4.Diderot-Supplement to Bougainville's Voyage

4.Diderot-Supplement - The Other as a Mirror After Bougainville published his account of his voyage the Enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot

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The Other as a Mirror After Bougainville published his account of his voyage, the Enlightenment philosopher, Denis Diderot, wrote a fictional supplement to Bougainville's narrative. In this supplement, Diderot puts words into the mouths of some of the characters that Bougainville described and uses them to present a critical perspective on European civilization. What's going on here? Does Diderot make any real effort to understand the Tahitians themselves, or does he just use the Tahitians he's read about as mirrors for showing Europeans aspects of their own culture? Diderot's text is a good example of one side of the European reaction to the encounter with radically different cultures. Other thinkers, like Jean Jacques Rousseau would further use the travel accounts of explorers to conjure up and image of a "noble savage", "natural man". This image served as a way of condemning what these authors saw as the decadence and corruption of modern civilization. Unfortunately, the Tahitians and other peoples around the globe encountered the other side of the European effort to understand their relationship to other cultures — an unabashed feeling of cultural superiority and an entitlement to conquer, exploit, govern and "civilize" cultures, which, from this perspective, represented earlier, inferior stages of a new idea the evolution of human culture. (JS) 1
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PREFACE Written early in 1772, the Supplement grew out of a book review probably intended for Grimm's Correspondence Littèraire, but not in fact used there. The occasion was Louis-Antoine de Bougainville's published account of his voyage around the world in 1766-69. Bougainville's book created a considerable stir because he was the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the globe and also because it touched upon two questions that were very much in dispute at the time. These were the expulsion of the Jesuits from Paraguay, where they had established a communistic society conducted on strongly authoritarian principles, and the not less controversial problem of the actual size of the natives of Tierra del Fuego. Bougainville, though he had witnessed the expulsion of the Jesuits from Paraguay in 1768, was laconic and noncommittal on that subject, but he categorically denied the truth of the venerable tradition (stemming from the account of Magellan's subordinate Pigafetta and "confirmed" as late as 1764 by Maty and Byron, two explorers accredited by the Royal Society of London) that the Patagonians were giants. Grimm had earlier used hard words about Bougainville's veracity on this point, and he may well have been reluctant to reverse himself by allowing Diderot's review refuting the existence of these giants to go to his subscribers. The review itself has survived, and contains most of the main ideas of the Supplement
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This note was uploaded on 06/28/2009 for the course SOC 160 taught by Professor Stockinger during the Spring '07 term at University of California, Berkeley.

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4.Diderot-Supplement - The Other as a Mirror After Bougainville published his account of his voyage the Enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot

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