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The Function of the Dream and the Body in Diderot’s Works

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Jennifer Vanderheyden

In addition to his philosophical works and innovative novels, the eighteenth-century writer Denis Diderot is most often recognized as one of the major authors of the Encyclopédie. Described by scholars as a modern and provocative thinker and writer, Diderot inspired intellectual discussion with his theories of artistic mimesis, in which he placed special emphasis on what is not stated in words, but is conveyed through gestures and other non-verbal methods of communication. This book explores Diderot’s representation of the body as a tableau vivant – a literary painting in which the narrator portrays his characters as if suspended in a state of oscillation between paralysis and movement. The Function of the Dream and the Body in Diderot’s Works discusses how Diderot’s depiction of the body poses problems of interpretation for the serious reader/spectator, who, as in Freudian dream analysis, must generate a narrative based on a visual painting of the body’s silent speech.