UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Diderot et sa conception du "sublime" Makinen, Sadie


There are three interdependent aspects to Diderot's conception of the "sublime". The first, as developed by Diderot, the encyclopaedist or theorists is arrived at objectively. The "sublime" differs from the beautiful only in the number and quality of the "relations" inherent in the object to be studied and in the ability of the spectator to be affected by them. The genius who can see and interpret the "sublime" is unique in his species. He is an "original" who introduces a certain amount of the bizarre into his work, thus breaking the accepted rules of art of his time to bring about progress. The second aspect, as developed by Diderot, an "homme sensible", is subjective. The genius who is "sensible" is sad, virtuous, persecuted, bordering on madness, and an avowed enemy of all rules and restraint. His aim is to give an exact imitation of nature. The "sublime" for him has the sense assigned to it by Edmund Burke in his "0f the Sublime and the Beautiful", or by the contemporary French translations of Young's "Eight Thoughts”, and is allied to the ideal of virtue set forth by the novels of such authors as Richardson. The third, as developed by Diderot, "philosophe ou homme "sage", is a partial synthesis of the various influences reacting upon him, notably that of Garrick's ideal of the illusion of truth for the stage. The "sublime" is a perfect balance between the two forces "sensibilite" and taste, a balance which is always being destroyed as a nation progresses and develops its successive ideals of "beauty. The genius is the man who can- best accommodate his ideal with the one existing in the nation at the time he produces his work. Such a man is Racine who has combined simplicity with a great idea and has adapted them to the mould prescribed to him by his period. The artist's moral code which may be the opposite from that proper to the ordinary run of people allows him to find the truth, while his genius allows him to use it in such a way as to create an illusion or "mensonge" which sways the spectators more than the actual facts would have done.

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