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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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The Shadows Around the Light: Diderot’s Play on Obscurity for the Purposes of Subversion in the Encyclopédie

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Under the direction of Denis Diderot, the Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers aspired to be a repository of knowledge available to all. Wilda Anderson posits that Diderot’s objective with regard to the Encyclopédie was not solely to build an exhaustive index of contemporary knowledge and definitions, which would quickly become outdated.1 Instead, its primary purpose was ‘to provoke speculation by both its authors and its readers […] and thereby lead to the creation of new knowledge and new forms of knowledge’.2 Yves Benot notes that continuous questioning across Diderot’s works compels the reader to doubt his or her own opinions and beliefs.3 This article analyses the narrative interface between Anderson’s notion of ‘new knowledge’ and Benot’s ‘continuous questioning’, in a selection of Diderot’s opaquely anti-theistic articles from the first two volumes of the Encyclopédie. It posits that what one could call the narrative shadows in these articles are used stealthily to criticize, to educate readers and to open up new lines of critical thinking. Diderot uses narrative shadows in a number of different ways: by hiding his criticism of religion in unexpected places; by casting shadows on Christianity through his discussions of other religions; and by using contradictions as a way for different ideas to cast shadows on each other. ← 169 | 170 → The aim of this reading of Diderot’s articles is to identify how the philosophe’s desire to combat ignorance must first navigate the narrative opacity and shadows within...

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