige, or glamour, or money in it, only those who are really interested will go into it. And now that Freud’s words are so casually dismissed, a better, more eloquent case needs to be made for the value of his writing. Though likely to be largely ignored – and ferociously contested by the remaining devotees and owners of psychoanalysis – a new translation should be something of a new start for anyone still curious. An opportunity, at its most minimal, to see what’s left of Freud after his writing has been put through the mill of the psychoanalytic institutions and the universities.

When Penguin first approached me about the possibility of a new translation, there was no suggestion that I would be involved. Freud had come out of copyright in the EU, and they were consulting with various people, they told me, about the viability of a new version. They already had, as the Penguin Freud, most of the Standard Edition in paperback, with the exception of the papers on technique, and it was not obvious what a so-called new Freud could be like, what could be sufficiently new about it to make it marketable, at a time when Freud-bashing and Freud wars were more notorious than Freud-reading, and psychoanalysis was no longer every middle-class person’s therapy of choice. What Penguin wanted to know from the people they consulted was how one might go about re-editing, redoing Freud; how one might make a Freud for the new century. I can’t pretend that at the time this was of great interest to me. I am not a linguist, I am not a scholar by nature or inclination; I love reading and writing and practising psychoanalysis but I have never done anything that looks like what people call research. I have also always admired the Strachey translation, and like many people really did think of it as the standard edition. Like the King James Bible, if I can use that unfortunate analogy, it is so good – or we have been so educated to see its goodness – that it seems like the real thing. It’s true that I wondered, when Penguin first phoned me, whether Freud sounded different in other translations; but, then again, reading Brill and Joan Riviere and Katherine Jones and Robson-Scott had not been illuminating. I didn’t, in other words, really think that Strachey was the problem with Freud. I was quite happy to be locked up in Strachey’s Freud and the myth of the Standard Edition and assume that it was more or less for all time.

Just as the risk of psychoanalytic training is that it might make people more interested in psychoanalysis than in other people, the risk of the Freudian texts is that they might make readers more interested in Freud than in other writers. That all writing might become, one way or another, Freudian. I wanted to find out if there was a Freud useable for something other than – for something as well as – more psychoanalysis. The young Auden, for example, was fascinated by Freud but did not end up writing Freudian poems, or indeed, at least as a young man, poems that sounded much like anybody else’s. Psychoanalysis can inform projects that do not themselves have to sponsor psychoanalysis.

My conscious assumption that I would be exempt from the work of the project freed me to say what I thought a new Freud could be like; I wouldn’t have to face the consequences of my suggestions, and I could try things out under the guise of being more dogmatic than I felt. In fact, of course, no one involved in psychoanalysis, no one embroiled, is ever nonchalant or insouciant when they are talking about Freud. I did, though, find talking to publishers about Freud often more pleasurable than talking to psychoanalysts. After all, they only wanted to persuade people to buy Freud, not to believe him. Whether psychoanalysis is a language that requires the kind of assent given to religious language – whether there are ways of using it that are not ways of being utterly convinced by it – is still a question for the future reading of Freud.

I suggested, over lunch, the following things to the people at Penguin: that it should not be a complete edition because, as with all so-called great writers, some of Freud was boring, and some of it repetitive; that it need not be a forbidding corpus, need not be in volumes, nor intimate that if you hadn’t read all of it you hadn’t read any of it; that the demand need not be, as Joyce’s was of Ulysses, that one might devote one’s life to it. There is no reason why Freud can’t be dipped into; and if people are moved or intrigued or gripped they will read on. The selection should be generous but not diligent; but the papers on technique should be included because they are among the most revealing of Freud’s writings, not only about psychoanalysis but about what it might be to help someone. Freud is a great writer about our misgivings about helping and being helped. I said that I thought each of the books should be translated by a different person, and that there should be no consensus about technical terms, each of the translators writing a preface in which they might say something about choices made, about the pleasures and the puzzles and the difficulties of translating Freud. Ideally, I thought, the translators would be people who had previously translated literary texts, and need not have previously read Freud: Freud could then be given a go as the writer he wanted to be, and is, as well as the scientist he wanted to be, and might be. (If psychoanalysis is a science it has to make progress, if it is an art it doesn’t have to bother.) And the translators would, presumably, know what the word ‘Saussure’ meant. I suggested that each book should be introduced by a writer in the so-called humanities, and that there should be two stipulations: the introducers should not be practising analysts nor affiliated with psychoanalytic societies, and they should be asked simply to write their own essays around and about the texts selected by the editor. The introductions would introduce the reader to reading Freud, not to Freud.

The avoidance of analysts, I hoped, might mean that the people involved would not be hung up on what is still called psychoanalytic politics, and would not be overly mindful of what people within the profession would think of as the issues, especially of terminology. People within psychoanalytic groups, unsurprisingly, have a very strong transference, both negative and positive, so to speak, to Freud’s texts; I wanted people who were not quite so embroiled, or who were embroiled in other things. And I wanted them to be people who were used to reading and interpreting texts, not to just learning and using them as instruction manuals. I thought the project would only have life in it if the editor got pleasure out of it.

Presumably the character, for want of a better word, of people doing such projects matters; I have always been haunted by a story about Winnicott’s analysis with Strachey. Winnicott saw Strachey five times a week and for the first six months of his analysis Strachey supposedly never spoke. Eventually Winnicott got up from the couch, having talked for six months, and said something to the effect that he had been coming for six months and Strachey still hadn’t said anything, to which Strachey apparently replied: ‘But neither have you.’ I have never known whether this is an impressive story or not, but it is a story about a man with a rigorous sense of what he is listening for, of what he wants from analysis. People might want all sorts of things from Freud’s texts, and the editor’s choices, I thought, might reflect this, might assume that this was possible, that Freud’s work is of indeterminate use. I said I thought that the general editor should not read German, so he or she would simply read the translations for readability – for false notes, verbal infelicities, syntactical awkwardness – not for accuracy; the good faith and skill of the translators (with track records) would be assumed, rather than there being, as it were, a senior translator they were answerable to or collaborating with (the sticklers for accuracy would have their chance to pounce on publication). The general editor should be available for consultation, but the translators and introducers should have the last word about their own texts. This would not be a project in which the authority, or even the vision of the general editor should be stamped too soundly. The books, even Freud’s texts themselves, would be in different voices.

I thought that, as a rule of thumb, only people who keenly accepted the invitation to work on this project – as everyone did – should be employed; that it should be framed as an experiment and should not be done dutifully, as mere careerism. And I thought it should be made clear that the project was not to usurp, or aim to replace Strachey, but to see what alternative versions sounded like. It would not be organised to compete with Strachey in format, selection or comprehensiveness. Territorial imperatives should be set aside – which was one reason I wanted analysts excluded from the project – partly because Strachey is mostly wonderful, and partly because the field needs airing. The very real advantages, and the very obvious limitations of having a so-called standard edition of Freud in English didn’t seem to me, so late in the day, to be worth reciting. And insofar as these issues are still of interest, they are of interest only in the rather narrow world of the profession of psychoanalysis (having been disappointed over the years by what, with some notable exceptions, the profession of psychoanalysis made of Freud, I am more and more interested in what those outside the profession, hostile and otherwise, make of his writing). There was not, after all, something called a standard interpretation in psychoanalysis; and new translations might undo the mystique, the aura of a single, standard translation. I thought it unlikely there could be a new Freud, but that there could be surprises: that there might even be things Strachey got wrong. I thought it was important, given the signs of the times, that the books should be shortish, not tomes (presenting Freud as neither forbidding nor too easy, not a soft touch), and should look attractive. The kinds of book you would like to see yourself with, the kinds of book you liked the idea of yourself being able to read. They should be recognisably part of the Penguin Modern Classics series, aligning Freud with other Modernist writers, in the same format as Joyce, Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, Woolf and so on. And there should, as with Penguin Modern Classics, be as little scholarly apparatus as possible: only Freud’s notes, if possible; and no indexes, given what indexes imply about a book and its genre.

I thought the books needed to be properly marketed; that a splash should be made; that it would be an experiment to see just who, if anyone, wanted to read Freud now, and write and talk about him; and who, if anyone, thought new translations were worth having when a more than good one was available. It was, I suppose, in the language of my education, which I have never outgrown, an appeal to the common reader, even if there is no such thing, and perhaps never has been. My thoughts about this, when I spoke them, seemed liberal, upbeat and rather worthy; probably the kind of thing someone of my generation who had a Leavisite literary education at public school in the 1960s, and an anti-Leavisite literary education at Oxford in the 1970s, would come up with. In the back of my mind, for some reason, was a series that Orwell might have admired: unpretentious accessible editions of a writer worth the trouble he caused the reader, but without highfalutin’ claims having to be made. If, as Harold Bloom once suggested, Freud’s writing will outlive the profession of psychoanalysis, and if the idea that Freud is in fact a translated writer for the English-speaking world is taken seriously, then new versions seemed to me potentially of value. No more and no less. We didn’t and don’t need new translations of Freud, but we might want them.

If there was a problem – and even to call it a problem seems a little dramatic – it was not with Strachey but just with the idea of there being something that called itself, that wanted to call itself, the Standard Edition. All one’s misgivings about Strachey cut both ways, and are evident in Strachey’s general preface. ‘When the Standard Edition was first planned,’ he writes,

it was considered that it would be an advantage if a single hand were responsible for shaping the whole text; and in fact a single hand has carried out the greater part of the work of translation, and even where a former version has been used as a basis it will be found that a large amount of remodelling has been imposed. This unfortunately has involved the discarding, in the interests of this preferred uniformity, of many earlier translations that were excellent in themselves. The imaginary model which I have always kept before me is of the writings of some English man of science of wide education born in the middle of the 19th century. And I should like, in an explanatory and no patriotic spirit, to emphasise the word ‘English’.

Strachey, in translating Freud, imagined himself as an English equivalent of Freud, presumably something a novelist might do; but there is nothing in this statement of intent that isn’t debatable. The scientism of Strachey’s Freud, which Bettelheim so regretted, saying that the soul had been taken out of his writing, confirms Freud’s often stated commitment to psychoanalysis as a science. And the coining of unfamiliar terms (most notoriously, ‘cathexis’ and ‘super-ego’) serves to defamiliarise the Freudian texts in instructive ways (Deleuze and Guattari’s point that philosophy should be coining new, unfamiliar terms – that the rebarbative opacity of the language could be the point not the problem – could apply to psychoanalysis as well). And the advantage of a (more or less) single-handed translation is, obviously, that it at least replicates Freud’s single-handed writing.

Strachey’s decision to name his version the Standard Edition was offering a hostage to fortune. Who says that this is the standard, and why do they need to say this? Who has set the standard and what are the criteria? Is calling it the Standard Edition a provocation; could there be another one? And what would it then be called? The non-standard edition, the sub-standard edition? And who authorises the authorisers? Why would anyone want to fix the text, once and for all? Is uniformity being asserted because disarray is so acutely sensed? Why, in other words, didn’t the English settle for a debate, for a series of possibly disparate and competing translations? What had they suffered, what had the psychoanalytic profession suffered, such that they sought a solution in this kind of dogmatic canon formation? And, by the same token, why haven’t the copyright holders allowed the translation of Freud to be a free-for-all? The New Penguin Freud translations couldn’t not be part of the broaching of these questions. And even though the questions seem to me, probably now more than then, of some interest, my heart was not in all this; talking about Freud translation is talking about too many other things.

I was offered the job of general editor and took it. Everything I suggested was agreed to; but we couldn’t find enough translators, so we had, in the end, ten translators for 16 volumes. And there was a practising analyst involved: me. When I was offered the general editorship, and when I accepted it, I was surprised; it sounds ingenuous, and perhaps it is. And it is something I am glad to have done, but it was always something, I thought, I would be glad to have done. It was more work than I wanted to do, and the kind of work that mostly doesn’t appeal to me. I have always read for the pleasure of reading and for the experience of reading, and to some extent now with a view to writing. And I only read whatever happens to interest me, which not being an academic, or a teacher, frees me to do; all this was interfered with by the Freud project. I never knew when a translation might arrive, and very often I read several drafts (I read three drafts of Interpreting Dreams in a year). The reading of the translations, though often thrilling in its way, and usually interesting, involved the kind of diligence, the kind of thoroughness, that I don’t want for myself. There is for me the kind of freedom in reading – in reading, and not attending – that editing inevitably precludes; the attention required is the opposite of free-floating attention.

I am offering all this special pleading as a way into the larger question of why bother to do a new Freud, given the vested interests in his work, and its increasing marginalisation. We would not, when talking about translations of Mann or Kafka, talk about the translator’s entitlement to translate the texts; nor would we think of new translations as a provocation, or, to use Perry Meisel’s terms in The Literary Freud, as ‘fraught with the dangers of disorder and decay’. The problem, we would assume, that was being solved by new translations of Kafka or Mann would be that the previous translations were felt to be inaccurate or misleading, or both. Adequacy would be the issue, not official sanction. There may be heated debates among Kafka scholars, or among his translators, but they would not have the kind of charge that Freud translation seems to have. What could it be about Freud as a writer that can get people so worked up about translation; and worked up in a way that both threatens to kill people’s pleasure in the new and experimental, and makes them over-defend the Standard Edition? What is the problem with translating Freud such that, when the new Penguin Freud translations were announced, the Institute of Psychoanalysis in London, which owns the copyright of the Standard Edition, should send a solicitor’s letter to the managing director of Penguin making it clear that the new translations should not draw on the existing translations?*

Apart from the obvious question – why would a new translation draw on a previous one when it was going to be, by definition, a new translation? – it is worth considering, if we use this as an exemplary instance, what we might fear, and what we might lose in retranslating Freud. And how is Freud a special case – if he is? I don’t think these questions are adequately or interestingly answered by saying that new translations free the texts from institutional control. In producing and promoting and defending the Standard Edition, the institutes of psychoanalysis were not in any way controlling the interpretation of Freud’s texts. I think it is possible, to put it in psychoanalytic language, that there is a wish to control – odd as it might sound – the diversity of personal histories that are brought to bear on Freud’s texts by having a variety of translators, none of whom may have been analysed (Strachey, we should remember, was a patient of Freud’s), and many of whom may have different views about Freud’s language. The Standard Edition, whatever else it is, is one man’s transference to Freud’s words, a transference that Freud himself was acquainted with and had, to some extent, analysed; and it was supervised by a committee of senior analysts. Given what analysts know about the power of transference – the power of transference to translate its objects – there could be real fears about what might be done to Freud’s texts in the apparently innocent name of new translation.

What is dismaying about this, if it is right, is that it is such a narrow view of transference: narrow-minded and perhaps unduly fearful, as though transference was only, ultimately, a form of spoiling. Transference, the psychoanalyst Joseph Smith writes in Arguing with Lacan,

was first understood as the capacity to misread or distort a new object in terms of prior objects. Analytic experience has taught us to see this first sketch of its meaning as transference in only the narrowest sense. Similarly analysis conceived as a mode of correcting transference distortions would be an impossibly limited concept of the process of analysis … the current emphasis is not on transference as a failure in reading but on transference as the power to read and relate to a new object or situation. It is the power to invest and enter into a relationship or situation in one’s own way, in the light of one’s prior experience. It is the power to be open to new experience in a way that not only allows the old to affect the new but also allows the new to affect the old.

In this account transference is not only the problem: it is also the point. Anyone can read Freud, but – at least until recently – not anyone could translate Freud. But if translation, whatever else it is, is a function of transference (psychoanalysis inevitably organises itself around its transference to Freud), and if transference brings new things into being, makes new things possible rather than simply foreclosing them, then a range of transferences brought to bear on the Freudian texts is also going to be a way of making it new. Freud’s writing will be like the patient in psychoanalysis who wants to change by remaining the same, and wants to remain the same by changing. Each of the new translators entered into a relation with the Freudian text, in their own way, in the light of their prior experience; and what resulted, the given translation, was available in the public realm for consideration.

Until recently readers of Strachey’s Standard Edition had little to compare him with. After the new translations there can be more of a conversation – both about Strachey, and about the new versions – where once there was either fight or flight, so to speak. I have never met an analyst who had such serious misgivings about Strachey that they were canvassing for new translations. But then, of course, unless they knew German, they had very little to argue with. Translation, like transference in Smith’s account, is unpredictable and idiosyncratic, and given the requisite conditions, can be made available for reflection, as something to be thought about. The New Penguin Freud translations are a new set of transferential relations to the Freudian texts. So what? Why are several better than one? One answer is that many translations make comparison possible. It may, for example, be instructive for clinicians and Freud readers alike to discover, as John Reddick writes in his translator’s preface to the Penguin Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Other Writings, that if the opening paragraph of Strachey’s translation of On Narcissism

were handed in by a student as a translation exercise it would end up covered in red pencil, with everything from light squiggles to heavy underlinings and multiple exclamation marks, for it is so full of slips and shifts and omissions as to be a travesty of Freud’s original … Whilst none of these infelicities [which Reddick lists] makes much difference on its own, their cumulative effect is to alter the whole tone and thrust of the passage … They are as nothing, however, by the side of the two quite startling mistranslations that reveal themselves in these [opening] few lines … Much more serious is the garbled title … The agenda here (and elsewhere) is clear, and not a little pernicious: Freud’s writing is to be presented not as a hot and sweaty struggle with intractable and often crazily daring ideas, but as a cut-and-dried corpus of unchallengeable dogma.

If Freud’s wildly speculative work in progress is translated as a set of scientific inferences or true beliefs, Strachey is misleading us; and, of course, shaking our confidence in the rest of his translation. There is no way I would have known this – known, as a non-German speaker, that there was a problem – without a new translation, and indeed a translator’s preface. Nor would I have known that Freud’s important paper on technique, entitled by Strachey ‘Observations on Transference Love’, was apparently more accurately translated by Alan Bance in the New Penguin Freud as ‘Observations on Love in Transference’ – a title that suggests (as indeed does Freud in the paper) that there may be no essential difference between transference love and the other kind of love. In other words, all love may be transference. Reddick’s critique and Bance’s revision have considerable consequences. Clearly one of the things the New Penguin Freud does is to raise these, and many other issues, for consideration. Strachey alone – though there is no reason to assume that this was his intention – conceals what may be at issue, or that there are issues at all.

I want to consider what kind of excess might be entailed by having one standard translation of Freud’s work, and what kind of excess might be involved in having many translations. Or, to put it slightly differently, why, when it comes to translating Freud, consensus might be preferred to co-existence, why one Freud may or may not be better than many. Freud, I think, provides a useful redescription of this in his famous account of how and why monotheism successfully superseded polytheism. Of course, chronologically, this is the opposite of the situation vis à vis the Freud translation, and indeed of Freud and his so-called followers: initially, despite the fledgling attempts of Brill and Riviere et al, there was one English Freud – Strachey’s – and now, there are many. So, to begin with, we need to look at Freud’s account of the triumph of monotheism; and to read this account in terms of the excess that turns out to be overwhelming. As usual with Freud, a story about the sacred sheds light on the secular.

All the references in Freud’s writing to monotheism and polytheism, and their relative merits, are in his late, strange text of 1939, Moses and Monotheism; even in Totem and Taboo the terms are not used (that is, the English terms; I don’t know about the German). And, interestingly enough, Freud concludes his second prefatory note to the text, written in London in June 1938, with a misgiving, an anxiety about translation. Freud himself has just been translated to London, and is finally ready for Moses and Monotheism, in its now complete version, to be translated into English. ‘In the few weeks of my stay here,’ he writes,

I have received countless greetings from friends who were pleased at my arrival, and from unknown and indeed uninvolved strangers who only wanted to give expression to their satisfaction at my having found freedom and safety here. And in addition there arrived, with a frequency surprising to a foreigner, communications of another sort, which were concerned with the state of my soul, which pointed out to me the way of Christ and sought to enlighten me on the future of Israel. The good people who wrote in this way cannot have known much about me; but I expect that when this work about Moses becomes known, in a translation, among my new compatriots, I shall forfeit enough of the sympathy which a number of other people as well now feel for me.

The translation of this work, by making Freud known, might make him too well known: he is being welcomed now, in what he calls ‘lovely, free, magnanimous England’, by even unknown and uninvolved strangers, but translation – both his own, by implication, and that of his book – gives more new people a different kind of access to him; and Freud fears that this may lose him their sympathy (the more one is known, the less sympathy one inspires). It is as if Freud is wondering, at least to himself and his German readers, whether, given his circumstances, he might be better off not having Moses and Monotheism translated, let alone, presumably, all the rest of his writing. Translation can be dangerous, and there is a resistance to it; and he mentions later in Moses and Monotheism how the patient in analysis does not understand the symbols in his dream, ‘unless an analyst interprets them to him, and even then he is reluctant to believe the translation’. What is gained by access is tempered by the suffering involved.

I am not concerned here with the intricacies of Freud’s argument – his attempt to prove that Moses was an Egyptian, the evolution of Jewish monotheism from Egyptian monotheism and so on – but simply with the way Freud in this text characterises the supposed differences between polytheism and monotheism. (One thing one learns from Freud’s writing, and indeed from the practice of psychoanalysis, is the value of weak theory: theories that are obviously not quite right invite conversation; strong theory creates a fight-or-flight situation.) Freud tends to describe these religious forms in terms of their excesses; and this might be a neat and instructive analogy for – or simply another way of talking about – the difference between there being the one Freud translation, the Standard Edition, and there being many. Bearing in mind, of course, the theologically complicated fact that even though Strachey has seemed to be Freud, there is the original behind Strachey’s authoritative translation. So, there is the desire for the one, and the desire for the many.

In Moses and Monotheism there is what Freud often describes in the text as ‘rigid monotheism’, the two words almost always yoked together, and what he refers to once in the text as ‘unbounded polytheism’. In the Jewish religion, as traced back to Moses, Freud writes, ‘there is but one god, he is unique, all powerful, inaccessible; humans cannot withstand the sight of him, may make no image of him, may not even speak his name’; whereas in the Egyptian religion there is ‘an almost countless host of deities of varying degrees of merit and diverse origins … The hymns in honour of such gods … unreflectingly identify them with one another in a way that we should find hopelessly confusing … magic, ritual acts, spells and amulets dominated the service of these gods.’ The one god of the monotheists has an excess of power, an excess of mystery, an excess of privacy and unknowability, and an excessive intolerance of rivalry. The many gods of the polytheists are of excessively variable value and origin, are excessively and confusingly similar to each other (i.e. not always sufficiently distinct), and excessively allied with magical practices.

Freud’s misgivings, as we know, are reserved for the monotheists: ‘It was a rigid monotheism,’ he writes, ‘the first experiment of its kind in the history of the world, as far as we know, and with belief in the single god, as it were inevitably, religious intolerance was born, something that had been unknown to the ancient world before.’ By making, as he writes, ‘this universal god the one god, everything told about other gods is deception and lies’; alongside the one god ‘any other was inconceivable.’ Like the ego, the one god constitutes himself through repudiation: he defines himself by what he rejects. And in explaining anti-semitism, towards the end of the text, Freud makes an impassioned plea about the resentment created, the violence incurred, by imposed unification, coerced consensus: ‘It should not be forgotten,’ Freud writes, ‘that all the nations currently distinguished by their hatred of Jews became Christian only in recent historical times, often having been forced into it by violent coercion. They were all, one might say, imperfectly baptised; beneath a thin veneer of Christianity they remained what their ancestors had been, subscribing to a barbaric polytheism. They had still not overcome their resentment that the new religion had been foisted on them, but they had shifted that resentment onto the source from which Christianity came to them.’ Coercing the many versions into one, foisting or imposing a consensus where one did not exist, Freud asserts, unleashes a deferred violence (as does a too worked out, too coherent narrative of the patient’s life in psychoanalytic treatment). Polytheism is barbarous in this translation, in the sense that ‘barbarians’ were ‘not Greeks’. Monotheism, in Freud’s account, creates outsiders to hate and destroy, or makes outsiders – that is, competing, alternative versions – literally unthinkable, inconceivable (believing in one god being a calculated attack on the individual’s capacity to think or imagine). There is a world of excessive confusion and multiple loyalties, and a world of excessive clarity and mutually exclusive belief.

It is not, and could never be as stark as this; and even Freud doesn’t suggest that polytheism is without violence, just that it required excessive violence to create monotheism, and that this engendered excessive violence. I don’t feel that violence has been done to me by the one and only Standard Edition; but I do think, in the psychoanalytic way, that retroactively, in the light of the new Freud translations, we can begin to see what has been done to us and to Freud by the Standard Edition and its sponsors. It should be the psychoanalytic way to prefer coexistence to consensus.

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Vol. 29 No. 21 · 1 November 2007

While it is true, as Adam Phillips says of Freud, that the translations in the Standard Edition are essentially the work of one man, James Strachey, it should be remembered that extensive work was done by the late Angela Richards on the Pelican Freud Library, and it was those translations that reached the general reader (LRB, 4 October). After Richards graduated from Oxford in the early 1950s with a degree in modern languages, it became her full-time job to retranslate Strachey by checking his text against Freud’s. Several of the Pelican volumes, such as The Interpretation of Dreams (1976), acknowledge her contribution on the title page with the line: ‘The present edition revised by Angela Richards’. She was the youngest daughter of Noel Richards (née Olivier), one of Rupert Brooke’s loves, and it has been suggested that James Strachey, who had an affair with Noel, was her father. At any rate his indebtedness to her work on the translations is acknowledged in the fact that he left her his share of the Freud royalties.

Anthony Curtis
London W8

Vol. 29 No. 22 · 15 November 2007

Adam Phillips writes that he always admired Strachey’s translation of Freud and that other translations, such as those by my late father, W.D. Robson-Scott, had not been illuminating (LRB, 4 October). It is interesting that, at the outset at least, Strachey was less than enthusiastic about the task of translation. Ernest Jones, in a letter to Freud of 5 December 1927, wrote that Strachey was disinclined to take on the translation of Future of an Illusion because his

intolerance of work, about which you doubtless know more than I do, has not been improved by his having eight patients a day … After half an hour’s pressure all I got from him was a promise that he would try dictating the translation of one chapter as an experiment to see if it would be less laborious that way. Just after that, it happened that Robson-Scott, who has been three years in analysis with me … showed me some translation work he had done from the German. His work is purely literary and he is in some ways more gifted than Strachey in felicitous expression. So I asked Strachey if he would like some help from him. Greatly relieved he begged that Robson-Scott should do the translation on the condition that he revised it, which I shall of course do myself.

In February 1928 Jones wrote to Freud that the translation is ‘almost finished and is excellent’; it was published later that year.

Markie Robson-Scott
New York

Vol. 29 No. 23 · 29 November 2007

As a professional German-English translator, I have found myself increasingly perplexed each time I read Adam Phillips’s essay on the new Penguin translation of Freud (LRB, 4 October).

As a consultant for Penguin, he suggested to the publishers that ‘each of the books should be translated by a different person, and that there should be no consensus about technical terms.’ He suggested that the ‘general editor should not read German,’ and that there should be ‘as little scholarly apparatus as possible … and no indexes, given what indexes imply about a book and its genre’.

It says a great deal about the current management at Penguin that following these suggestions, they appointed Phillips himself as the general editor. If he was not supposed to know any German and the individual translators were forbidden to co-ordinate terminology, why was there any need for the translators themselves to know German? The project would have been completed much more quickly and less expensively by employing a troupe of Chinese monkeys with keyboards. So much more open to unexpected combinations and possibilities, so unconstricted and free, so life-affirming. And those terrible anal-retentive indexes, which might enable readers to locate information they were looking for: so 20th-century, so superego.

Michael Robertson
Augsburg, Germany

Anthony Curtis remarks, in connection with James Strachey’s translation of Freud, that ‘it should be remembered that extensive work was done by the late Angela Richards on the Pelican Freud Library’ (Letters, 1 November). Although Curtis is right that The Interpretation of Dreams in the Pelican Freud Library acknowledges her contribution on the title page with the line ‘The present edition revised by Angela Richards’, he isn’t correct to state that ‘it became her full-time job to retranslate Strachey by checking his text against Freud’s’ in relation to her work on the Pelican Freud Library as distinct from her work on the Standard Edition.

The acknowledgment, ‘The present edition revised by Angela Richards’, in Volume IV, The Interpretation of Dreams (and also in Volume VI, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious), became during the mid-to-late 1970s the subject of a protracted dispute between the Institute of Psychoanalysis and Penguin about the nature and extent of her contribution. The dispute ended with the Institute, who shared the copyright of James Strachey’s translation with her, securing the withdrawal of the claim of revision. Penguin’s solicitors had to admit that no revisions or additions to the text of Strachey’s translation for the Standard Edition had been made in the Pelican Freud Library, but only corrections and amendments; and they advised Penguin to revert to the description of Angela Richards’s role in earlier volumes.

This reversion is evident in subsequently published volumes and in reprintings of The Interpretation of Dreams and Jokes, which simply state: ‘The present volume edited by Angela Richards’.

Curtis further mentions that Strachey left Richards ‘his share of the Freud royalties’. James Strachey died in 1967. Angela Richards was appointed editor of the Pelican Freud Library in 1968. Whatever else might have motivated him to leave her his share of royalties, he could not have done so to acknowledge his indebtedness for her extensive work on the Pelican Freud Library, but only to acknowledge his indebtedness for her extensive work on the final volume of the Standard Edition, Indexes and Bibliographies, including its 60 pages of ‘Addenda and Corrigenda’ to the 23 preceding volumes.

George Donaldson
University of Bristol

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