- Sexology and Translation: Cultural and Scientific Encounters Across the Modern World ed. by Heike Bauer
“Are you a sex therapist?” asked the stranger sitting next to me on the plane. “No,” I answered with a slight chuckle, followed by a mildly suspicious, “Why?” He replied with another question, “Then what’s the book for?”
The history of sexology, as Sexology and Translation editor Heike Bauer argues in her astute and timely introduction to the volume, is no longer a new area of scholarly inquiry. Yet translation, understood by Bauer “in the broadest sense as the dynamic process by which ideas are produced and transmitted,” has never been used as the primary analytic category for studying how sexual ideas are formed and negotiated across the modern world (2). When sitting on the plane next to this fellow traveler, I took on the role of the translator. I explained that I teach in an interdisciplinary field called sexuality studies, and that I was reviewing Sexology and Translation precisely because of its focus, as the post-colon title suggests, on “cultural and scientific encounters across the modern world.” As we crossed lines on the map micrified by our cruising altitude perspective, my response, like the contributors to the anthology, navigated popular and scientific notions of sexology as a field of study and how and to what ends the study of sex and sexuality shaped and politicized notions of the human and modernity.
Indeed, one of the primary interventions of the book lies in its expansion of what texts, languages, and phenomena should be gathered under the definition of sexology, arguing that diverse cultural, scientific, and political contexts synchronically emerged around the globe in the period between 1880–1930 and played pivotal roles in shaping notions of modernity and modern sexual subjectivity. Divided into three groups—Conceptualizations, Formations, and Dis/Identifications—the twelve chapters gathered by Bauer successfully update germinal texts such as Lucy Bland and Laura L. Doan’s edited 1998 volume Sexology in Culture: Labelling Bodies and Desires. Bauer positions translation as the central methodological and thematic node for this revision and in so doing highlights three twenty-first century developments in the historiography of global sexuality: First, studies of sexology have tended to focus on North America and Europe, figuring these locations as the originary seats of global modernity with a colonial orientation that denied parity to Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Instead, Bauer encourages a postcolonial view of modern sexology as a global phenomenon wherein translation can function as a corrective heuristic for examining the multi-directional and coexisting flows of cultural exchange. Second, Bauer’s timely anthology builds on and expands the transnational turn in sexuality studies, its subtitle foregrounding the movement of sexological knowledge or, as numerous contributors understand it, “the migration of ideas” in and across cultural and geopolitical locales during the same historical period. Finally, Sexology and Translation aligns itself with queer studies, revealing what forms of knowledge remain subjugated if we fail to “move in critical directions that run against established narratives about the formations of a sexual science and its scope” (6). Taken together, these three approaches recalibrate sexology studies through the now expanded analytic of translation. Sexology and Translation could do more, however, to show how bodies enter modernity through racialized and racist processes and to incorporate the tremendous strides made in trans studies to look back at sexological archives with gender expression and not just sexual orientation in mind.
In part I, Conceptualizations, contributors travel across linguistic and disciplinary divides to treat translation as a multi-faceted process capable of accessing genealogies in motion, that is, the ways in which ideas and discourses about sexology and modernity were formed and transmitted [End Page 927] at the complex intersection of languages, scientific and cultural knowledge, and diverse texts and audiences. Part I moves from Peter Cryle’s examination of the long history of conceptual inertia of the Latin term frigitas, to Birgit Lang’s study of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s adaption...