Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. März 2006

9.4. Translation and Ideology
Herausgeberin | Editor | Éditeur: Nitsa Ben-Ari (Tel Aviv University)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Psychoanalytical Notions and their Translation. The Question of Ideology Arising From the Hebrew Translation of Laplanche and Pontalis’s Vocabulaire de la Psychanalyse

Noam Baruch (Tel-Aviv University)


In the last ten years, psychoanalysis has reached a more-or-less mainstream position in the Israeli cultural-academic discourse. An eminent manifestation of this cultural tendency is the astounding flowering of Hebrew translations of major psychoanalytical writings, alongside, though on a much lower scale, original contributions to the field of psychoanalysis in Hebrew.

In light of the above, a Hebrew translation of the French Vocabulaire de la Psychanalyse by J. Laplanche & J. B. Pontalis, which is now under way, is of great significance. This task is performed by me under the scientific supervision of two senior psychoanalysts. Published in 1967, this monumental project, completed during almost a decade of rigorous research on the Freudian conceptual system, was translated into many languages, thus becoming an indispensable reference to authors and a basic textbook for students and researchers alike.

Considering the fact that psychoanalytical terminology in Hebrew is not yet consolidated, a translation of the Vocabulaire also entails a terminographical undertaking aimed to offer a well thought-out psychoanalytical vocabulary in Hebrew, which would eventually become a basis, and perhaps serve as impetus, for a Hebrew Standard Edition of Freud's writings.

In most cases, reconstructing psychoanalytical Freudian vocabulary in Hebrew does not imply that a Hebrew equivalent is invented to render any given Freudian term, originally coined in German. More often it involves a selection among already existing options, which sometimes has far-reaching theoretical, even ideological implications.

The Freudian Wunsch may serve to illustrate this point. Since the Vocabulaire de la Psychanalyse was written in French, and is thus translated into Hebrew from this language, we encounter the Freudian-German concept through its French counterpart désir. In the Hebrew translations of Freud's writings, the traditional replacement of the Freudian Wunsch is mish'ala (משאלה). This term has been in use since the very first translations into Hebrew of Freudian writings, back to the thirties of the past century, and is still widely accepted. However, in the past few years, this term has been challenged, in the Hebrew psychoanalytic literature, including translations of Freud's own writings, by the neologism ivu'i ( איווי ). The latter was introduced into the Hebrew psychoanalytic discourse as the equivalent of Jacques Lacan's désir ("desire", in English). Excluding a possible, but undesirable, solution of proposing a new term in Hebrew, the decision to be made by the Hebrew translator of the Vocabulaire would be whether to render the French désir as mish'ala or ivu'i.

An inquiry into the institutionalized meanings of these words, with the aid of two leading dictionaries of modern Hebrew (Even-Shoshan, Sapir), reveals that they share close semantic properties in as much as they both evoke the idea of a more or less strong will. Their kinship is, moreover, clearly shown by the fact that mish'ala is one of the terms that are given as synonyms for ivu'i in Sapir's dictionary. However, while ivu'i is -- though not necessarily,-- associated with passion, lust, sexual desire mish'ala seems to be a weaker term that represents a more general will, or a "thing one wants and hopes to be realized" (Sapir Dictionary). Semantically speaking, ivu'i would better correspond to the French désir whereas mish'ala can perfectly correspond to what is referred to in English by the signifier "wish." It is here to be recalled that the English Standard Edition makes use of the latter to render the Freudian Wunsch.

Lacan (1958) was probably the first to call attention to the fact that Wunsch, just like its equivalent in the SE -- wish - suggest "anything but concupiscence. Their French equivalent is vœu" [«Ce sont des vœux»].(1)

Laplanche and Pontalis (1967) also note in their Vocabulaire, under the entry "désir", the misleading use of this word as the French equivalent of Wunsch: "It should be noted first of all, that the word 'desire' does not have the same connotations as the German 'Wunsch', which corresponds to 'wish'; German evokes the notion of desire by using 'Begierde' or 'Lust'".(2)

Nevertheless, in the Vocabulaire, the notional distinction observed by Laplanche and Pontalis does not go beyond this, as in other cases, to propose a rectification in french psychoanalytical terminology. Such an attempt will be made twenty two years later (1989) with the publication of Traduire Freud ("Translating Freud"), as annexed to the new, but not yet realized French translation of the complete works of Freud (OCF-P), a task performed by a team of translators under the scientific direction of Jean Laplanche. Written as a manifesto, this instructive volume is meant to unfold and justify an overall conception that underlies the work of the translation team. This translation, marked by its radical -- and often criticized -- foreignizing approach ("traduction sourcière", to put it in French categories), and its striving for maximum respect of the Freudian "signifier" is ready to propose a thorough revision of Freudian French terminology. In the spirit of a "return to Freud" Wunsch is naturally among those concepts whose translation into French was subjected to a rethinking, resulting in the proposal to use the term souhait as its French equivalent. Drawing on Lacan's words, Laplanche argues that a transitive use of the verb wünschen cannot ever signify the sexual desire. Souhait, unlike the French word vœu, evoked by Lacan, has moreover the advantage of having a correspondent french verb: souhaiter.

In his Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis, Dylan Evans (1996) discusses the conceptual confusion between désir and Wunsch as interfering with the rendering of the first into English. He explains:

Lacan's term désir is used in the French translations of Freud to translate Freud's term ‘Wunsch’, which is translated as 'wish' by Strachey in the Standard Edition. Hence English translators of Lacan are faced with a dilemma; should they translate désir by 'wish', which is closer to Freud's Wunsch, or should they translate it as 'desire', which is closer to the French term, but which lacks the allusion to Freud? All of Lacan's English translators have opted for the latter since the English term 'desire' conveys, like the French term, the implication of a continuous force, which is essential to Lacan's concept. The English term also carries with it the same allusions to Hegel's Begierde as are carried by the French term.(3)

The growing presence of the term ivu'i in the psychoanalytical literature written in Hebrew must be appreciated in the context of a broader intellectual tendency, i.e., the striving to catch up with contemporary discourses, as manifested by the great number of translations of essential philosophical works dating to the second half of the previous century. In such an atmosphere, no wonder that translations from French are occupying a dominant position in the non-fiction translated literature in Hebrew, in what may represent the only case of French dominance vis-à-vis Hebrew culture.

In as much as French psychoanalysis was deeply and incommensurably influenced by J. Lacan, French authors, while using the term "désir", are referring not only to the Freudian Wunsch, but also, and perhaps foremost, to the Lacanian désir. Thus, when the translation of the psychoanalytical désir is at stake, Hebrew translators are likely to justifiably render it by using the ivu'i in as much as the latter is the accepted equivalent of the Lacanian désir. However, when ivu'i is meant to render the German Wunsch in translations of Freudian texts into Hebrew, and thus to replace the traditional equivalent term of mish'ala, this use becomes more questionable. There is indeed something intriguing about shifting from one traditionally accepted rendering to another that is strongly identified with a particular intellectual jargon. Such usage was first seen in the Hebrew translations of Mourning and Melancholy (Trauer und Melancholie, 1917) and The Economical Problem of Masochism (Das ökonomische Problem des Masochismus, 1924). They were both published in 2002, by Resling Publishing, a young publishing house that is strongly associated with contemporary French intellectual tendencies. In these cases, the choice of ivu'i is not supported by any editorial note, but rather with a Hebrew-German "List of Freudian Terms," where ivu'i is given as the Hebrew equivalent of Wunsch.

A use more justified of the non-traditional ivu'i -- or at least commented upon --, is to be found in Sexuality and Love (miniyut ve-a'hava), a selection of Freud's writings in Hebrew translation. Published in 2002 by the well-established, old and mainstream Am-Oved Publishing, this translation was scientifically supervised by a group of psychoanalysts associated with the Lacanian School in Israel. In their preface to this volume they account for the rendering of several key concepts, including the Freudian Wunsch: "The concept of Wunsch was translated into English as wish, meaning of which is mish'ala. But this concept is proceeding in two directions, a conscious one and an unconscious one. In order to differentiate them we have translated the concept in its unconscious context as ivu'i -- désir, desire. The word ivu'i and its derivatives are meant to emphasize the active driving dimension, less sensed in the word mish'ala".(4)

But this argument may not go well together with the way Laplanche and Pontalis conceive of the Freudian desire: "The Freudian conception of desire refers above all to unconscious wishes [...] It is notable, however, that Freud does not always use the word 'wish' in as strict a sense [...]: he talks of the wish to sleep, of preconscious wishes, etc."

It is at this point precisely where one wonders whether the not always strict use of the term in the Freudian text can be taken to legitimize a differential rendering in Hebrew, i.e. using two different Hebrew terms alternably. If the division into conscious and unconscious "ways" would be valid from a theoretical perspective and could consistently correspond to the differential use of mish'ala and ivu'i, it may nevertheless represent a reading of a higher order.

Would it be justified to disqualify such a translational approach as being "interpretative?" Apparently it would, if we are ready to accept the basic stance expressed by the authors of Traduire Freud. Evoking the often heard cliché that any given translation must be considered as no more than one version of the original resulting from the subjective reading of its translator, they reject it as a relativist stance that may give rise "to a Kleinian Freud, a Lacanian Freud, and so forth, proposed alongside the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) Freud".(5)

They prefer to hazard an "out of fashion absolutism" and declare that their ambition is to "propose a Freud in French that is ... Freudian".(6) To this end, a guideline was formulated by and for the French translation team of the Œuvres Complètes, stating that: "In case of doubt to trust the letter, the word, the 'signifier' rather than supposed differences of meaning".(7) As to the appropriate treatment of the Freudian terminology, this general instruction is specified into a rule according to which the wide context of the Freudian work as a whole is always to be privileged over the local context of a single phrase or even a single text.

But even if one takes an stand opposite to the one held by the authors of Traduire Freud, there is no serious reason why mish'ala, just like the German Wunsch and the English wish, would not properly function in both its conscious and unconscious usages. There is nothing essential in the "signified" of ivu'i that can make it a-priori closer than mish'ala to the unconscious. Moreover, if we are ready to admit that a Freudian concept is also diachronically constituted, deriving from its various occurrences in the different stages of Freudian thinking, a differential rendering of the Wunsch as ivu'i and mish'ala can blur the authenticity of the Freudian concept. After all, it was Lacan himself who stressed the necessity to go back to the Freudian signifier, asserting that "to the best of our knowledge, Freud was never even slightly sloppy [dégoulinant] in his use of signifieres".(8) In that sense, the very splitting of the Freudian signifier might undermine the alleged equivalence of désir (ivu'i) and Wunsch, thus making the use of the word ivu'i all the more problematic, and justified only as a forced attempt to promote a certain intellectual discourse in the cultural-academic arena.

Still, when Wunsch is encountered in the form of the French désir, as happens in the Vocabulaire de la Psychanalyse, its rendering into Hebrew as mish'ala is not self-evident as might be deduced from the above. Wunsch must be recognized as such, i.e., as the Freudian concept which is referred to by the Vocabulaire's "Désir", in order to justify its translation as mish'ala rather than ivu'i. This complex problem is well illustrated by the way the English translator of the Vocabulaire handles the translation of the original article of désir, whose very title in English "WISH (DESIRE)" betrays much of the story. Concerning the wide extension of the French word désir that refers to the Freudian Wunsch, but is generally expressed in German by the words Begierde or Lust, he feels himself bound to add in the text a "Translator's note" where he explains that "French psycho-analysis uses 'desir' for all these words though its connotations are similar to those of its English cognate",(9) which must account for his decision to render it "by 'desire' wherever this seemed more appropriate than 'wish'". However, in his justified attempt to introduce a distinction in English where such a distinction does not -- or rather, did not -- exist in French, the English translator of the Vocabulaire may soon be found to put forward an illusive conceptual picture. On the one hand, wish is adequately rendered as a major equivalent of Wunsch, as the latter, and apparently not the Lacanian désir, is the basis for the main discussion in Laplanche and Pontalis' Vocabulaire. On the other hand, in the text, the occurrences of desire are not limited to the one and only passage where the Lacanian désir is discussed, but rather infiltrate textual segments in which an equivalence between wish and desire is rhetorically implied, and this might give the impression that the latter is a Freudian kind of meta-concept rather than a pure translational artifact.

One could have used exactly analogous terms to describe the situation of the Hebrew translator of the Vocabulaire vis-à-vis the French désir, had the status of English psychoanalytic terminology not been taken into account. And while the English translator of the Vocabulaire is bound by a readymade, standardized, psychoanalytical vocabulary in English, his Hebrew counterpart, having to carefully select his terms, is actually participating in the very foundation of such a vocabulary in his language, and thus has more freedom to deviate from traditionally made decisions concerning the terminology. In the case of désir, choosing ivu'i as its Hebrew equivalent would have elegantly solved the problems associated with the semantic discrepancy between the German Wunsch and its French traditional rendering. But the commitment to a certain Freudianism, which is moreover the basis for the original Vocabulaire, requires going beyond the mere solution of a local translational problem to an apparently inconsistent terminology. Retaining the term ivu'i where the Lacanian désir is explicitly at stake does not exclude the necessity for the Freudian Wunsch-désir to have its fully distinct expression by the use of a term that is not identified with a certain reading of Freud. Therefore, the decision to stick to the traditional mish'ala, in the Hebrew translation of the Vocabulaire de la Psychanalyse, while by-passing the problems posed by the mediation of the French désir is an expression of an attempt to purify, thus deideologize, so to speak, Freudian thought from its ulterior idologically invested readings.

© Noam Baruch (Tel-Aviv University)


(1) Lacan, J. (1958), "The direction of the Treatment and the Principles of its Power", trans. Bruce Fink, In: Lacan, J., Écrits, New York & London: Norton, 2002, p. 518.

(2) Laplanche, J., Pontalis J.- B. (1967), The Language of Psychoanlysis, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith, New York: Norton, 1973, p. 482.

(3) Evans, D. (1996), An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis; London, Routledge, p. 34.

(4) Golan, R. et al. (2002) "Al ha-tirgum" in: Freud, S, Miniyut ve-ha'ava, Tel-Aviv, Am-Oved, p. 15. [About the translation", editors' preliminary note to a collectiom of articles by S. Freud on sexuality and love, published in Hebrew translation].

(5) Bourguignon, A., Cotet P., Laplanche J., Robert R. (1989), Traduire Freud. Paris, PUF, p. 20.

(6) Ibid. p. 21.

(7) Laplanche, J. (1991) "Specifity of terminological problems in the translation of Freud" In: International Reviw of Psychoanalysis, vol. 18, , n° 3, p. 403.

(8) Jacques Lacan (1960) "Remarks on Daniel Lagache's Presentation", trans. Bruce Fink, In: Lacan, J., Écrits, New York & London: Norton, 2002, p. 563.

(9) Laplanche, J., Pontalis J.- B., loc. cit, p.482


Bourguignon, A., Cotet P., Laplanche J., Robert R. (1989), Traduire Freud, Paris, PUF.

Golan, R. et al. (2002) "Al ha-tirgum" in: Freud, S, Miniyut ve-ha'ava, Tel-Aviv, Am-Oved, p. 15. [About the translation", editors' preliminary note to a collectiom of articles by S. Freud on sexuality and love, published in a Hebrew translation].

Evans, D. (1996), An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis; London, Routledge.

Lacan, J.
(1958), "La direction de la cure et les principes de son pouvoir", In: Écrits, Paris, Seuil; pp. 585-645 ["The direction of the Treatment and the Principles of its Power", trans. Bruce Fink, In: Lacan, J., Écrits, New York & London: Norton, 2002, pp. 489-542].
(1960) "Remarque sur le rapport de Daniel Lagache: "Psychanalyse et structure de la personalité", In: Écrits, Paris, Seuil; pp. 647-684 ["Remarks on Daniel Lagache's Presentation", trans. Bruce Fink, In: Lacan, J., Écrits, New York & London: Norton, 2002, p. 563].

Laplanche, J. (1991) "Specifity of terminological problems in the translation of Freud" In: International Reviw of Psychoanalysis, vol. 18, , n° 3, pp. 401-406.

Laplanche, J., Pontalis J.- B. (1967), Vocabulaire de la psychanalyse, Paris, PUF [The Language of Psychoanlysis, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith , New York: Norton, 1973].

9.4. Translation and Ideology

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For quotation purposes:
Noam Baruch (Tel-Aviv University): Psychoanalytical Notions and their Translation. The Question of Ideology Arising From the Hebrew Translation of Laplanche and Pontalis’s Vocabulaire de la Psychanalyse. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW:

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