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Book Review

Alfred North Withehead, Processo e Realidade. Ensaio de Cosmologia

translation and introduction by Maria Teresa Teixeira, Lisboa, Centro de Filosofia da Universidade de Lisboa, 2010
Elisabete M. de Sousa
Bibliographical reference

Alfred North Withehead, Processo e Realidade. Ensaio de Cosmologia, translation and introduction by Maria Teresa Teixeira, Lisboa, Centro de Filosofia da Universidade de Lisboa, 2010

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  • 1 Between 1948 and 1987, Portuguese editors published some of Withehead’s works: a translation of An (...)
  • 2 The title of the dissertation is Ser, Devir e Perecer A Criatividade na Filosofia de Whitehead.

1Until Process and Reality – An Essay in Cosmology (1929) by Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) was translated into Portuguese, four other works1 had been previously translated, proving Portuguese people had a persistent interest in the thought of a philosopher who is probably the last and most important speculative thinker of the 20th century. Yet, Processo e Realidade – Ensaio de Cosmologia hopefully stands as a turning point in Whiteheadian reception in Portugal; on the hand, it was published by the Centre for Philosophy of the University of Lisbon, and on the other, the translator, Maria Teresa Teixeira, got her PhD with a dissertation on Whitehead.2 A scholarly context of this kind meets the challenge of the endeavour, since Process and Reality is indeed from various angles a unique work.

  • 3 A. N. Whitehead, (1985), Process and Reality, New York, The Free Press, XXXI, 413 pages.

2This work has often and rightly been singled out for its extraordinary speculative nature, which went strongly against the mainstream when it came out, at a time when speculative proposals received the scathing criticism. But what is even more significant for the task of translation is the fact that not only were there two original editions in 1929, one in the USA (Macmillan) and the other in England (Cambridge), but once confronted and collated, there are over three hundred points of divergence. Together, with the problems posited by the chapter structure and the general architectural frame of the work, not to mention Whitehead’s idiosyncratic terminology, it is understandable how these circumstances can partly account for the adverse reception in the philosophical world ranging from misinterpretation to harsh criticism. Finally, in 1978, David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne re-edited Process and Reality; by means of a re-arrangement of the original text, supplemented by twenty-two pages of corrections and notes to the two 1929 editions, they provided the scientific community with a trustworthy research tool, which was used as source text for the present translation.3 As a result, fifty years after the first editions, readers and scholars were able to proceed with their task of reading the work imbued with the feeling that the text is free of slips and errors and faithful to Whitehead’s thought. This situation allowed for the reliable building up of different approaches to this work. The Portuguese translation, Processo e Realidade, naturally includes the analytical index of the 1978 edition, adding the page number of the first 1929 editions to the page number of the 1978 edition, thus making the reader straightforwardly aware of the complexity of the tasks involved in the re-edition of the work and also in the translation, as well as raising the reader’s alertness to the successive variations, developments and uses of concepts along the work.

  • 4 The introduction to the Portuguese edition is available in English; see “Whitehead, Processo e Real (...)

3Moreover, it draws immediate attention to what is unanimously considered (and often taken as the major reason for criticism) the hardest obstacle when it comes to reading, understanding and interpreting Whitehead – his language. As Maria Teresa Teixeira points out in her introduction, “[f]or Whitehead, language is an inexhaustible source from which new meanings flow; it does not really matter whether the new meanings are forced meanings. What is important is to discover those words that can help us pursue our ‘adventures of ideas’, in a new way.”4 In truth, neologisms (e.g., “superject,” “categorical”) and the creation of further meanings to ordinary words (contrast may be used to mean harmony) are combined with an obscure style that leaves behind the traditional concise and clear style of the English language, marked as it is by long sentences and jolted paragraphs where punctuation emulates the creativeness depicted in terminology. In her introduction, Maria Teresa Teixeira gives a detailed account of the language features particular to this text, providing a good number of examples, thus leaving the actual text free of translation notes. Almost needless to say, such an option is based on a solid knowledge not only of Process and Reality, but also of the bulk of the philosopher’s production, since the notion of process chosen for the title is used along the whole text side by side with the “philosophy of the organism,” the expression used to denote the quintessence of Whiteheadian thought, which incidentally was pondered as subtitle to Process and Reality.

4The general tone of the introduction intends to show how the conceptual world of Whitehead evolves in this particular text, and not one of exploring interpretive issues, thus giving freedom to the reader to follow his or her ‘adventure of ideas.’ Beginning with ‘pure feeling,’ it is with pleasure that one reads this translation; the language is fluent and incorporates in a natural way by reproduction or adaptation the neologisms and language work of the author. Although, the translator’s choices as in any other translation may risk subsequent discussion. In fact, in translating, especially in the case of Whitehead, if one sticks to the practice of literality, the truth is that this practice may often contribute to invest a new sense to meanings that are otherwise already well rooted, especially, as it is the case, when the core of interpretative voices is itself far from being stable, and even less in agreement with what concerns the richness but also the ambiguity of Whitehead’s thought, and also of his language. In her introduction, the translator gives a detailed account of several instances that depart from the principle of literality, examples that can be divided into two large groups: one group includes coupled terms that would lose the contrast of meaning they hold in English if translated by cognate terms in Portuguese (aversion/adversion is thus rendered as aversão/inclinação); and another group that consists of non-stipulated words in English, that is, words created from anew by Whitehead, whose reduplication is not feasible within the specificities of a Romance language.

5We salute the present translation Processo e Realidade as a decisive landmark not only in Whitehead’s studies, but also in the practice of translation of philosophical texts. Furthermore, taking into account the research context of this translation, it will hopefully congregate efforts to re-launch Whiteheadian studies in the Portuguese speaking world, and to open his thought to a more widespread interest on the part of the reading public.

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Notes

1 Between 1948 and 1987, Portuguese editors published some of Withehead’s works: a translation of An Introduction to Mathematics (1911) in 1948 [Introdução à Matemática, trans. by Mário Silva, Coimbra, Arménio Amado, 210 pages], Science and the Modern World (1925) in 1953, re-edited in 1964 [Ciência e o Mundo Moderno, trans. by Alberto Barros, Lisboa, Editora Ulisseia s.d., 240 pages], and Symbolism. Its meaning and Effects (1927) in 1987 [trans. by Artur Morrão, Lisboa, Edições 70, 78 pages]. To our knowledge, only one work was translated and published in Brazil: The Concept of Nature (1920) in 1994 [O Conceito de Natureza, trans. by Júlio B. Fischer, São Paulo, Livraria Martins Fontes Editora, 236 pages].

2 The title of the dissertation is Ser, Devir e Perecer A Criatividade na Filosofia de Whitehead.

3 A. N. Whitehead, (1985), Process and Reality, New York, The Free Press, XXXI, 413 pages.

4 The introduction to the Portuguese edition is available in English; see “Whitehead, Processo e Realidade,” in Chromatikon VI Annales de la philosophie en procès Yearbook of Philosophy in Process, M. Weber & R. Desmet, Les éditions Chromatika, 2010, Louvain-la-Neuve, 235-41, here 238.

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References

Electronic reference

Elisabete M. de Sousa, « Alfred North Withehead, Processo e Realidade. Ensaio de Cosmologia », European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy [Online], IV - 1 | 2012, Online since 23 July 2012, connection on 23 September 2017. URL : http://ejpap.revues.org/808

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About the author

Elisabete M. de Sousa

Centro de Filosofia da Universidade de Lisboa
elisabetemdesousa[at]gmail.it

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
Author retains copyright and grants the European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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