Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Diderot and the Lapdancer: Chapter One.

In good weather, it was his habit to arrive at the club around five o'clock in the evening. I’d see him there, sitting with his back facing the bar, always alone, wrapt in thought. He was discussing with himself – and anyone who caught his attention – politics, love, art, philosophy.

I’m indulging my mind, he says, in whatever it fancies, letting it follow the first thought, daft or wise that it comes across...

Like the regulars, who follow the dancer with a carefree look, a welcoming face and a lively eye, then leaving her for another? His thoughts are his whores, obviously. Although the term preferred now is sex workers (a reminder that his revolutionary mind did not quite extend to the liberation of women...)

And do those  thought ever follow to actually having a dance while you are here? 

I was accosted by one of the most extraordinary characters that this country possesses – and God knows we are not short of them! She’s a mixture of the noble and the base, intelligence and madness. 

It’s very charming of you to describe me so, Mr...?

Diderot. I am the irresistible Diderot.

I’ve seen you here often, Diderot. But don’t you ever have a dance?

I don’t care for oddities like you. Once a year is enough for me. 

Ah, Mister Philosopher! What are you doing among this group of scoundrels, then? Are you wasting time pushing the wood around?

I enjoy watching the dancers work the room, when I have nothing better to do.

An observational philosopher, are we? Not a bold anthropologist who mixes with the culture he would understand? 

As long as things are in our understanding only, they are just opinions: it’s only by observing external objects, and linking them to our understanding, that we can know whether they be true or false.

You say that, yet you know that there is a multitude of phenomena that happen beyond the limitations of your understanding... for example, what happens behind the black curtain, Mr Diderot?

It is easier and quicker to consult my own mind than investigate it in the world. 

I think perhaps you’ll be astonished if you had a dance?

Then my work as a philosopher would be to dissipate that astonishment.

Then let me remind you that you are in the club, and here a certain set of rules abide. ‘Take the dress of the country you are going to...’ 

And in reply, let me remind you that your dance is merely the end of a process whereby the most solemn desires, a noble and innocent pleasure, has been converted into a source of depravity and evil. To be clear, in a better society, where no laws bound the natural passions, where women are not trapped in matrimony, where social status can be no barrier to shared delights, this corrupted merchantile exchange, this commodification of the very body itself, would be an unnecessary transaction.

The philosopher speaks again of ideals, some utopia of authentic experience. I can see the conflict in your eyes, the gestures, the way you writhe upon the seat: the natural man, with natural curiosity and honest passions, longs to know what is behind the curtain. Yet the other man, the artificial moral man, strives to chain this natural inquisitiveness with rules and codes. You want...

We both want... you want my money... you are made ill by the  tyranny of man, who has made you into property.

In want, a man has no remorse. In sickness, a woman has no shame... now, do you want to discover how shameless I can be?

And so he agrees, knowing that pleasure and pain are the only foundations for action, and that those educated men who lock themselves away from life for the benefit of study are not driven by their desire for women but thinking, only thinking (and that was never his desire).

Le Neveu de Rameau (3, 4) pg 190 (ID)

De L’Interpretation de la Nature (VII, VI, X) pg 62-3 (ID)

Supplement au Voyage de Bougainville pg 317, 315 (ID)

Refutation D’Helvetius pg 295 (ID)

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