Posts Tagged ‘Eighteenth Century’

The latest issue of French History includes an article I wrote on the role of silence during the French Revolution, titled

Le silence du peuple: The Rhetoric of Silence during the French Revolution

French History, 31, Issue 4 (2017), p. 440–469.



In July 1789, a phrase was introduced into French political discourse that would quickly become a standing expression: le silence du peuple est la leçon des rois. Taking this political bon mot as a starting point, the article traces the uses of and responses to collective silences during the French Revolution. It is argued that silence cannot be reduced to just the lack of ‘voice’ indicating suppression or political impotence. Rather, it must be understood as a mode of political action with a rhetoric of its own. Sketching this rhetoric not only highlights the nature and functions of a mode of political communication too often disregarded. It also shows how the controversies surrounding these silences reflected some of the major political questions of the day, playing a key role in the renegotiations of the communicative spaces of politics set off by the Revolution.


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The journal Neue Politische Literatur just published my review of Franziska Rehlinghausstudy on the German concept of destiny from early modern times through to the First World War. It comes recommended as a detailed analysis of a concept that had crucial significance for intellectual, social and political processes during the period, but also as an exemplary use of the methods of Historical Semantics.


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The volume Thinking about the Enlightenment: Modernity and its Ramifications, edited by Martin L. Davies of Leicester University has now been published by Routledge.

My chapter,

Multiple Counter-Enlightenments: The Genealogy of a Polemics from the Eighteenth Century to the Present

the penultimate in a very diverse series of perspectives on the various dimensions of the relationship between Enlightenment and the present, takes up the issue of counter-enlightenment(s). It asks how various criticisms of ‘the’ Enlightenment gradually came to be viewed as constituting a singular tradition of thought, constitutive of Western reflection upon or own place in history.

Volume Introduction

Thinking about the Enlightenment looks beyond the current parameters of studying the Enlightenment, to the issues that can be understood by reflecting on the period in a broader context. Each of the thirteen original chapters, by an international and interdisciplinary team of contributors, illustrates the problematic legacy of the Enlightenment and the continued ramifications of its thinking to consider whether modernity can see its roots in the intellectual revolution of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Drawing from history, philosophy, literature and anthropology, this book enables students and academics alike to take a fresh look at the Enlightenment and its legacy.

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The conference proceedings of a workshop I participated in two years ago have now been published under the title:

Denis Diderot und die Macht / Denis Diderot et le pouvoir

My own contribution considers Diderot’s discussion of power, sexuality and colonial rule in the Supplément au voyage de Bougainville and is titled

Stimmen der Natur. Diderot, Tahiti und der homme naturel

Voices of Nature. Diderot, Tahiti and the homme naturel

Summary (in German):

Im Supplément au voyage de Bougainville setzt sich Diderot am Beispiel Tahitis mit Fragen der Macht, der Sexualität und der Kolonialherrschaft auseinander. Der Text gilt als Paradebeispiel für die exotistische Verklärung eines fremden Naturvolkes als Kontrastbild zur Verkommenheit abendländischer Zivilisation. Und tatsächlich gibt es Stimmen im Text, die einer solchen Idealisierung und einem ‚Zurück zur Natur’ das Wort reden. Aber es gibt auch andere. Erst die Auflösung der Stimmenvielfalt des Textes zugunsten der Identifikation einer eindeutigen Grundaussage lässt bestimmte Äußerungen im Text als Elemente einer systematischen ‚Naturtheorie‘ Diderots erscheinen. Jedoch muss eine solche Lesart nicht nur eine konstitutive Ebene des Textes – seine multiperspektivische Form – außer Acht lassen, sie verstrickt sich auch auf inhaltlicher Ebene in Widersprüche. In diesem Beitrag wird versucht, die verschiedenen Positionen im Text in ihrem Zusammenhang zu betrachten. Aus diesem Blickwinkel zeigt sich, dass Diderot sich keineswegs als autoritatives Sprachrohr der Natur aufführt. Im Gegenteil. Indem er die Vielfalt der Stimmen, die sich auf die ‚natürliche’ Ordnung als Legitimitätsbasis ihrer jeweiligen Autorität beziehen, miteinander kontrastiert, zeigt er performativ, was es heißt, sich auf die Veränderlichkeit der Natur einzulassen, ohne den Anspruch zu erheben, sie ein für alle Mal festlegen zu können.

I’m very grateful to the volume’s editor, PD Dr. Isabelle Deflers and the team at the Frankreichzentrum (Center for French Studies) of Freiburg University for making this publication possible.

Edit: A digital file of the article has now been made available here.

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Next week, 24 and 25 September, I’ll be participating in a workshop held in Marburg, titled:

Aristokratismus. Historische und literarische Semantik von ‘Adel’ zwischen Kulturkritik der Jahrhundertwende und Nationalsozialismus (1890-1945).

Aristocratism. Historical and Literary Semantics of ‘Aristocracy’ between Cultural Criticism of the Turn of the Century and National Socialism (1890-1945)

The workshop is part of a DFG-funded research project on the same theme and is organized by Prof. Dr. Eckart Conze, PD Dr. Jochen Strobel, Daniel Thiel und Jan de Vries.

My paper pursues a diachronic comparison of German discourses of cultural criticism around 1800 and around 1900, focussing on the differences in the use of semantics of aristocracy in these contexts. Thus, the paper offers an empirical case study using a model distinguishing between four dimensions of change in the history of cultural criticism I formulated last year on a conference in Heidelberg (soon to be published in its proceedings).

The Call for Papers for the Marburg workshop may be found here.

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Some of my writing has been made available online through the Freidoks server at Freiburg University.

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On October 5th, it will be 300 years ago that the French philosopher, writer, encyclopedia editor and brilliant conversationalist Denis Diderot (1713-1784) was born in a small town in north-eastern France. To commemorate this, Dr. Isabelle Deflers of Freiburg University and the Center of French Studies have organised a public symposium which will take place on October 28th. It’s title is:

Diderot und die Macht / Diderot et le pouvoir

Focussing on Diderot’s thought on power (and his quarrels with it), an interdisciplinary group of specialists will present various aspects of his work and influence. I have been asked to address Diderot’s intellectual confrontation with Tahiti, which he famously discussed in his Supplément au Voyage de Bougainville, a text written in the early 1770s but unpublished until well after his death. The focus of my presentation will be on Diderot’s views on sexual morals and their relevance to his political thought. The title of my presentation is:

Diderot und Tahiti: Europa im Spiegel einer außereuropäischen Gesellschaft

(Diderot and Tahiti: Europe Mirrored in a Non-European Society)

Admission to the symposium, which will take place in the historical Haus zur lieben Hand in Freiburg from 10:00 to 18:15, is free and open to all.

For the program, click here.

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