The Experiencing Body: Sickness, Science and Subjectivity in Labat's Nouveau Voyage aux isles de l'Amérique
2014 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Other academic)
When Père Labat, a Dominican missionary to the French Caribbean between 1697 and 1709, embarks on the ship that would take him to Martinique, he is sick and not far from dying. Miraculously, however, he recovers within a few days. This initial scene of sickness and recovery will be repeated throughout Labat's Voyage aux isles de l'Amérique, as if this travelogue really was a story of convalescence and even of resurrection. Stories of illness is a common ingredient in travel literature from the Caribbean at this time. Nevertheless, in positioning himself as the victim of various diseases Labat changes the parameters not only for the representation of illness, but also for the idea of subjectivity. This presentation investigates how Labat via discourses on illness constitutes his own body as a central locus for naturalist explorations of the Caribbean. I argue that the shift from observing the outside world to observing his own body as it is effected by the Caribbean milieu is indirectly questioning the Cartesian division between spirit and material, between body and mind, a questioning that will later become central in French Enlightenment Philosophy. As the missionary's body turns into a stage where the drama of transatlantic contacts unfolds, Labat is already by the beginning of the 18th century stressing the importance of sensation for the thinking subject.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Early Caribbean, Travel Literature, Labat, Sickness narrative, History of science
Research subject Literature; Romance Languages
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-229333OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-229333DiVA: diva2:736265
Early Caribbean Society Symposium, Kingston University, London