Defacing Statues: The Erasure of the Anthropomorphic in Charles de Brosses and Diderot
Exploring the connections between aesthetics and the development of Enlightenment human sciences, this talk focuses on alternative versions of that favorite eighteenth-century myth, the story of Pygmalion. Earlier authors such as Condillac had told stories of statues coming to life one sense at a time, demonstrating the Lockean thesis that mere sense impressions give rise to abstract ideas, a world picture and a unified sense of self. Such philosophical fictions represented the body as an animated and synthetic work of art, which ultimately fused disparate parts into a harmonious whole — just as reason was meant to govern and unite the different faculties of mind. By contrast, de Brosses and Diderot strip statues of their human form in order to propose materialist accounts of human nature that blur the boundaries between body and world, disrupting notions of self-containment and autonomy. Destroying the human image liberates life from a factitious unity and order; the relation between self and world becomes a dynamic process, fueled largely by irrational forces. Unlike traditional iconoclasts, who defend the ineffable purity of the spirit, de Brosses and Diderot seek to restore direct access to the material determinations of being, thought and belief.
Date: March 13, 2012 at 13.00 in the G-160 Seminar Room
Speaker: Dr. Daniel Leonard of the Cultures, Civilizations and Ideas Program, Bilkent University