Thursday, December 5, 2013

Recueil de Planches, sur les Sciences, les Arts Libéraux, et les Arts Mechaniques, avec leur explication

“Collection of Plates on the Sciences, the Liberal Arts, and the Mechanical Arts, with their explanation”
As mentioned in previous posts, planches are the 11 volumes of plates and drawings that accompany the 17 volumes of text, making for 28 total books that make up L’Encyclopédie. The benefit of the planches is obvious: visual aids help readers understand and conceptualize ideas better. Naturally, not every topic in the text has an accompanying planche drawing – it would be difficult to draw the soul, wouldn’t it? The depictions included are those of material things, especially lots of industrial machinery and the like. As is the case with the text of L’Encyclopédie, you can find a drawing of pretty much anything, though. I flipped open to a page in the middle of the book and found pages and pages of architectural drawings of elaborate buildings and homes. Then, a few pages later, I found drawings of Art Militaire, or the Art of Military. Often included with the drawings are short descriptions of what is being depicted and sometimes, when applicable, instructions for its use. This particular book of planches (the first in the series) has 269 drawings. The first drawings are of agriculture, including everything from drawings of people doing agriculture to drawings of the machines used. The planche concludes with drawings of artificier, or pyrotechnics, included in the military section of this planche. The photo included above is of the table of contents which, as you can see, is quite extensive and detailed.
Including these drawings as I see it, allows descriptions of things in the text to be more complete. The authors of L’Encyclopédie were obviously masters of language, but no matter how well they describe an object or idea, nothing compares to a visual representation.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Planches - Prints and Diagrams

            I won’t be able to post my extensive observations of the planches until next week, but I wanted to give just a little preview of what is to come. Recall that of L'Encyclopédie's 28 volumes, 11 of them are planches, which are prints of diagrams of things included in the text of the encyclopedia. 
            These images are from the first planche, which encompasses everything from agriculture to “maçonnerie,” or masonry.
            First, here are two of the many anatomy plates from the first planche, one of the circulatory system and one of the brain. I would be interested to know what modern medical experts would have to say about these figures!
            The plate further below is a diagram of a "pressoir à cidre," or a cider press. In the table of contents of this planche, the authors explain that the plates for the cider press depict the "instructions for pressing cider...[and] the details of the work" needed to do so. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Side notes: Cotgrave's French Dictionary

            One of my main goals in this project was to study the nature of the language used in L’Encyclopédie, and I thought it might be interesting to consult a period French dictionary in doing so. Randle Cotgrave published Cotgrave’s French Dictionary in 1673, which was about 100 years before the L’Encyclopédie. According to Wikisource, Cotgrave published multiple editions of the dictionary, starting in the year 1611 and ending with the edition in my possession, which was revised and edited by James Howell. Although it might be more accurate to work with a dictionary published closer to the time of Diderot and d’Alembert, this dictionary gives a thorough overview of both old French terms and general language structure.
bulk of the work was done for
            The dictionary starts with a section on French grammar, which Howell deems is necessary because starting a dictionary without first addressing grammar would be as if one were “to make the building precede the basis.” Further, having knowledge of the use of words in context will make the task of understanding those words much more reasonable. The first section, Of the French Letters, begins with the proclamation that the “English [alphabet] hath two letters, K and W, more than the French, which consists of 22 only, viz. A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, V, X, Y, Z.” What? This statement not only asserts that the French (in 1673, at least) did not use the letters K and W, but also that neither French nor English at the time used the letters J or U! These two letters are missing from the list of 22 “French letters” provided by Howell, which, with the addition of K and W, is implied to be the English alphabet of the time, too.
            “French is a hungry language, for it devours more consonant than any other, which makes his speaking and writing to differ so much as doth his singing and writing,” explains Howell in a section concerning consonants. Aside from the fact that I really like his use of colorful language in describing French as a “hungry language,” I agree with Howell’s observation.  In my own experience, I have found that speaking French requires the distinct pronunciation of many consonant sounds that are difficult to English speakers. Learning how to move your and use your mouth and voice box to create the appropriate inflections and consonant sounds is challenging. From there, Howell goes through the French pronunciation of particular letters sounds, explaining how certain letters behave in different contexts of the language. For example, “X is pronounced in French as in English, but in these and all other numerical words it is pronounced like Z…[as in] deuxieme, the second.” What follows is a lengthy description of everything from the future perfect tense to the “syntaxis of nouns”, the detail of which is astonishing. In eight years of formal French study, I have never come across such a thorough explanation of French grammar and all that it encompasses (though I probably could have used it while studying for some tests).
Then, after a few letters to various public officials (some Lords, some Earls), the entries begin. Frankly, it looks like a pretty standard dictionary; observing the words and phrases included is fascinating nonetheless. There are so many period terms that I have never heard of, like the verb “fossailler”, which means “to ditch it; to make a pit or ditch.”
Studying Cotgrave’s dictionary was an interesting side project, but next I plan to explore some of the planche editions of L’Encyclopédie, which include diagrams and illustrations that accompany the main texts. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


The entry for "l’âme", the soul, spans an entire twenty-six encyclopedia pages and is surely one of the longest entries in the series. It covers both the human soul and the animal soul, and it starts by raising four questions about the soul:
1.     What is its origin?
2.     What is its nature?
3.     What is its destiny?
4.     What are the beings in which it resides?
The author of this particular article, Claude Yvon, explains that there are a multitude of opinions on the soul and that it has been a highly debated subject throughout history. He explores the prominent ideas and theories, from those of the ancient Greek philosophers and Cicero to Spinoza and Descartes.
On one hand, there are philosophers who see the soul as a “pure quality” that is necessarily destroyed when the being in which it resides dies. Most philosophers, however, view the soul as a “subsistence…[that] is nothing more than a part of a whole.”
The article continues as such for about fifteen pages and then turns specifically to “l’Âme Des Bêtes,” or the animal soul. At this time, the author addresses the fact that of the four initial questions raised about the soul, philosophers have had the most interest in the question of its nature. This part of the article is essentially a discussion and critique of the Cartesian automata model, which is one of Rene Descartes’ most famous philosophies.  According to the article, Descartes was forcibly led to distinguish between the soul and the body. He classified humans as “pure machines,” or automata, which explained objections against the immortality of the soul and the goodness of God, two issues that were very central in Descartes’ work. In the automata model, the human body is viewed as a machine, and the soul is a separate entity that controls emotion and intellect. It is not hard to understand why Descartes reasoned that the body is a machine: our blood flows, our organs work, and our balance stabilizes all on their own. Bodily functions work independently of human control and the human mind. Yvon investigates views of different thinkers on the Cartesian model, and then he offers his own analysis on the theory as a whole and its validity. This evaluation of Descartes is noteworthy, but like many other interesting things I have come across, it is too long to discuss here.
As a student of philosophy, I was naturally drawn to this article because it addresses what is one of the most debated metaphysical questions among philosophers. I was not surprised in the least bit by the article’s length or by its reflective discussion. Treatises on the question of the soul are simultaneously fascinating and frustrating because they seem to give plausible options but never a truly definitive answer. I studied Descartes and the Cartesian model in a western philosophy class I took last fall, so I was particularly interested in the second half of the article.
Descartes is a really interesting guy -- read more about him and his work here.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

“Système figuré des connoissances humaines” - Map of the System of Human Knowledge

By far the coolest thing I’ve found comes next: Diderot and d’Alembert created a detailed map of their system of human knowledge. This map is as much a visual aid for readers as it is a bolstering agent for the validity of their work. It clearly organizes and solidifies their idea of how this “system” of human knowledge works. It also, as I mentioned in my last post, allows the authors to display how they both were inspired by Bacon’s work and expanded upon it. As seen in the Preface as well, Diderot and d’Alembert obviously wanted to substantiate their designs and work – the idea of the containment of such a large amount of information was so revolutionary, they really needed to. The diagram certainly helps them to cover all of their bases by explaining the connections between disciplines. Plus, it’s pretty interesting to look at.
At first glance, a couple of things we already knew are confirmed. First, there are three categories of knowledge, memory (history), reason (philosophy), and imagination (poetry). Second, poetry is much shorter than the other two sections; this difference is even starker when it is laid visually out as such. This map is exciting, though, because their system is now so clear and easy to understand. I found myself bogged-down by the enormous amount of text that Diderot and d’Alembert provided in the preface to explain the system. The map is still complex, sure, but it includes simply the names of disciplines and displays how each is connected to the others. The lengthy explanations in the preface were almost counterproductive in describing the classification of knowledge just because they were so long. The system of human knowledge, I think, is much more accessible to readers thanks to this map.
How would thoughts be organized differently today if the project were done at the present time? 50 years later? What would be added? Taken out? These are all questions that are valid to reflect upon. Diderot and d’Alembert credit Bacon for inspiring the creation of their map, but the two French editors certainly had discretion in terms of what to add or subtract from the map.  The inclusion and exclusion of concepts from this map undoubtedly impacted society. Exploring this assertion alone could be a project in itself!
Another important thing to note is that despite including an elaborate diagram to explain the organization of knowledge, entries were categorized alphabetically, as opposed to being organized by their place on the map. I’m sure this organizational choice was made to make the volumes easier to navigate.
Here’s a picture of the map itself, scanned directly from the Watkinson edition of L’Encyclopédie. Click here to see the map translated into English via the University of Michigan translation project.