S. Greilich u.a. (Hgg.): Traduire l'encyclopédisme

Traduire l'encyclopédisme. Appropriations transnationales et pratiques de traduction de dictionaires encyclopédiques au Siècle des Lumières (1680–1800)

Greilich, Susanne; Lüsebrink, Hans-Jürgen
Saarbrücker Beiträge zur vergleichenden Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaft
270 S.
€ 38,-
Reviewed for Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists by
Matthias Middell, Universität Leipzig

The eighteenth century - broadly defined - is also the century of encyclopaedias, in which the rapidly growing knowledge of the world was presented in an organised way. Research, which has been booming for many years, focuses on what was included in the encyclopaedias and dictionaries as new or confirmed knowledge, how it was organised and how the editors influenced each other. Initially, particular attention was paid to the French tradition of encyclopaedias, which was to some extent the backbone of the so-called Lumières movement, but the focus soon shifted from southern to northern Europe, and areas beyond the European continent came to be seen primarily as objects that found their place in the European order of knowledge and, in turn, influenced the foundations of knowledge outside Europe. Accordingly, encyclopaedias soon appeared overseas and, from the late 18th century, the encyclopaedic movement became a transatlantic one.

The encyclopaedias, which soon abandoned Latin as the language of science, made the available knowledge accessible to new groups of readers and presented the empirical knowledge of these groups, ranging from surveyors to amateur travellers, in a variety of forms.

Many of the initiators of such encyclopaedias and dictionaries formulated the claim to completeness in absolute terms, but shifted this claim with each new edition, like a frontier of knowledge. In this respect, the works published in rapid succession encouraged a critical attitude towards existing knowledge. What had once been considered incontrovertible truth was soon seen as merely a historical reference to what had previously been believed. They were therefore not consulted as a source of what was definitively established, but were also widely used in their polemical capacity, since they could be used to learn - to varying degrees, of course - which certainties were currently being fiercely questioned and challenged by new findings.

The sea of encyclopaedias is almost as vast as the scholarly literature on them, and the editors of this volume and the authors of a substantial introduction provide a masterly overview without getting bogged down in too much detail. Many eighteenth-century works are now being made available in digital form, allowing a completely new approach to the emergence of modern knowledge systems. And just as questions of the transcultural and transnational, of appropriation and entanglement, have met with growing interest in general historiography, so too has the specialised field of encyclopaedia research. Here, translations and adoptions of articles or parts of the knowledge they contain lend themselves as objects of study and indicators of an interconnected intellectual history, especially when the enormous mass of texts can be searched by computer.

This volume, which is part of the German Research Foundation's priority programme "Cultures of Translation in the Early Modern Period" (www.spp2130.de), clearly benefits from the broad philological expertise mobilised in such a trans-local network of researchers. The fact that something has been translated immediately calls for hermeneutic and historical contextualisation. The 12 contributions, which go back to a conference held in Regensburg in November 2000 and which the editors, Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink from Saarbrücken and Susanne Greilich from Regensburg, have grouped around four main themes, are dedicated to this dual strategy: the geographical and political spaces opened up by translations, the practices of translation, the cultural transfers and appropriations contained in translation, and the influence of translations on the further development of ideas of encyclopaedism.

Translations opened up new knowledge and posed particular problems for translators wherever new phenomena (such as the flora and fauna of the Americas and the social organisation of the indigenous peoples of the Americas) had to be integrated into European taxinomies that had just been considered definitive. Translators were therefore not only in demand for their fluency in the source and target languages, but they also became very active and often highly innovative actors in the encyclopaedic movement, pushing it beyond the boundaries of the original. They were constantly confronted with the problem of fitting the transcultural into an emerging national tradition of thought, and sometimes of forcing it into it. It is not surprising that the various translators took on and interpreted this role in very different ways - even to the point of openly professing the intercultural character of their work, as Alain Cernuschi impressively demonstrates in De Felice's treatment of the famous Enyclopédie methodique. Much of what is known about encyclopaedic knowledge and practices in other countries comes not from reading the original, but from the adaptations made by translators, whose strategies must therefore be taken into account when we ask, for example, what German Enlightenment scholars knew about the French encyclopaedists. Taking this hermeneutic complication into account helps us to understand more precisely how the history of ideas is likely to have proceeded - much less linearly and much less disregarding borders than has probably been thought but using the borders (of linguistic areas and nationally conceived intellectual traditions) as an opportunity to add new ingredients to the progress of thought.

The volume is thus well suited to grasping a new dimension of intellectual history with greater precision, and rewards the additional complication this entails with fascinating approaches to the many ways in which ideas and orders of knowledge circulated.

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