Volume 10, No. 4 
October 2006

  Leandro Wolfson

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Index 1997-2006
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  Translator Profiles
A Career in European Translation
by Emma Wagner
Interview with Gabe Bokor
by Verónica Albin

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
The Power of Saying "No"
by Danilo and Vera Nogueira
Educating the Customer
by Brett Jocelyn Epstein

  Translators Around the World
Translating Freud: A Historical Experience
by Leandro Wolfson
Certification Programs in China
by Jianjun Zhang

  TJ Cartoon
Great Moments in Languages—Voice of Translator
by Ted Crump

  Translation Nuts & Bolts
Translation of Vietnamese Terms of Address and Reference
by Thanh Ngo
Dealing with Abbreviations In Translation
by Adetola Bankole

  Language & Communication
"Heads I win, Tails You Lose": Logical Fallacies and Ethics in Everyday Language
by Elena Sgarbossa, M.D.

  Book Review
Dictionary Review: Hungarian Practical Dictionary
by Catherine Bokor, Ph.D.
Book Review: Corinne McKay’s How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator
by Eve Lindemuth Bodeux

  Cultural Aspects of Translation
Connotation and Cross-cultural Semantics
by Salah Salim Ali

  Legal Translation
Incongruity of Company Law Terms: Categorization of Polish Business Entities and their English Equivalents
by Łucja Biel, Ph.D.

  The Related Arts
Adding Value to Translation with DTP Partnership
by José Henrique Lamensdorf

Spanglish: To Ser or Not to Be? That is la cuestión!
by Eduardo González, Ph.D.

  Translators Education
Translation As an Aid in Teaching English as a Second Language
by Valeria Petrocchi

  Translators' Tools
Electronic Tools for Translators in the 21st Century
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Translating Freud:

A Historical Experience

by Leandro Wolfson


In memory of José Luis Etcheverry


This article tells the story of the second translation into Spanish of Sigmund Freud's Complete Works, published in Buenos Aires in 24 volumes by the Amorrortu editores publishing house between 1974 and 1985. The story is told by one of the participants in the project, who with this piece wants to pay homage to José Luis Etcheverry, translator of Freud from the German.

n these pages I will try to summarize a translation experience in which I took part. Its result is very well-known: Freud's Obras completas (Complete Works), published by the Argentine publishing house Amorrortu editores between 1974 and 1985. Not so well-known, on the other hand (except for those who participated), is the process by which that result was reached. It seemed to me that to recall that experience, a cornerstone in my translation career, could be of some educational interest.

At the same time, I wish to pay a heartfelt homage with these pages to the main protagonist of this story, José Luis Etcheverry, who in the beginning was just another co-worker and, with time, became my teacher.

In March 1969 I began working for Amorrortu as translator-in-chief, after having been a free-lance editor for a few months. At the time, the publishing house was expanding into the social sciences and was planning to translate many books not only from French but also from Italian and German. My workload and my having only a thorough knowledge of English and a poor one of French were limiting. I would obviously not be in a position to edit them.

Because of this, by mid 1970 the publishing house placed an ad in several newspapers with the aim of hiring a potential translator-in-chief for those languages, since no one among the people we knew met all the requirements. This was how José Luis Etcheverry came to form part of the firm's small permanent staff.

This coincided with a very large and important project the firm was contemplating in those days: none other than a new Spanish edition of Sigmund Freud's complete works. A British firm, The Hogarth Press, was in the last stages of publishing the very well-known Standard Edition in 24 volumes (1953-1974), translated from the German with notes and introductions by James Strachey. In the Standard Edition, Freud's works were chronologically ordered for the first time.

Furthermore, Strachey's critical apparatus (his introductions to each work, explanatory footnotes, cross-references to other works whenever a special term appeared, etc.) was undisputedly excellent—much more so, in fact, than his translation into English—and was, of course, invaluable material for any reader. What Amorrortu envisioned was to translate Freud's texts from the German, replicate the chronological order Strachey adopted, and add his critical apparatus.

Let us recall that this took place in 1970. According to Argentine copyright laws at that time, cultural works stopped being subjected to private rights and became public domain 50 years after the author's death. (Later, this period was increased to 70 years.) Since Freud had died in 1939, this meant that as of 1989, anyone could translate both Freud and Strachey without having to sign a contract with their heirs. Thus, our deadline for translating, revising, laying out, proofreading, printing, and marketing the 24 volumes was 19 years ahead. At first glance 19 years sounded ample, but the difficulty and complexity of the task proved it was to be barely enough time. The complete collection was published in 1985, only four years before the deadline.

The intricate contract negotiations with Freud's and Strachey's estates took many months. In the meantime, the crucial decision of who was going to translate Freud had to be taken. The firm's owner and head, Horacio de Amorrortu, as well as all of us who were part of it at that time, came to the unanimous decision that the ablest person to undertake such a monumental task was Etcheverry.

Etcheverry had finished high school in his native town of Lincoln, by then a small city in Buenos Aires province. There were traces of his place of origin in his countryside accent, in some Spanish archaisms still present in the Argentine pampas, and in his generally straightforward, good-natured and humorously-minded mood. He then came to Buenos Aires City for college; as far as I know, he initially pursued a degree in economics, but did not graduate and switched instead to philosophy. However, his intellectual interests were not restricted to these two fields. He knew world history inside out, took keen interest in anthropology and was also very well informed about the politics of the day. Indeed, any casual conversation with him inevitably led to a stroll through vast fields of knowledge. He spoke with the same ease about the ancient Greeks and the most recent events in the news. And he always did everything with the least presumptuous of attitudes; in fact, Etcheverry was humility itself. As Dr. Horacio Etchegoyen (2000) said of him, "he was a wise and modest man [...] who was always willing to listen attentively, to learn, and to explain."

He was also a polyglot, and almost every foreign language he mastered (German, Italian, French, English, besides Latin and Greek) had been learned, not in regular courses, but reading the canonic literary masterpieces in each of them—much like Freud, who is said to have learned Spanish reading Don Quixote.

Etcheverry's solid background in philosophy, as well as his never having had any contact with psychoanalysis, instead of being a handicap, were two of the main reasons for which he was chosen as Freud's translator. The project's aim was not to improve or correct earlier translations but to rethink Freud from scratch, as it were, and then to propose a new version that, without a doubt, would stray from the conventional ones.

What were these earlier, conventional translations? In fact, there was only one, in 17 volumes, by the Spaniard Luis López-Ballesteros, published by Biblioteca Nueva in Madrid between 1922 and 1934. It gained popularity in a compact edition in 3 volumes printed on Bible paper. The collection was subsequently completed by Ludovico Rosenthal for the Argentine firm Santiago Rueda, with four further volumes that appeared between 1952 and 1956.

It was precisely in 1952 when the first German edition of Freud's "complete works" (the Gesammelte Werke) was published—though in fact they weren't at all complete: Rosenthal himself found and translated for Santiago Rueda's edition some texts that hadn't been included in the Gesammelte Werke. Thus, when this firm finished publishing Freud's works in Spanish, Rosenthal was rightly able to claim that "an enterprise almost unknown in book history" had been fulfilled— that of publishing "a collection of an author's works that is more complete in translation than in the original language."

This first translation of Freud by López Ballesteros and Rosenthal was the one used by those who embraced psychoanalysis both in Spain and in Spanish-speaking America, particularly by the founders of the Argentine Psychoanalytic Association in 1943 (Marie Langer, Ángel Garma, Arnaldo Ravcovsky, and Enrique Pichon-Rivière, among others) as well as by the psychoanalysts they trained.

It was generally acknowledged that López Ballesteros' translation, prologued by none other than the great Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, was praiseworthy for its time. However, after more than forty years since the advent of psychoanalysis and of Freudian studies, it was clearly no longer satisfactory. As Etcheverry (1978) himself once wrote, "it was a very graceful version, but it lacked rigor." The challenge was to come up with a new version that would be more in keeping with the times.

To carry out this daunting task in an orderly fashion, the following plan was devised:

  1. Etcheverry would work on the translation of Freud's works full-time during as many years as he would need. He himself estimated that he was going to be able to deliver an average of 80,000 words a month. At this rate, completing the translation would require between four and five years.
  2. Two leading psychoanalysts and a psychologist were recruited to form an Advisory Committee.
  3. In order to establish some basic criteria, the Committee was to meet with Etcheverry once he had read the main works but before beginning their translation. The criteria and the terminology to be used were to be further refined when Etcheverry turned in his first assignment: the two volumes of The Interpretation of Dreams and the technical, "metapsychological" works contained in volume 14. While these works did not exhaust the conceptual and terminological problems to be addressed, they paved the way for a more thorough understanding between the translator and the Advisory Committee.
  4. Once the Committee read and discussed each translation, it would convey its comments and recommendations to Etcheverry, orally or in writing.
  5. After Etcheverry had processed the Committee's opinions, his translation would come to my desk to be compared word by word against Strachey's Standard Edition. It was my responsibility to point out every instance, and there were many, in which Strachey's translation did not seem to agree with Etcheverry's. When needed, I would offer some minor recommendations. Etcheverry would then go over those differences resorting to Freud's original German, and would always have the final word. He never failed to explain to me, for instance, his reasons for adopting a particular version that was different from Strachey's. (Needless to say, it was from this part of the task that I learned the most.)
  6. Finally, I was to translate from the English all of Strachey's introductions to each work and his abundant footnotes. Naturally, whenever I encountered a terminological difficulty I would consult with Etcheverry.

I presume that the typewritten juicy comments exchanged between Etcheverry, the members of the Advisory Committee, and, in a few cases, myself, can still be found somewhere, in the bottom of some drawer. These materials would be invaluable to scholars interested in writing about the history of translation in Argentina. The rest came to light in the 24 volumes of the collection, and also remain tucked away in the private memories of all of us who were involved.

When the collection was released, it was accompanied by a small volume entitled About the Spanish Version (1978). This little book had been written almost entirely by Etcheverry—I was in charge of tracing a brief history of Freud's translations into Spanish—but with his typical modesty he did not want to show up as its author. He said it had been "a consequence of the work." In this book, the translator explained his reasons for all the conceptual and terminological decisions he had made. In some cases, these were strongly resisted by the psychoanalytic community; but it is safe to say that today there is a favorable consensus, above all among the theoreticians of psychoanalysis and the researchers of Freud's thought, about the quality of Etcheverry's work. In articles written in Spanish by psychoanalysts, any other translation is very rarely mentioned in the bibliographical references.

Etcheverry's general aim in approaching Freud's texts was, in his words, "making one's way into the most hidden springs of his [Freud's] creation." With that purpose, he not only suggested new Spanish terms to replace the traditional ones but also brought to light many conceptual differences among Freud's terms that had remained hidden in previous translations. There are dozens of examples, with which I cannot deal here.

In About the Spanish Version, Etcheverry gave a thorough explanation for all these lexical choices. A much more lively experience was to listen to him while presenting his arguments before the Advisory Committee or during our frequent talks. His choices were never arbitrary or haphazard and he defended them tenaciously against any attempt to ignore or reject them. They were the result of a general coherent purpose, and had been coherently explicated. I think many Freudian scholars surely thank him for his obstinacy and his terminological meticulousness.

There is another aspect of his toil worth mentioning. Beyond decisions related to the psychoanalytic vocabulary, Etcheverry was not at all insensitive to the aesthetic value of many Freudian works. Let's remember that three years before his death, in 1936, Freud was awarded the prestigious Goethe Prize for his literary merits. On that occasion, Thomas Mann remarked that Freud had been essentially a literary writer, whose main goal was "to unveil childhood." G-A. Goldschmidt, in his magnificent contribution to the so-called "Arles debate," which took place in 1988 (Agoff, 2005), writes: "Freud is a writer insomuch as he doesn't let himself be swept along by the currents of language; he, like Goethe, wants to swim upriver to discover its source." This sort of "archeological exploration" of language in which Freud was engaged found an attentive ear in Etcheverry. This is why occasionally his translation sounds somewhat strange or archaic. He made plain use of some Spanish archaisms, which were part of his linguistic wealth and which allowed him to adapt flexibly to that Freudian intention.

Our common task lasted for about four and a half years. The last volume he translated was published in 1982, and from then on I had the responsibility of compiling the numerous indexes of all kinds that made up Volume 24, as well as supervising the proofreading. (The PC had not been born yet and all the work was done in Linotype machines, from typewritten manuscripts.)

Etcheverry died of lung cancer in 2000. As far as I know, the only homage paid to him was that of the above-mentioned Dr. Horacio Etchegoyen (2000) in the name of the psychoanalytic community. Although I do not belong to that community but to that of translators, in the name of the latter I wanted to express my gratitude here.



Agoff, Irene (translation, introduction and footnotes) (2005): El debate de Arlés, Buenos Aires: translator's edition.

Etchegoyen, Horacio (2000): "Recordatorio de José Luis Etcheverry," Revista de APdeBA, 22 (1): 5-6.

Etcheverry, José Luis (1978): Sobre la verstión castellana, Buenos Aires: Amorrortu editores.

Freud, Sigmund (1924-34): Gesammelte Schriften, Viena: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, 12 vols.

Freud, Sigmund (1940-52, 1968): Gesammelte Werke, Londres: Imago Publishing Co., vols. 1-17, 1940-52; Francfort del Meno: S. Fischer Verlag, vol. 18, 1968.

Freud, Sigmund (1922-34): Obras completas, Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva, 17 vols., translated by Luis López-Ballesteros y de Torres.

Freud, Sigmund (1952-56): Obras completas, Buenos Aires: Santiago Rueda, 21 vols., translated by Luis López-Ballesteros y de Torres (vols. 11-17) and by Ludovico Rosenthal (vols. 18-21),.

Freud, Sigmund (1953-74): Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works, 24 vols., translated by James Strachey, Londres: The Hogarth Press.

Freud, Sigmund (1974-1985): Obras completas, Buenos Aires: Amorrortu editores, 24 vols., translated by José Luis Etcheverry.

Laplanche, Jean, y J.-B. Pontalis (1971): Vocabulaire de la psychanalyse, París: Presses Universitaires de France.

Wolf, Martin, and Hajes, Doris (eds.) (1996): Freud hoy en la Universidad, Montevideo: Universidad de la República, Facultad de Psicología. (It includes an extensive public lecture by José Luis Etcheverry and his answers to the audience's questions.)