Ricoeur and Berman: An Encounter between Hermeneutics and Translation Studies

By Lee, Hyang; Yun, Seong-Woo | Philosophy Today, February 2012 | Go to article overview

Ricoeur and Berman: An Encounter between Hermeneutics and Translation Studies


Lee, Hyang, Yun, Seong-Woo, Philosophy Today


This essay surveys commonalities and differences between Antoine Berman, a translation philosopher, and Paul Ricoeur, a hermeneutic philosopher, and thereby tries to discover where and how Translation Studies and hermeneutics might come into contact. Ricoeur and Berman are known as leading representatives of modern hermeneutics and modern Translation Studies, respectively. Ricoeur, however, takes translation as his last philosophical topic in the context of his research about the problematics of meaning, textual interpretation, Self-and-Other. On the other hand, Berman incorporates a variety of philosophers' thoughts on translation - such as Schleiermacher's, Benjamin's, Heidegger's, and Derrida's - into today's Translation Studies, and thereby develops philosophical reflections in Translation Studies that we can call translation philosophy, per se.

These two different scholars, belonging to two different fields, called hermeneutics and Translation Studies, meet in the realm of translation. Their encounter becomes concrete in that they continue to quote each other. In his major works, Berman constantly refers to Ricoeur's hermeneutics. And Ricoeur intensively discusses Berman in dealing with the problem of "translation" as the last topic of his intellectual Odyssey.1

The present investigation was ignited, first and foremost, by our curiosity into what made both of them cite each other's work. Therefore, it is not the purpose of this essay to consider their philosophical systems in themselves. Rather, we are going to focus on a number of themes that touch both Berman's and Ricoeur's thoughts. More precisely stated, we are going to see, on the level of translation and interpretation, where their perspectives on the nature of a text share commonalities and where they show differences.

Commonalities

Hermeneutics and Translation Studies are "Heterogeneous" and "Non-Scientific"

Berman and Ricoeur claim clear-cut positions concerning how to define knowledge in hermeneutics and Translation Studies. Let us look at Berman first. Berman defines Translation Studies as "reflections on the unique experience called text translation."2 Here, reflective Translation Studies contrasts with translatics (traductique) based on technical engineering and informatics. Translatics, trying to be literally "scientific," overlooks the importance of reflection on translating experiences. Berman believes that translatics alone can never clarify or describe a culture's inherent drive to meet new cultures through translation and to thereby elevate itself. Therefore, he believes that Translation Studies is non-unifiable and has to encompass all the plural and heterogeneous translation experiences. He proclaims that "to postulate the possibility of a global and unique theory unifying the entirety of translating activities is to overlook the fact that the space of translation is definitely plural, heterogeneous, and non-unifiable."3 Berman further reminds us that the truth and value of a text are only revealed through the experiences of translation and can hardly be analyzed through an objective-scientific approach. His argument can be taken as a warning to today's discussions on translation, which tend to be expressed in empiricist and scientific-oriented tones.

Surprisingly enough, Berman's standpoint is very similar to Ricoeur's hermeneutical perspective. Ricoeur also claims it is impossible to establish general and unified principles concerning interpretation. According to Ricoeur, "there is no general hermeneutics, no universal canon for exegesis, but only disparate and opposed theories concerning the rules of interpretation. The hermeneutic field, whose outer contours we have traced, is internally at variance with itself."4

In brief, then, Berman and Ricoeur do not think that Translation Studies and hermeneutics should be "scientific." Of course, "not scientific" does not mean anti-scientific, subjective, or biased. …

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