- Science Incarnate: Historical Embodiments of Natural Knowledge
The mind, according to Michel Foucault, is the prison of the body. Much of the current interest in writing the history of the body may be seen as an attempt to break open the doors of this jail. The present volume attempts to remedy the neglect of the overlooked (if not despised) scientific body, by redirecting attention to the usually elided corporeality of the scientist. The editors and contributors to Science Incarnate do not claim to draw attention merely to the fact that scientific endeavor is not a purely intellectual enterprise; rather, the embodiment of scientific knowledge itself is to be the focus of their attention.
The contributions span the period from antiquity to the twentieth century. The book’s center of gravity, however, lies in the early modern period. In addition to the omnipresent Foucault, the authors of these papers have drawn on Norbert Elias’s discussion of the historical development of techniques of bodily management, as well as the work of historians such as Stephen Greenblatt on the presentation of self in Renaissance culture. Despite the avowed emphasis on the [End Page 498] body, the latter source of inspiration seems more prominent: several of the papers turn on the notion of manipulation of a variety of available identities by historical actors.
The pattern is set in Shapin’s introductory essay, which relies heavily on a metaphor familiar to readers of his more recent publications. The theme of this wide-ranging paper is the trope of disembodiment often associated with the person of the natural philosopher. Shapin is in particular concerned with the way in which the philosopher portrays himself as other than other men through a neglect of the mundane corporeal. The figure is thus that of an actor drawing on a range of culturally available resources or repertoires in order to achieve a certain presentation of self. Shapin gives an extended account of the materials in the classical and Christian traditions available for this purpose to the early modern scholar.
Rob Iliffe’s paper on representations of Newton likewise describes the various accounts of his person and habits evolved by contemporaries and later biographers. When the discussion turns to Newton’s supposed breakdown of 1693, however, the protagonist seems to assume a more active role in the making of his identity. According to Iliffe, the crisis arose from the anomalous situation in which Newton found himself at the time, and above all from the difficulties he found in playing the public role forced upon him by his fame as a philosopher—he “lacked the repertoires” (p. 149) to negotiate his new status successfully. The resulting eccentric behavior posed a problem for his circle of friends: “major work had to be done to rebuild Newton’s sanity and reputation” (p. 141). Newton himself took an active role in this process of reconstruction by seeking to fashion a plausible narrative that would account for his recent excesses while saving the phenomenon of his self. By the early 1700s he had apparently acquired, or learned to manipulate, the repertoires required of a public figure.
Simon Schaffer’s essay deals with a similar period in British natural philosophy. His protagonist is not any individual, however, but a collective: the “body of natural philosophers” acted to further certain shared goals. Central to these endeavors was an attempt to establish a special veridical status for the body of the accredited natural philosopher. This served to legitimate the claims of the Royal Society, but it also had a significance within a wider context: “The Restoration order was to be secured through the correct attribution of power to bodies” (p. 84).
Christopher Lawrence’s discussion of the physical stereotypes traditionally ascribed to physicians and surgeons is the chapter of most direct interest to historians of medicine. Lawrence makes free use of Shapin’s notion of repertoires, arguing that the images of the thin, intellectual physician and of the...