Encyclopedias of Error: Diderot’s Medicalized Bodies and Communication
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This chapter explores the epistemological conversation among the Encyclopédie, Diderot’s medical work, his acting theories, and his representation of body language in Le Fils naturel. Offering analysis of the enigmatic entries on sleep, malady, and error in the Encyclopédie as background regarding the intellectual consideration of body fallibility in revolutionary France, the chapter suggests that Diderot not only warns audiences about the errors that arise in interpreting acting but also finds the origins of forgivable behaviors in the body’s “natural” imperfections and pathologies. In his drama, Diderot portrays forgiveness of errors in communication as a potential resolution for family conflict. Moreover, the chapter argues that the portrayal of bodies and affect in Le Fils naturel ultimately proposes embracing error and human physicality as the central foundations of an egalitarian and empathetic revolutionary society.