This book addresses man’s growing understanding of the death of self in the mirror of other across the corridors of time – from Narcissus’ ancient pool, to Cicero’s Roman forum, to Rousseau’s Parisian theater, to Diderot’s convent in The Nun, to Sartre’s twentieth-century hell.
4. Diderot 71
Chapter Four Diderot Man is born for society; separate him, isolate him, his ideas will become disjoined, his character will change, a thousand ridiculous affections will arise in his heart…1 —Denis Diderot, The Nun (1760) What is reality? How do we perceive it? Do our five senses tell us the truth as to its nature? If we are drawn to another person, is it because we see our- selves in that other? If we do, is this mirror image true or false? Could we find ourselves inextricably enmeshed in an image in a false mirror [faux mi- roir] from which there is no escape except for death? Diderot recognized that people are often similar to one another in mind and heart. He felt that his mistress, Sophie Volland, was similar to himself, and moreover, that she was similar to her sister, Mme Le Gendre. This sub- ject of similarities fascinated him because he saw that it is the basis of all human relationships—we relate to others precisely because we, as humans, all share certain qualities that are universal. However, in the case of close friendships, these similarities may be even more pronounced, so much so, in fact, that friends seem to mirror each other. In his correspondence to Sophie, he mentions the similarity that he has seen between two women: “Those two women resembled each other so much in mind, in character, that it was hard for one not to recognize herself in the other…”2 Thus, Diderot...
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