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  • Rameau’s Nephew: A Multi-Media Edition by Denis Diderot
  • David Charlton
Denis Diderot, Rameau’s Nephew: A Multi-Media Edition. Edited by Marian Hobson. Translated by Kate E. Tunstall and Caroline Warman. Music by the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique de Paris, directed by Pascal Duc. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2014. xxvi + 148 pp, ill., MP3 audio files.

At the heart of this extraordinary achievement is a superb new translation by Kate E. Tunstall and Caroline Warman that catches on the wing, as it were, Diderot’s flights of fancy, using a new kind of verbal rhythm. Instead of seeming glued to the page, this Nephew is encouraged to take convincing three-dimensional form, owning a fuller and more modern-sounding personality in English than he has hitherto been accorded. This is certainly apt, the translation showing how Diderot’s fusion of philosophy, pantomime, and plaidoyer sits ever more comfortably in a twenty-first century context. There is much elegance: great care was taken regarding layout, pages lightened by subtle spacing between certain paragraphs; notes are at the end, encouraging attention to be given to the ebb and flow of the conversation. Once consulted, the notes take on a life of their own: these are not so much the full-blown explanations that Marian Hobson provided in her French edition of Le Neveu (Geneva: Droz, 2013), but pithier formats that work together in a new way to bring the text alive. Here, numerous full-colour illustrations have been added, portraits, scenes, or facsimiles that lend an instant actuality. Physiognomy enters the argument, so that Diderot’s ad personam thrusts may be viscerally understood: Satyre seconde was the preferred main title of Hobson’s French edition. For those who know what the Palais-Royal garden looks like, it still does good to see an eighteenth-century ground-plan. All these benefits are available free of any charge or obligation to purchase, since Open Book Publishers make a complete facsimile of the book available to any reader who can access the relevant website. The guiding principle is collaboration. Not just the visual but also the aural world of Diderot’s Nephew has been incorporated within the edition: pivotal references to music have been translated into performance and are keyed into the edition. They are activated electronically by using cues found in the text margins that are initially linked to music information within the sequence of notes at the end. One click, and the reader can listen through a computer or other device to, say, a Locatelli sonata or the Duni ariette to which Diderot is referring — or rather, which the Nephew is ‘performing’ after his own fashion. This is a finely ingenious conceit, not just a history lesson, because our technology becomes a metaphor for the process imagined by Diderot the writer as he urges the reader to replay Locatelli or Duni in the mind, to transpose that personal recording onto their imagined figure of the Nephew; so the modern recordings take their place in a relay of imagined recordings dating back to the eighteenth century. In fact the internet provides a further extension of this, since these Diderot recordings are located on YouTube among yet other Locatelli or Duni recordings, immediately and profitably accessed and compared. (Unfortunately, some dreadful extracts taken from acted performances of opéras-comiques mentioned by Diderot have also been posted on this site; they convey a wholly incorrect impression of amateurism and unmusicality.) This project, therefore, animates the provisionality of translation and of meaning, something that the semi-private nature of certain references within Le Neveu only serves to accentuate, never mind the episodic and narrative complexities of the primary text. Edition, translation, aural supplements — all should serve to engage and inspire a new generation of readers internationally, prompt comparisons (Sterne is one who comes to mind) and further efforts to understand what is, still, a demanding text. Those who prefer reading on screen will find navigation simple enough. Or one can use screen and book simultaneously in order to explore illustrations and recordings. The latter have been created by Pascal Duc...


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pp. 246-247
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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