Annotated Bibliography

user-pic
Vote 0 Votes

Ankersmit, Frank R. "Pygmalion: Rousseau and Diderot on the theater and on representation." Rethinking History. 7.3 (2003): 315-339. Web.

In Diderot's Paradox of Acting and other writings there is a seed of an idea that is explored further here by Ankersmit, about how the unreality of the stage can be a direct route to truth, contrasted with Rousseau's belief that fictional representations could actively unsettle and undermine the audience's perception of reality. The anxiety of Rousseau and the passion of Diderot regarding the same concept show the incredible power both of them attributed to the stage as a space for destroying and rewriting both personal identity and social order. In this article Ankersmit claims that the 18th century was undoubtedly the most "theatrical" of any era in the history of the western world (although based on his evidence his claim should probably be properly limited to western Europe) invokes the spectacle of festival days in Venice, where identity could be exchanged simply by participatory members of the public exchanging masks, and in so doing exchanging the identity represented by those masks, acting entirely as the persona of that mask throughout the remainder of the time they possessed it. There is a further claim that the idea of an underlying psychological identity, an ego that is separate from the persona, while being the fundamental basis of modern psychoanalytic theory and treatment is actually a Romantic notion that will only rise to prominence long after Diderot and Rousseau's era, and that they were working in a culture that might well believe you could change who you were entirely by changing your behavior, by putting on a mask. This suggests the possibility of vastly increased class mobility.

Brockett, Oscar G, and Franklin J Hildy. History of the Theatre. 10th ed. Boston: Pearson Education, 2010. 235-51. Print.

The introduction of Diderot's works to the French cannon marked a significant shift away from neoclassical drama. He proposed a couple new forms of drama to enlarge the scope of the theater. Drama now consisted of laughing comedy, which ridiculed vice, serious comedy, which depicted virtue and duty, domestic tragedy, which was centered around domestic troubles, and heightened tragedy, which dealt with public catastrophe and the fall of the mighty. Diderot also marked a shift toward illusionistic theater. He proposed the fourth wall, which became a large part of naturalism. In this light, Diderot negates the practice of interacting with the audience. Along with shifts in acting styles toward naturalness, there was also a shift in costuming and architecture. Beginning in the 1750's actresses tended away from the lavish court dresses of the day toward authentic dresses, fitting to the social role of their character. This change remained inconsistent however, as actors were allowed to choose their own costuming and therefore showed much variance in what style of theater they subscribed to. Also in the 1750's, the architecture of the theatre space itself began to change. Theater artists no longer subscribed to the outdated French structures and instead shifted toward the enlarged stages of the Italians. This period of French theater also marked the removal of spectators from the stage, which allowed a marked shift toward more elaborate settings and greater spectacle.

Diderot, Denis. The Paradox of Acting. Trans. Walter Herries Pollock. London: Chatto & Windus, 1883. Web.

This is an incredibly valuable resource since the entire work is devoted to how a stage actor and a play might each influence an audience. Diderot addresses both the emotional impact on an audience member as well as the moral effect on their character of observing the actors and the play. This is where I first encountered Diderot's belief (explored further in Ankersmit) that the unreality of the theatrical world is what allows it to better function. Actors better function when they remove themselves from character, not basing their performance on their own experience and reliving an internal emotional drama, but instead finding the external gestures that will bring them, and above all else their audience, through that emotional journey. Diderot has a very Platonist belief that there are ideal forms of characters that actors should strive to reach, and that bringing nothing of themselves to the stage better allows the actors to reach the world of ideal forms. Examining comedy Diderot makes a distinction between a specific form based on a particular person and says this can only be called Satire, while comedy based on universal forms can actually be called Humor, giving Moliere's character Tartuffe as a recognizable "type". He also claims that plays are morally instructive because due to their removal from the reality of everyday life, people are able to recognize the moral underpinnings of characters and situations, even when they cannot find these truths in real life. He believes that seeing the "unreal" version is what makes it possible to later recognize this form in real life and behave in a more moral fashion.

Jourdain, M. Diderot's Early Philosophical Works. Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Company, 1916. Print.

This book contains a complete copy of Denis Diderot's "Letter on the Blind" which played an important role in inspiring Valentin Hauy to create the first school for the blind in late 18th century France. It seemed essential to read the original letter and have a sense of both Diderot's original intent as well as his voice. His intent is really an intellectual exploration of a series of philosophical propositions, particularly the Molyneux Problem which is concerned with the recovery of sight in a person who has been completely or mostly blind in his or her entire life up until the removal of cataracts or some other treatable cause. As a tool, Diderot creates a complete image of a blind acquaintance with whom Diderot has observed and extensively discussed the effects of blindness on this man's life, and the implications of restoring the man's sight, and whether he would choose such a thing. What is truly important is that Diderot also explores the morality and ethics of the blind, and how they might be shaped by the condition of their senses, noting that the magnitude of theft as a crime is greater to the blind who cannot conceive of being successful perpetrators and also run a greater risk of being victims of the crime, or that they might have a detached indifference to certain kinds of suffering, when they cannot observe it themselves. This very particular image of a single blind man is frequently credited (see Wittenstein) as transforming the perception of the blind as not a needy, childlike or less than human class of people but as a group of rational, ethical individuals. Also in a work where he is not speaking through character, it is valuable to hear Diderot's voice, and see where it might be visible in the lecturing characters of La Pere de Famille and Paradox of Acting.

Wittenstein, Stuart H. "Braille and Revolution, Diderot and Enlightenment, and the Pursuit of Happiness." Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness. 103.9 (2009): 516-518. Web. 20 Nov 2012.

This is a very brief article, but it succinctly summarizes a few things about the Enlightenment and Denis Diderot, and is mostly concerned with the long-term impact of Diderot's "Letter on the Blind". This article goes on to explain how this letter changed the perception of the blind and inspired Valentin Hauy to believe he could start a school for the blind and teach them to read or write. The significance of this single school is magnified by one of its later students and teachers: Louis Braille, whose tactile writing system transformed the written word for the blind. This does provide a solid example of how effective Diderot's writings could be in igniting change. In addition this article does also provide several useful quotes from Diderot that illustrate certain aspects of his philosophy, such as my personal favorite, "Mankind shall not be free until the last king is strangled in the entrails of the last priest." The other great illustrative quote is, "No man has received from nature the right to give orders to others. Freedom is a gift from heaven, and every individual of the same species has the right to enjoy it." This article also provides several citations to other works, including Jourdain's book which contains Diderot's "Letter on the Blind", so this article was useful in finding other sources.

Guerin, Jean-Yves, and Susan B. Grayson. "Part Three: Crisis in Culture; Pre- and Postrevolutionary." The French Revolution in Culture and Society. Ed. David G. Troyansky, Alfred Cismaru, and Norwood Andrews. New York: Greenwood, 1991. 71-91. Print.

Though this source does not specifically talk about Diderot's The Family Picture, it does address the deviance from social norms that we are arguing Diderot helped influence prior to the Revolution. It also gives a comparison of his work to another contemporary, Sade who's social compass and agenda are very similar to that of Diderot though they differ in method. I also looked at the section about Beaumarchais' Figaro plays of the same era and the cultural norms he played with as well as the questions of morality that he posed, in comparison with Diderot. The book as a whole can serve as a brief and specific sampling of the role of French culture in the time of the French Revolution. It also incorporates ideas developed prior to the Revolution which help build a culturally philosophical case for the resulting of the Revolution at the end of the 18th Century. The addition of post-revolutionary thought then brings things full circle. The source is essentially a compiling of analytical essays written about works of relevance of the time as well as pieces that derive their topical context from the actual histories of France at the time and expounding on those histories by giving them a new meaning by setting them against other parallel events. For example, one chapter takes the politics of a Revolutionary France and set them against the politics and culture of Shakesperean plays being performed in France at the time. From this we get an idea of how European culture transitioned across borderlines and what concepts were transposed or discarded along the way, giving us a better understanding on the structure of the multiplicity or perhaps lack thereof in this time.

Anderson, M. S. Europe in the Eighteenth Century, 1713-1789. Harlow, England: Longman, 2000. Print.

This book was particularly helpful in giving an overview of European life during this time. The book is divided in to sections that focus on one aspect of life such that Government and Administration is in its very own group and Diplomacy and International Affairs is another. Staying true to our research goals, sections of primary interest were those dealing with Society, Cultural Life, Religion, The Enlightenment and The Coming of the Revolution. This book required a little more digging as it was very broad and generalized much of Europe. Again due to the divisive nature of the book into broad categorical chapters, this book is probably not the most useful source if to be used as a reference of culture and history for a particular European nation. Much of the information is strung together as though it were one long history, which is valid if the goal is to draw parallels and make cross-cultural persepectives. However, this complicates much of the history and makes it difficult to distinguish where the history of one state ends and another begins, as if to say that these histories are in fact all one in the same. This book is probably more properly an introductory survey of catergorical information with several attached themes in order to help readers attempting to familiarize themselves with the information to find jumping points with which to begin their own research and delve deeper into the material presented here on their own.

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by sheax112 published on November 20, 2012 10:34 AM.

Divide and Conquer: an attempt to find the answer to three questions amidst a sea of proto-modern and proto-postmodern French history and art was the previous entry in this blog.

Argument is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.