The double bind (Gregory Bateson, slightly expanded):

(1) Do X.
(2) Do not-X.
(3) Internalize the command to do both, and expect censure for failure.
(4) Repress all this, and despise anyone who reminds you of it.
(5) Idealize the command-giver.




Double Bind 4: Love vs. Structure

(1) Be a linguist: love language.

(a) Live life and language with your whole body.

(b) Let language make you laugh and cry, tense and relax you, drive you crazy and make you sane.

(c) Feel the social taboos stored in language, the bans on saying certain words, discussing certain topics, translating certain texts.

(d) Feel correctness anxiety whenever someone "misuses" a language you speak well and care about: foreigners, small children, people of a different age or class.

(e) Love learning languages, speaking languages, teaching languages, translating texts between languages, writing about language and translation. Feel your love for language in your whole body, not just on the tongue that speaks it or the fingers that type it.

(f) Learn lots of languages, not only national languages but regional dialects, professional argots, group slangs, social registers. Always be seeking out new forms of language and learning as much of them as you can. Use them whenever you can. Use them with visceral pleasure.

(g) Feel in your body the social, cultural, and political complexities of language when you study it. Sense that those complexities are almost certainly beyond your ken, unquestionably beyond your ability to explain or define; but explore them anyway, heuristically, tentatively, making inroads into them by trusting your instincts and intuitions.

(h) Love the social interaction that goes on at conferences, meeting new people, getting to know the person behind the scholarly front. Live for meals and drinks at the bar, and tell yourself that that's where the really important stuff happens. Laugh and argue and chat until you go hoarse and your smile muscles ache; drink too much; have far too good a time, or be miserable, or bored, or whatever your emotional state happens to be.

(2) Be a linguist: study the underlying structures of language.

(a) Reduce language to abstract structure, to a differential sign system whose reality is purely mental, ideal, transcendental.

(b) Think of translation as a formal linguistic process aimed at objective (perhaps even measureable) semantic equivalence.

(c) Believe that the process of translation is, or should be, precisely as mental, ideal, abstract, and analytical as you know language itself to be.

(d) Believe that the study of translation is, or should be, likewise mental, abstract, analytical, formalistic. Believe that your mechanistic diagrams of the translation process reflect the true underlying structure of that process.

(e) If you are exposed to foreign languages, learn their syntactic and/or semantic structures without being particularly concerned to become fluent in their everyday use. Retain vast quantities of professionally useful information about comparative linguistic structures while remaining functionally monolingual.

(f) To the extent that you recognize the impact of society, culture, politics on language, rest easy in your knowledge that such things have no disciplinary relevance to the linguistic study of language. They're interesting, certainly; but unfortunately, that's not your field. Those things are studied in other departments, sociology, political science, perhaps philosophy. You and your colleagues are concerned with language.

(g) To the extent that you feel compelled to extend your linguistic inquiries into social and cultural matters such as the conversational use of language, regional varieties of language, problems of interpretation and misinterpretation, the institutional or political control or regularization of language, and the like, be sure to formalize such social forces in abstract, even mathematical ways.

(h) Trace the operation of ideology and other political forces both in language and in terms of language, since anything worthy of study must be susceptible to a formalistic analysis.

(i) Develop rigid abstract models for the methodological control of complex social variables.

(j) When studying interpretation, for example, explore the functioning not of real interpreters but of interpreter-types; assume that these types are implied or generated or required or controlled by text-types, so that the study of interpretation can proceed purely by means of textual analysis.

(k) When studying rhetoric, subsume the study of real speakers' attempts to influence real listeners into the formalistic study of rhetorical functions, which can be found within texts. In the linguistic study of translation, this means that equivalence can be defined in purely textual terms, as an equivalence of (textual) rhetorical function; this eliminates the problem of real-world counterexamples, the possibility of a real reader interpreting the text in ways that deviate from your model.

(l) Write your scholarly monographs and articles in a dry, neutral, depersonalized voice. Allow no hint of your personality into that voice. Remember that personality is bias, distortion, subjectivity.

(m) Remain rigorously disinterested, and remember that disinterest is a lack of interest — your own and your reader's. If you seem too interested in what you're writing, you will sound emotionally invested and thus biased.

(n) At the same time, be ever-vigilant regarding the clear semantic distinction between the words "disinterested" and "uninterested"; be ready to correct anyone who confuses the two.

(o) Impose a rigid mathematical hierarchy on your argumentation, so that readers will know instantly that section 1.12 is the second subheading under 1.1 and follows 1.11.

(p) Deliver your conference papers in as flatly neutral a voice as you can manage. Write them first, then read them aloud in a monotone. When in doubt, read faster.

(q) Impress your audience with your impersonal scientific brilliance, but show no sign of attempting to impress them, since the desire to be thought brilliant is an emotional investment and a sure sign of an unscientific person.

(r) Pretend to be serenely indifferent about how your ideas are received — or to how attentive people pretend to be while you read your brilliant paper.

(s) Observe a strict dress code for class and conferences. Business suit or nondescript academic frump. Short hair for the men, severe cuts for the women. Men: beards, yes, if you want, but within reason; no Walt Whitmans. Women: no short-short skirts or shorts, fishnet stockings, or leather clothes. Nothing flamboyant: no bright colors, strange hairdos, bare legs (men), chest (women), or feet.

(t) Let your clothes confine your body: no running, jumping, skipping, dancing, or otherwise celebrating your physical existence. Your body is a mere neutral vehicle for your mind.

(3) Internalize the command to be both kinds of linguist at once, and expect punishment for failure.

(a) Understand without being told that what is at stake here is not just your professional integrity as a translator or translation scholar, but your worth as an individual. Know that a good scientist must be human (caring, open, friendly, feeling) and a good person must be scientific (rational, clear-headed, thoughtful, critical), and that to be worthy of the esteem of others you must be both.

(b) Know that you will be censured as a poor scientist (biased, subjective, impressionistic) if you aren't rigorously analytical, and as a poor human (cold, detached, isolated, alienated) if you aren't richly and complexly emotional. Expect double censure for being both at once.

(c) Feel a simultaneous anxiety that you are too analytical and too emotional, too objective and too subjective — and not enough of either.

(d) Love science with your whole body. Feel a passion for the dispassionate order of abstract formalistic analysis. Take visceral pleasure in pure stable structures, beautiful diagrams, complex formal symmetries.

(e) Try not to feel shame at this corporeal response to cerebral patterns.

(f) Believe that if you don't notice yourself feeling that shame, you don't feel it, and therefore that it doesn't exist. And if the shame doesn't exist, neither does the passion that occasioned it in the first place.

(g) Know that you will never perfectly rid yourself of the shameful passion you feel for dispassionate analysis, and therefore that you will never be a true scientist of language.

(h) Celebrate your love of language by reducing it to abstract structures and factors.

(i) Try not to feel the deadening of pleasure that results from the abstract formalization of love.

(j) Believe that if you don't notice yourself feeling that deadening, you don't feel it, and therefore that it doesn't exist. And if the deadening doesn't exist, then there's nothing wrong with scientific reductions of language to abstract structure.

(k) Know that you will never perfectly rid yourself of the atavistic prescientific anxiety you feel at turning love into science, and therefore will never be completely modern or analytical. Your bodily love for things will keep dragging you back into the superstitious past.

(l) Internalize the negative conception these conflicting commands mandate not only of you but of your profession. Think of academics as only half human, socially inept, cut off from their feelings and loved ones, unable to deal with intimacy, and of nonacademics as trapped by their powerful feelings in a prescientific state that is more mammalian than fully human.

(m) Fight the negative conception of academics that the impossibility of obeying (1) and (2) mandates by working harder, and calling on other academics to work harder as well, to obey both (1) and (2). If only academics would loosen up a little with friends and family and be more rigorous in the lab and the classroom, people would respect you and your profession more. Let this transform (1)-(2)-(3) into a vicious circle from which there is no escape.

(4) Repress (1), (2), and (3), along with any anger or frustration that their contradictoriness might engender.

(a) Repress any awareness that might attempt to surface of the impossibility of being at once fully scientific and analytical and fully social and emotional.

(b) Know, but pretend not to know, if possible conceal even from yourself, that you aren't successfully integrating your analytical and feeling sides.

(c) Manage your vague knowledge of this failure, and your dim sense of impending punishment or censure, through compartmentalization. Live one way at the university, another way at home. Be one person in the classroom, another when you translate, another when you write translation theory, another at faculty meetings, yet another at conferences (and at conferences one way in the sessions, another in the bar). Think of yourself as a loving parent and spouse, loyal and supportive friend, and rigorously analytical scientist.

(d) Repress awareness of the ways in which you are coldly analytical with family and friends and emotional and biased with research data.

(e) Try to become ever more analytical in the appropriate compartments, less immersed in emotional connections and commitments — and feel guilty or anxious about your increased isolation. Repress that guilt or anxiety.

(f) Try to become more open and sensitive to emotions in the appropriate compartments — and feel guilty or anxious about your decreased intellectual acuity. Repress that guilt or anxiety.

(g) Reveal your repressed emotions in scientific contexts only inadvertently, through inappropriate humor or involuntary responses (blushing, stammering, etc.).

(h) Feel vaguely uncomfortable, but don't understand why, when friends jokingly call you Mr. Steel Trap or the Ice Queen, or when you are explaining something to your spouse or a child or friend and their eyes glaze over.

(i) When you translate a sensitive text, be aware of its "sensitivity" only intellectually, analytically. Realize that other people might feel strongly about certain words or topics, analyze the text's semantics and social semiotics, and translate accordingly. Never become aware of any somatic discomfort you yourself might feel.

(j) When you analyze translations of sensitive texts, master your somatic discomfort with abstract formalisms, analytical calculi that freeze and distance the problem.

(k) When you analyze the double binds that control and constrict academic thinkers and teachers, pay no attention to the discomfort you're causing your listeners or yourself. Think of yourself as above it all (somehow you've managed to escape the academic double bind in your own life); think of your listeners as in need of a little shock therapy.

(l) Laugh (un)easily at any suggestion that there is a problem or a conflict anywhere in here. You're like anybody else, just doing your job, getting by as best you can, a good teacher, good scholar, good parent, good spouse, good friend. Not perfect, but hey — who is? You try to do your best as you see fit, period. If you occasionally lose your temper at people who suggest that you're doing things all wrong, that's just because they make you so angry. Nothing more. You're a professional who knows what s/he's doing, and it really irritates you when someone comes along and tries to rearrange your whole professional life.

(m) If you read a rational, analytical theory of language and translation based on the importance of the body, on somatic response (see Robinson 1991), or of human reason based on the functioning of somatic markers (see Damasio 1994), exclude the middle in order to reduce the argument to the obviously ludicrous claim that people never do or never should think, only feel. Feel justified in laughing dismissively at such an idea.

(5) Idealize the command-giver.

(a) Believe that there is no command-giver; there is simply a factual state of affairs. Don't even deny the existence of a command-giver; just never let the possibility arise. If it is difficult (or impossible) to be both fully analytical and fully human at once, that is not because you have been commanded (or trained, or programmed) to do both, and to conceive your life and work as requiring both. That's just the way things are — not what someone told you they are, but the facts.

(b) To the extent that you associate the command-giver with academia, science, institutionalized knowledge, depersonalized truth, think of it and its demands on you not just as a historical accident, the product of Platonic/Aristotelian Christianity as formulated by scholastic thinkers in the Middle Ages, but as a noble force that is absolutely essential for the survival of the human race. There is too much sloppy thinking and emoting these days as it is; emotional biases have led the human race to the brink of destruction, and only the cool calm heads of scientists can rescue us.

(c) To the extent that you associate the command-giver with society, social interaction, love, friendship, caring, think of it and its demands on you not just as a historical accident, the product of liberal bourgeois family values over the past three or four centuries, but as a noble force that is absolutely essential for the survival of the human race. Coldly analytical scientists and technocrats have led the human race to the brink of destruction, and only our higher emotions can rescue us.

(d) To extent that you associate the command-giver with a rational deity whose name is Love, keep trying to do it all. If you lapse and forget any small part of it, start rereading from (1).

Other double binds:

Love vs. structure

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