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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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Venality, Theatricality and Sociability: Le Neveu de Rameau as a Prostitution Narrative

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Diderot’s Le Neveu de Rameau is a famously enigmatic text. At the level of its genesis, its idiosyncratic genre and its dizzying array of open-ended themes, little can be pinned down with certainty, as critics have frequently noted.1 Of the many thematic strands running through the dialogue, however, one major element has received relatively little attention, despite its dominating presence in the text: prostitution.2 In this chapter, I will argue ← 87 | 88 → that Le Neveu de Rameau can be read as a ‘prostitution narrative’– a narrative in which the dynamics of prostitution are played out on many levels. Indeed, there are few episodes, anecdotes and observations in the text in which courtesans, pimps and prostitutes do not feature: even the gossip peddled by Lui in his teaching career focuses on the domestic-financial arrangements of famous courtesans and actresses such as Mlle Arnould. The text opens and closes with a series of allusions to real, imagined or figurative prostitutes.

The first parts of this chapter will bring together some of these examples, to suggest the structural dominance of the theme and its significance as a touchstone for interrogating and destabilizing a range of moral values. The second part will situate these examples within the context of a range of contemporary dictionary definitions. A final section will focus on the character of Lui, and the ways in which he is used to figure the activity of prostitution at a deeper level, thus providing a double, and doubly symbolic,...

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