Friday, June 17, 2011

Historiography (I)

"A structure belonging to modern Western culture can doubtless be seen in this historiography: intelligibility is established through a relation with the other; it moves (or "progresses") by changing what it makes of its "other" - the Indian, the past, the people, the mad, the child, the Third World.  Through these variants that are all heteronomous - ethnology, history, psychiatry, pedagogy, etc. - unfolds a problematic form basing its mastery of expression upon what the other keeps silent, and guaranteeing the interpretive work of a science (a "human" science) by the frontier that separates it from an area awaiting this work in order to be known.  Here modern medicine is a decisive figure, from the moment when the body becomes a legible picture that can in turn be translated into that which can be written within a space of language.  Thanks to the unfolding of the body before the doctor's eyes, what is seen and what is known of it can be superimposed or exchanged (be translated from one to the other).  The body is a cipher that awaits deciphering.  Between the seventeenth and the eighteenth century, what allows the seen body to be converted into the known body, or what turns the spatial organization of the body into a semantic organization of a vocabulary - and vice versa - is the transformation of the body into extension, into open interiority like a book, or like a silent corpse placed under our eyes.  An analogous change takes place when tradition, a lived body, is revealed to erudite curiosity through a corpus on texts.  Modern medicine and historiography are born almost simultaneously from the rift between a subject that is supposedly literate, and an object that is supposedly written in an unknown language.  The latter always remains to be decoded.  These two "heterologies" (discourses on the other) are built upon a division between the body of knowledge that utters a discourse and the mute body that nourishes it." 

(Michel de Certeau, from the Introduction to The Writing of History)

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