A dual biography crafted around the famous encounter between the French philosopher who wrote about power and the Russian empress who wielded it with great aplomb.
In October 1773, after a grueling trek from Paris, the aged and ailing Denis Diderot stumbled from a carriage in wintery St. Petersburg. The century’s most subversive thinker, Diderot arrived as the guest of its most ambitious and admired ruler, Empress Catherine of Russia. What followed was unprecedented: more than forty private meetings, stretching over nearly four months, between these two extraordinary figures. Diderot had come from Paris in order to guide—or so he thought—the woman who had become the continent’s last great hope for an enlightened ruler. But as it soon became clear, Catherine had a very different understanding not just of her role but of his as well. Philosophers, she claimed, had the luxury of writing on unfeeling paper. Rulers had the task of writing on human skin, sensitive to the slightest touch.
Diderot and Catherine’s series of meetings, held in her private chambers at the Hermitage, captured the imagination of their contemporaries. While heads of state like Frederick of Prussia feared the consequences of these conversations, intellectuals like Voltaire hoped they would further the goals of the Enlightenment.
In Catherine & Diderot, Robert Zaretsky traces the lives of these two remarkable figures, inviting us to reflect on the fraught relationship between politics and philosophy, and between a man of thought and a woman of action.
Framed Narratives was first published in 1985. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.
The work of French philosophe Denis Diderot (1713-1784) has inspired conflicting reactions in those who encounter him. Diderot has been admired and despised; he has moved his readers and irritated them - often at the same time. His work continually shifts between mutually exclusive positions - neither of which provides an entirely satisfactory answer to the question at hand, yet neither of which can be disregarded. The nature of these paradoxes has been the fundamental problem in Diderot, a problem that his interpreters have approached by imagining synthetic perspectives or frames within which the paradoxes could be resolved.
In Framed Narratives, Jay Caplan focuses on the problem of framing in and of Diderot. He proposes an interpretive model that draws upon the notion of dialogue developed by Mikhail Bakhtin. For Bakhtin, no utterance can be reduced to a univocal meaning; one's discourse is always marked by other voices. In Diderot, Caplan shows, the narrative device of the tableau engages the reader (or beholder) in a dialogic relationship with the author and the characters. Diderot defines the players of those roles as members of a family, one of whom is always missing, and that sacrificial relationship becomes an integral part of the text. Caplan then uses the concept of the tableau to interpret the rhetoric of gender, genre, and pathos in Diderot's works for and about the theater, his novel The Nun, the philosophical dialogue D'Alembert's Dream,and his correspondence.
What emerges from these readings is not only an interpretation of certain texts, but a description of Diderot's—and, by implication, early bourgeois—poetics. Framed Narratives is, in addition, one of the first attempts to rely upon Bakhtin's concepts in the interpretation of specific texts, in this case the work of an essentially dialogic writer. A socio-historical supplement to Framed Narratives is provided in Jochen Schulte-Sasse's afterword.
Through readings of works by Marivaux, Diderot, Rousseau, and Mary Shelley, David Marshall provides a new interpretation of the eighteenth-century preoccupation with theatricality and sympathy. Sympathy is seen not as an instance of sensibility or natural benevolence but rather as an aesthetic and epistemological problem that must be understood in relation to the problem of theatricality.
Placing novels in the context of eighteenth-century writing about theater, fiction, and painting, Marshall argues that an unusual variety of authors and texts were concerned with the possibility of entering into someone else's thoughts and feelings. He shows how key eighteenth-century works reflect on the problem of how to move, touch, and secure the sympathy of readers and beholders in the realm of both "art" and "life." Marshall discusses the demands placed upon novels to achieve certain effects, the ambivalence of writers and readers about those effects, and the ways in which these texts can be read as philosophical meditations on the differences and analogies between the experiences of reading a novel, watching a play, beholding a painting, and witnessing the spectacle of someone suffering. The Surprising Effects of Sympathy traces the interaction of sympathy and theater and the artistic and philosophical problems that these terms represent in dialogues about aesthetics, moral philosophy, epistemology, psychology, autobiography, the novel, and society.
The relationships between philosophy and aesthetics and between philosophy and politics are especially pressing issues today. Those who explore these themes will applaud the publication—for the first time in English—of this important collection, one that reveals the scope and force of Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe’s reflections on mimesis, subjectivity, and representation in philosophical thought.
This coherent and rigorous body of work reflects the author’s complex and subtle treatment of mimesis in the history of philosophy from Plato to Heidegger. It contains close critical analyses of works by Plato, Diderot, Hölderlin, Reik, Girard, and Heidegger, and moves through topics such as music, autobiography, tragedy, and the problem of historical and political self-definition.
Because Lacoue-Labarthe deals with issues that cross disciplinary lines, his work will appeal to readers interested in philosophy as it relates to politics, history, and aesthetics, especially literature. By showing that the concept of mimesis is an integral part of philosophical reasoning, he provides a challenging approach to many of Heidegger’s ideas, and contributes to the poststructuralist (or postmodem) attempt to rethink the notions of reference and representation. This approach challenges readers to redefine their understanding of history and politics.
One of the most gifted and active of the younger French philosophers, Lacoue-Labarthe is a respected peer of Jacques Derrida, who has provided an extensive introduction to the book especially for American readers. Those who are familiar with Derrida’s writings will appreciate the opportunity to see his questions approached in an entirely different style by Lacoue-Labarthe, resulting in productive new insights.