We are all translators, readers, interpreters. We are all translated, read, interpreted. Translation, reading, interpretation, occupy a central, crucial place in our existence since before we are born and beyond death. The current debate on abortion, for instance, can be reformulated and elucidated as a debate on the freedom of translation, of reading, of interpretation: a woman pregnant with an embryo of less than 14 weeks, does she have the right to choose if she interprets, if she reads, if she translates that embryo as a child to be reared or as a cyst to be removed? One position maintains that the pregnant woman has the right to choose her reading, her translation, her interpretation, and the other seeks to impose a mandatory reading, a mandatory translation, a mandatory interpretation. The rest is mere logical consequence. What does the translator translate in this case? The meaning of something that exists. This shows that we are read, translated, interpreted before entering the world.

Also after dying. For example, until a few days ago the play Thyestes and Atreus was performed at the Cervantes Theatre in Buenos Aires. This was a magnificent adaptation (by its director) of Thyestes, written in the first century by Seneca the Younger. This adaptation does not ignore, in turn, the version envisioned by Crebillon in the 18th century, quoted by Dupin in Poe’s “Purloined Letter” and commented on by Lacan in his Ecrits. That is to say that a dozen actors were interpreting, reading, translating the interpretation, reading, translation done by a dramaturge of the way in which Seneca interpreted, read, translated the ancient Greek myth of the rival twins. What translates each of these translators in this case? The fratricidal rivalry. Two thousand years after his death, Seneca continues to be interpreted, translated, read.

Let us leave behind the arrival into the world and the departure from it, which only concern what Agamben calls “the naked life”, and let us move on to what our existences have of properly human, to our lives as speaking bodies. They depend on what Freud called Verständigung, that is, on the interpretation, reading, translation that the Other makes of our screaming, of our shouting, of our vociferation. This transformation from cry to call is a special kind of reading, of translation, of interpretation, as important as the one whereby, when the baby babbles bam, someone nearby celebrates it exclaiming: “s/he said mam!” And thus opens the game of interpretations, translations, readings by means of which that baby will learn to speak through the double operation consisting of (1) reducing the infinite polychromy of lalangue to the limited palette of the Other’s language, by identifying with it at the level of the signifier itself, and (2) submitting to the laws that this implies, from the most elementary one, linked to the existence of sequences of allowed and prohibited phonemes, to the broadest and most sophisticated ones, corresponding to syntax, grammar, rhetoric and logics. In short, from this interpretation, reading, translation, depends the birth of what we call a subject, a-speaking-being-among-others within a given linguistic community.

Every causal, definitional and, in general, binary articulations will be thrown into this mold whose structure Lacan formally reduced to the signifying pair S1-S2. As for the field of desire, that mold will forge the peculiar aspect that what the Other wants “from” us (his demands) or “for” us (his ideals) will acquire. That mold will only be useless when – in the Other – the second element that responds to the first is missing, and it is this lack of a signifier that will force the subject to invent his own translation: such is the unfathomable constitution of his fundamental fantasy, which will become from now on his translator, his interpreter par excellence. Our fundamental fantasy is a machine that reads, translates and interprets what we hear; and that is one of the fundamental reasons why analysts must be analyzed: to learn how to read, interpret, translate independently of one’s own fantasy. It is the only way to avoid getting lost in the search for what is absolutely unique to the analysand in question, that which Freud called the “core of being” and which I prefer to call “singularity”. Regarding this, it is not only the analyst who gets sidetracked by his fantasy. We all are, especially in the field of desire and love, which aspire – no less than an analysis – to the singular.

I purposefully insisted up until now on the supposed equivalence between translating, reading and interpreting. But singularity confronts us with the problem of the untranslatable, and that is the core of the analysis. In fact, in his article on “The Unconscious”[1] Freud emphasizes that repression consists essentially in a rejection of translation. At this point the problem arises of how to read, how to interpret what is untranslatable in what we hear. This is what is at stake when it comes to reading a symptom, precisely. Indeed, in his Seminar “RSI”[2], Lacan says that the symptom ex-sists the unconscious (the very unconscious that translates everything through the fantasy) and that this symptom does not stop writing a master signifier by means of a letter that translates it wildly. This means that such translation is completely arbitrary, it does not respect any convention, it is wild: so, to read the letter of the symptom is to interpret it without translating it. That is the place of interpretation when it operates via equivocation, in so far as it does not translate or separate signifiers, but it fragments the signifier by means of the letter.  That is why, in addition, Lacan says that equivocation is our only weapon against the symptom.

To conclude, you know that in the 70s Lacan forged an economy of jouissances whose dynamics is animated by the different ways of interpreting, so that there is no interpretation – neither by translation nor by reading equivocations – which directly modifies the unique jouissance of the analysand that we call “jouissance of life”. This is the point in the analytic experience where translation and life are get further away from each other. What position to take with regard to that mode of jouissance that we do not share or understand? I think that we can apply here what Sontag suggested as the best way to approach a novel artistic or literary sensitivity: not to interpret it, not to translate it, but to create a certain “complicity” with it.



[1] Freud, S., “The Unconscious” [1915], SE, Vol. XIV, pp. 159-215.

[2] Lacan, J., Seminar XXII, RSI [1974/5], Lesson of 21st January 1975, Unpublished.

(*) Text presented at the First Evening of the Library, EOL Sección La Plata, 27th June 2018.