Translating the Savage Mind: The Making of a Global Environment
Columbia University, New York / NY, USA
This paper queries certain methods whereby a world can be translated into a model which is, in turn, projected back upon that world. In presenting the history of the Aspen Institute, which was founded in the early decades of the Cold War, I propose to read the concomitant inventions of "the environment" and "the third world" as forming a particular rubric for translating between worlds of difference while, at the same time, ceaselessly positing the existence of a unitary globe. Arguing that the construct of the environment was haunted by a prior invention-namely, "the savage mind"-I will examine how formulations of the primitive, such as those proposed by the disciplines of ethnopsychiatry and bio-semiotics, might relate to how modernist designers construed relationships between perception and designed environments.
When read in tandem with his notions on perception and curatorial technique, Herbert Bayer's World Geo-Graphic Atlas, commissioned by the founder of the Aspen Institute, suggests an unarticulated theory of translation between worlds and models-of-worlds (and back again). Accordingly, this history of "the environment" might be used to question some historic blindspots in twentieth-century translation theories, asking how translation between different disciplinary modes of knowledge has acted in cooperation with the translation of the so-called environment into the categories of the first and third worlds.