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Diderot, Dissertations, , mis en ligne le 14/04/2021, URL :


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Course on Diderot's Salons

December 2007

In "Diderot dans l'espace des peintres", Jean Starobinski writes: "the arts are linked, for Diderot, to the life of feeling: and feeling is only really feeling if it is mobile, variable, inclined to excess, and traversed by all the intermediate nuances. [...] The major gap is between sensual attraction and the representation of the Sacred. Diderot's imagination moves effortlessly from one kind of interest to the other. (RMN, 1991, pp. 21-22.)

To what extent do these remarks seem to you to accord with the practice of the early Salons and the theories developed in the Essais sur la peinture?

December 2009

In the article Composition in the Encyclopédie, Diderot writes: "One can distinguish in every action a multitude of different moments, between which it would be clumsy not to choose the most interesting; it is, according to the nature of the subject, either the most pathetic moment, or the gayest or the most comic ; unless laws peculiar to painting order otherwise; unless one regains in the effect of colors, shadows & lights, of the general disposition of figures, what one loses in the choice of the moment & circumstances proper to the action" (Vers., p. 121)

Explain and comment on this "choice of moment" in light of your reading of the Salons.

January 2010

In the Pensées détachées sur la peinture, Diderot writes: "The unity of time is even more rigorous for the painter than for the poet; the latter has only an almost indivisible instant.

The instants follow one another in the poet's description, it would provide a long gallery of paintings. What subjects from the moment when Jephté's daughter comes to meet her father to the moment when this cruel father thrusts a dagger into her breast!" (Bouquins, p. 1024)

To what extent does this difference in the relationship between time and representation condition pictorial composition on the one hand, and the description of paintings on the other, in Diderot's Salons?

January 2010, 2nd topic

Explain and comment, in light of your reading of the Salons, on this remark by Diderot in the Pensées détachées sur la peinture :

"I beg Aristotle's pardon; but it is a vicious criticism to deduce exclusive rules from the most perfect works, as if the means of pleasing were not infinite. There is hardly a rule that genius cannot successfully break. It is true that the troop of slaves, while admiring, cries sacrilege"

June 2010

In the article Description de l'Encyclopédie, we can read, under the pen of Abbé Mallet, the following remark: "A description at first glance has the air of a definition; it is even convertible with the thing described, but it does not make it thoroughly known, because it does not contain or expose its essential attributes. "

Does this remark strike you as compatible with Diderotian practice of description in Salons ?

June 2010, 2nd topic

In the Pensées sur l'interprétation de la nature, Diderot writes:

"I look at Suzanne ; and far from feeling horror for old men, perhaps I have longed to be in their place. "

To what extent does this remark more generally define, in the Salons, the place of the spectator?

Course on "Diderot, une pensée par l'image"

May 2006

Opposing allegory, "a progressive series of moments", to symbol, "an instantaneous totality", Friedrich Creuzer asserts that in allegorical representation, the representation is distinct from the idea it represents, external to it, whereas in symbolic representation "the concept itself has descended into the world of bodies, and it is it that we see immediately in the image" (quoted by W. Benjamin, Origine du drame baroque allemand, Flammarion, Champs, p. 177). Can we say that Diderot's thinking is, in this sense, symbolic thinking?

To address this topic, you will draw on specific examples taken from the range of Diderot's works on the program: Lettre sur les sourds, Salons, Fils naturel, Paradoxe, Rêve de D'Alembert, Neveu de Rameau.

June 2006

In the Entretiens sur le Fils naturel, Diderot has Dorval say the following: "I would like to talk to you about the accent proper to each passion. But this accent modifies itself in so many ways; it's a subject so fleeting and delicate, that I know of none that better makes one feel the indigence of all the languages that exist and have existed. We have a fair idea of the thing; it is present in our memory. If you look for the expression, you won't find it. (ed. Versini, Bouquins, p. 1146.)

To what extent do these remarks tie in with the ideas developed by Diderot in the works on the program?

June 2006

Explain and comment on these words by Anthony Wall, which characterize Diderot's thought and expression: "A radical transformation takes place when thought leaves the quiet seat of the mind to enter the eventful seat of the body. [...] The speaking body is not perfectly smooth, like the deaf and dumb body of classical sculpture. Through its imperfections, each of Diderot's bodies tells a story." (Ce corps qui parle. Pour une lecture dialogique de Denis Diderot, Montreal, XYZ, 2005, p. 44.)

September 2006

Explain and comment on these words by which Anthony Wall defines Diderotian enunciation: "The spaces from which Diderot speaks are both real and fictional: a palpable dynamism derives from their out-of-frame juxtaposition. A special space-time is constructed on the basis of a permanent non-coincidence between the moment of seeing and the moment of writing. The writer's imagination is set in motion in the interval between these two moments: he remembers what he has seen, he thinks about it as if in a dream, he even sees himself entering the picture." (Ce corps qui parle. Pour une lecture dialogique de Denis Diderot, Montreal, XYZ, 2005, p. 44.)

May 2007

"Diderot's entire aesthetic rests on the identification of the theatrical scene and the pictorial tableau. The perfect play is a succession of tableaux, i.e. a gallery, a salon: the stage offers the spectator "as many real tableaux as there are moments in the action favorable to the painter". The picture (pictorial, theatrical, literary) is a pure cutout, with clean edges, which promotes to the viewer everything it brings into its field. The picture is intellectual, it wants to say something (moral, social)." (Roland Barthes, L'Obvie et l'obtus, "Diderot, Brecht, Eisenstein", Seuil, p. 87.)

Does this definition of Diderotian aesthetics strike you as compatible with his thinking and practice of hieroglyphics, pantomime and dreams?

You will base your discussion primarily on the works on the program: Lettre sur les sourds, Salon de 1765 ("L'Antre de Platon"), Salon de 1767 ("Promenade Vernet"), Neveu de Rameau, Rêve de D'Alembert, Paradoxe sur le comédien.

June 2007

To what extent is Diderot's thought hieroglyphic?

You will base your discussion primarily on the works on the program: Lettre sur les sourds (where the Diderotian definition of the hieroglyphic is found), Salon de 1765 ("L'Antre de Platon"), Salon de 1767 ("Promenade Vernet"), Neveu de Rameau, Rêve de D'Alembert, Paradoxe sur le comédien.

June 2007

To characterize Diderot's writing, Elisabeth de Fontenay writes:

"How do these fragments of infinity, which are always at the same time mots d'esprit, link together? Chance, necessity, the Lucretian fecundity of cascades of declensions, Diderot's writing is in a sense a matter of randomness." (Diderot ou le matérialisme enchanté, p. 18.)

Explain and, above all, discuss this discursive conception of Diderotan thought, drawing on the texts on the syllabus.

Course on "Dialogue and dialogism"

May 2008

In a letter to Sophie Volland, Diderot writes: "It is a singular thing that conversation, especially when the company is few. Look at the circuits we have made; the dreams of a delirious patient are no more heterogeneous. However, as there is nothing disjointed either in the head of a man who dreams, or in that of a madman, everything also fits together in conversation; but it would sometimes be very difficult to find the imperceptible links that have attracted so many disparate ideas." (Oct. 20, 1760, CFL IV 920.)

Jacques le Fataliste and Le Neveu de Rameau seem to you to fall within the scope of conversation as Diderot defines it here?

June 2008

Evoking Diderot's dialogic writing, Anthony Wall writes: "We never forget that we're dealing with a written text despite the traits of orality. The writing of the narrative always seems to come after the fact, after the dialogue has been spoken; the je of the narration and the je of all the characters are distinguished." (Ce corps qui parle, XYZ, 2005, p. 102.)

Explain and discuss these remarks in light of Rameau's Neveu and Jacques le Fataliste.



Les Salons

Diderot philosophe

Théâtre, roman, contes