Denis Diderot’s Le Neveu de Rameau contains many intriguing passages that reference music and musical matters—from mimed performances and popular folk tunes to musical theories and broader aesthetic debates on the imitative functions of music. In this essay, I argue that the title character, Rameau’s Nephew, performs a kind of ‘musical dialogue’, which brings to life Diderot’s musical metaphors for human physiology, emotion, and cognition, present in his other writings. The Nephew performs music not only to touch readers through their many senses (i.e. reader’s sensibility) but also to intone—to give musical form to—Diderot’s ideas of human physiology and understanding (i.e. a philosophy of sensibility). The Nephew transforms the dialogue into an interactive multimedia experience. His musical passages, I believe, are intended to demonstrate the influence of sound (and sight) on physical feelings and emotions. The Nephew’s imagined music then activates for these readers voluntary responses as well as involuntary reactions. In addition to the interactive function of the Nephew’s musical reference, his medleys also serve as a dynamic three-dimensional model of human cognitive and physiological processes, thus setting philosophical dialogue to music and translating into sound Diderot’s theories of human experience and understanding.


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pp. 237-262
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