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Monday, May 7, 2018

Diderot, I Do Not Know

Episode Seventy-Three: Diderot, I Do Not Know
In which we have one too many.

1 comment:

  1. Old man yells at cloud: my irritation at unnecessary complication, particularly around what should be simple enjoyments. French fries are now 'seasonal root vegetables' (celeriac? no.), small family dairy farms are now converting into fashionable breweries, and, of course, the conviction among the majority of my supported computer users that, despite the fact that their machine might leave their offices perhaps only once a year, they most definitely need a laptop. I explain this latter concept to my coworker, addressing the idea that these people need to question their assumptions as to how they work, and he agrees, but in the same breath explains that the exception does not apply to him. To me, these are expressions of bullshit trendiness which, as I age, grow increasingly irksome.

    I had jokingly used the expression 'decolonize your spud' at work, lately, and watched my coworker drain visibly as his eyes darted around the room. "You need to be careful how you use that word," he cautioned, in earnest. This is laughably absurd.

    While I was mulling these irritations, I happened to be served up an article about The Diderot Effect, a term new to me. To this point, I had only known of Denis Diderot through his 'Pictorial Encyclopedia of Trades and Industry'(1763), a comprehensive detail, through nearly 500 plate illustrations, of the manufacturing process of eighteenth-century industry: fishing, farming, defense, mining. The Enlightenment embodied. Here was perhaps the first blueprints for many of the machines that would beget the Industrial Revolution, an Internet for a preliterate age.

    But I knew nothing of Diderot himself. The article, laid randomly in my path, explained that, despite having created this amazing Encyclopedia, as well as an encyclopedic compendium of scientific thought at the time, he lived much of his life in penury. However, at age 53, Catherine the Great purchased his Encyclopedia of science for what today would be over $50k. He was launched into the middle class, and one of the first objects he acquired was a beautiful new scarlet robe.

    All of the rest of his possessions seemed to pale in comparison, and he found himself having to replace everything he owned, one by one, because each new thing leaves the thing next to it shabby-seeming by comparison. In the end, Diderot found himself sad for the things that he once loved are now pushed away, to be replaced by the things he now resented. This goes through my mind as I peruse the thirty flavors of super-hoppy regional brews on tap at my local pub while choking on my sweet potato fry.

    Guy holds a scarlet robe.

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