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Translating Trieb in the First Edition of Freud's "Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality": Problems and Perspectives

11/06/2017 10:34 AM | Philippe Van Haute

When discussing Strachey’s translation of Freud (Freud, 1905/1953) the first problem that pops up is almost inevitably his translation of the German Trieb by “instinct.” Instincts, as the standard objection goes, have a predetermined object that is given to them by nature to accomplish their biological function, whereas this wouldn’t be the case with Triebe that don’t have such a pre-given object…

 

To further discuss this question I will turn to the first edition of the Three Essays, and I will comment on some key decisions that Ulrike Kistner, Herman Westerink, and I made in discussing the first English translation of this text (Freud, 1905/2016). In doing so I will concentrate on a major distinction Freud makes in the Three Essays that passed unnoticed (or even rendered invisible) in most translations. I will argue, more concretely, that the 1905 edition of the Three Essays is not so much centered around the distinction between Instinkt and Trieb, but rather around the distinction between Geschlechtstrieb and Sexualtrieb. This distinction is completely lost in the Standard Edition and in the older French translations.1 Strachey translates them both as “sexual instinct.” This second distinction resembles the one between Instinkt and Trieb, but it is not identical to it. It should further be read in relation to the term Geschlechtsleben that is linked to it.


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