FREUD AND THE RAT MAN by Patrick J. Mahony


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A linguistic study by a practicing psychoanalyst who is also a professor of English literature. Mahony (Freud As a Writer, Cries of The Wolf Man) purports to have new insights into Freud's cases, from reading the German texts and finding flaws in the standard translation of Freud's Complete Works by James Strachey. The present book is marred by a style uneven in the extreme. There are ""film-script"" place settings: ""It is Vienna, 1878. . .Again the scene shifts."" Mostly, there is a kind of nightmare verbosity. It's mentioned that a family named Lanzer talked a lot. We are told that they evinced ""abundant verbalization,"" although the reader is asked to ""bear in mind that individual households, like historical epochs and cultural regions, differ in their prolixity and taciturnity."" A more serious objection is the book's manhandling of Strachey, who, after all, did a magnificent job with material that was not always gratifying. Some minor details might always be criticized, but it seems impolite nit-picking to psychoanalyze a translator to try to see why he chose certain verbal alternatives. One particularly silly point is where it is established that Freud wrote a passage in the present tense, which Strachey transposed into the past tense. All sorts of conclusions are reached, but it is never mentioned that Strachey's version simply reads better. Worse, Mahoney's own translation of the passage is offered as ""Freud,"" while Strachey is castigated for infidelity. This contradicts what seems to be the main point of the book, that any translation of Freud loses something from the original. Moreover, any reader with a little German can tell that tenses apart, Strachey's version is more faithful to the original than Mahony's, in addition to reading considerably better. There is great familiarity with the sources here, but it is the sort of familiarity an unhappy marriage might breed: where minor faults overwhelm the main picture.

Pub Date: Nov. 19th, 1986
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press