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The Dark Side of Diderot / Le Diderot des ombres

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Edited By James Hanrahan and Síofra Pierse

This collection of essays investigates the darker aspects of Diderot, writer, art critic, philosopher and encyclopédiste. The chapters focus on the schism between positive images of the Enlightenment and an undercurrent of disorder, transgression and clandestine intellectual and social practices. Diderot’s role in this fissure is critically scrutinised through an analysis of the interface between Enlightenment and its dark side. In his reticence before authority and censorship, in the richness and complexity of his literary and philosophical works, in the emotional conflict of his theatre, or in his innovative aesthetic vision, Diderot consistently evokes the darker side of the Enlightenment.
Cet ouvrage interroge l’aspect plus sombre de Diderot, écrivain, critique d’art, philosophe et encyclopédiste. Les contributeurs traitent du clivage entre d’un côté, les images positives des Lumières et, de l’autre, le désordre, la révolte, la transgression, les pratiques sociales et intellectuelles clandestines qui en constituent son corollaire parfois sous-jacent. Le rôle de Diderot au cœur de ce clivage sera analysé dans le cadre d’une interrogation plus large du couple Ombres/Lumières. Diderot incarne – dans ses réticences devant les autorités et la censure, dans la richesse et la complexité de ses ouvrages littéraires et philosophiques, dans les conflits affectifs de son théâtre, ou encore dans sa vision esthétique innovatrice – une alternative, plus sombre, à la marche des Lumières triomphantes.
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Subversive Scepticism: Diderot and Narrative Doubt

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Diderot’s narratives are riddled with doubt, deceits, trickery and myriad other devious stratagems, all of which combine to pose a challenge to even the most perceptive and reflective reader. Such phenomena suggest three important and related questions: how does doubt manifest itself within Diderot’s prose, from his philosophical texts to his literary novels? What is its function? And in each case, is it intended that the reader’s trajectory through doubt should lead to wisdom, or simply towards a modus vivendi or a modus operandi for the individual? This chapter will address these questions, taking as its starting point Diderot’s Pensées philosophiques, read as a prelude to the allegorical philosophical piece La Promenade du sceptique. Focus will then turn to close textual analysis of the nature and function of some of the multiple manifestations of doubt that infuse fictional narratives such as La Religieuse, Le Neveu de Rameau and, most strikingly, Jacques le fataliste.

This chapter engages with the link between narrative doubt and scepticism. As Richard Popkin notes, scepticism as a philosophical view has its origins in ancient Greek thought, and ‘was developed into a set of arguments to establish either i) that no knowledge was possible or ii) that there was insufficient and inadequate evidence to determine if any knowledge was possible, and hence that one ought to suspend judgment on all questions concerning knowledge’.1 This chapter will posit that the epistemological models of scepticism that are explored in Diderot’s early dialogic work La...

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