The Body in Translation - Translation, the Human body and Early Modern Demarcations of Knowledge
This project examines how different kinds of human bodies were constituted through translation in medical, ethnographic and religious discourses in the early modern global world.
About the project
Along with other words prefixed by ‘trans-‘,‘translation’ has emerged as a key word in the lexicon of a broad range of disciplines, both on the cultural/humanistic and natural side of the current dispensation of epistemic domains. The turn to translation can be traced across a number of human sciences. Moreover, it has lately also become institutionalized in the field of medicine, leading to the development of so-called knowledge translation (KT). This refers to a set of research activities bound together by the common goal of ‘bridging the gap’ between science in laboratories and clinical application – and more generally, putting research-based knowledge into practical care.
While translation in the human sciences has emerged as a key theoretical concept, and could be seen as an index of current epistemological predicaments and the almost obligatory requirement to cross disciplinary and cultural boundaries in a ‘global age’, its materialization in medicine is of a different nature. KT denotes a scientific and purportedly non-cultural practice that defines social and cultural difference as a ‘barrier’ to the transmission of medical science, and is generally not concerned with the entanglement of the cultural and the biomedical aspects of disease.
This project aims to historicize present notions of translation by analyzing a test case at the interstices of nature and culture. We examine how different kinds of human bodies were constituted through translation in medical, ethnographic and religious discourses in the early modern global world. We are concerned with conceptual and physical dimensions of the human body, and how these intersect with translation as a practice and a concept. Translation will be viewed as a part of historical processes – not simply a word with a history, but an epistemological and colonial practice having to do with the transfer of knowledge and power. The main objectives are
- to examine the entanglement of translation and early modern and emergent modern notions of the human body as a cultural, spiritual and biological entity, and demonstrate the vast differences of the translated body and its epistemic, ontological and cultural value in different discourses.
- to use this ‘laboratory’ of early modern difference, also conventionally construed as the ‘origin’ of modernity (‘early modern’), to mediate between divergent notions of translation in current theory and to develop new approaches to translation within cultural history, the history of science and medicine.
The project is founded by the Peder Sather Center for Advanced Study, University of California Berkeley.