Culture’s essential tension
Culture as we know it was born as a reactionary anti-humanist educational philosophy at the turn of the seventeenth century, in the polemics of Jesuit pedagogue Antonio Possevino. Koen Vermeir’s short, illuminating contribution to Karin Chemla and Evelyn Fox Keller’s ambitious edited volume tells the story of how Possevino mobilized a Hippocratic analogy connecting the cultivation of plants to the cultivation of minds and contributed to a confessional rift with a lasting and bloody legacy for early modern Europe. At its best, Vermeir’s essay exemplifies the volume’s most rewarding analyses, which use concise, nuanced accounts of scientific texts and contexts to illuminate the interpretive, epistemic, and political stakes of applying the language and ideas of culture to science.
Unfortunately, such analyses are more the exception than the rule. Derived from a pair of workshops in 2008 and 2011 supported by the Fondation des Treilles following Keller’s 2005–2007 residency as a...
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