Mass Enlightenment: Critical studies in Rousseau and Diderot

Fowler, James (1999) Mass Enlightenment: Critical studies in Rousseau and Diderot. Review of: Mass Enlightenment: Critical studies in Rousseau and Diderot by Simon, Julia. Modern Language Review, 94 . pp. 541-542. ISSN 0026-7937. (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided)

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This provocative study builds on the insights of the Frankfurt School in order to cast new light on the writings of Rousseau and Diderot. Simultaneously, the case is made that these two writers inaugurated 'critical theory' (p. 23) by responding to the changes that mark their era: the rise of a new, 'bourgeois' market for literature and art, the use of reason for the purpose of domination, and a dialectical interplay of the public and private realms. (Such phenomena are held to foreshadow the emergence of mass culture.) The first part, on Rousseau, considers several of the political writings in order to bring out the isolationist yet homogenizing tendencies of Rousseau's prescriptions. Whilst these tendencies reflect Rousseau's sensitivity to social and cultural change, they ultimately yield a defensive proto-totalitarianism. Meanwhile, in the autobiographical texts Rousseau apparently fails to understand the dialectic that subverts his project of circulating the private self in public form. The second part, on Diderot, first argues that Le Reve de d'Alembert indicates a recognition of the flux, not only of the universe but of the subject and its knowledge, then considers Hegel's use of Le Neveu de Rameau as a measure of Enlightenment shifts in consciousness. Finally, Diderot's Salon of 1767 is analysed for its sensitivity to new 'bourgeois' misuses of art. There is a confidently judgemental tone to the writing: viewed from the author's American post-Marxist perspective Rousseau loses points, whilst Diderot gains them. However, such judgements must be allowed to follow on the author's premises. More of a problem is the combination of modest length and ambitious scope, for this inevitably leads to a selective corpus, and a tantalizingly brief treatment of various points. There is no room here for La Nouvelle Heloise or Emile. Yet such works are germane to Julia Simon's discussion of a category of people characterized primarily as 'all those who read Richardson and Rousseau and identify with their "family values"' (p. 10). Similarly, Diderot's importance as an early theorist of the drame bourgeois can be mentioned only in passing, and, incidentally, to claim that 'in the Entretiens sur le Fils naturel Diderot advocates moving theater into the salon' so that 'plays will be performed in living rooms rather than in large halls' (p. 159) is surely a misinterpretation. However, the fact that the reader is left hungry on so many points only attests to the worth of what is there, and the study ultimately succeeds as an interesting confrontation of the Frankfurt School with two emblematic Enlightenment figures.

Item Type: Review
Subjects: P Language and Literature
Divisions: Faculties > Humanities > School of European Culture and Languages
Depositing User: M. Nasiriavanaki
Date Deposited: 10 Apr 2009 20:37
Last Modified: 13 Aug 2014 12:53
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