Life according to Diderot
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: State University of New York Press
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Title Page, Copyright Page
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It is generally agreed that Denis Diderot, the eighteenth-century philosopher, dramatist, art and drama critic, encyclopedia editor, and novelist, is one of the fundamental figures not only of the French enlightenment, but of what we have come to understand as post-enlightenment modernity in...
Introduction to the“Age of Diderot”
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This anxious cry of loss, filled with melancholy, mourning for a past existence from the present vantage of (supposed) anonymity; this jubilant, frivolous, self-mocking, and self-ironizing comic look at one’s glory and virtue; this dramatic self-display, this joyous act of writing, is Diderot. Or at least...
PART I: Diderot and the Problem of Metaphysics—D’Alembert ’s Dream
One: Life’s Drama
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Thus opens Diderot’s enigmatic text of 1769, D’Alembert’s Dream. Written as a series of dramatic conversations, the text is composed of three parts: “A Conversation between Diderot and D’Alembert,” “D’Alembert’s Dream,” and “Sequel to the Conversation,” all unified by convention as D’Alembert’s...
Two: Who Speaks?
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We are dealing then with a dramatic dialogue—a dialogue showing that it is impossible to gather the whole into a single meaningful voice, demonstrating the necessity of at least two speakers being haunted by an outside— whose subject or theme is the question of the relations between an...
Three: Two Images of the Image
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The image of the bees seen by D’Alembert in his dream shows the creation of a chain of sensations; the event of enchainment enacted or effected by the dream, an activity that seems strangely to mimic what D’Alembert sees (the chain of bees), makes D’Alembert, his primary witnesses (the doctor...
Part II: Three Short Experiments
Four: The Identification with the Phantom
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We have defined Diderot as a thinker of positive alienation, that is, as a thinker affirming an originary strangeness—an excess over any capacity for self-recognition—that occupies the heart of the self. The most paradigmatic figure through which Diderot attempts to develop this logic of positive...
Five: Enlightenment’s Pain
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Why would a philosopher be interested in writing a treatise on the blind? Why would s/he pay attention to the deaf? Taking a closer look at these questions, we might want to slightly recast them and ask: why would a philosopher take an interest in writing about the senses, and more precisely...
Six: The Drama of Inheritance and the Question of Revolution
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What is the relation between literature and the question of inheritance? And what does this have to do with the questions of history and of revolution? These will be the questions at the center of my reading of a rather enigmatic philosophical story by Diderot, A Conversation of a Father with his Children...
Conclusion: Diderot, Rousseau—The Self-Portrait of Modernity
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We are approaching the end of our journey with Diderot. Rather than try to sum up our findings, I propose to return yet again to a problem that has occupied us in our discussion of the Paradox of the Actor, and open it to a larger historical and theoretical framework. This problem is that of...
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Page Count: 271
Publication Year: 2013