The blind leading the enlightened

By | August 18, 2011

Call this one a three-fer. Blindness and Enlightenment: An Essay by Kate E. Tunstall (University Lecturer in French, University of Oxford, UK), now available from Continuum, offers readers not only a witty and insightful analysis of Denis Diderot’s Letter on the Blind for the Use of Those Who Can See (1749), one of the most peculiar and powerful texts of the French Enlightenment, it also includes the author’s beautiful and brilliant translations of both Diderot’s Letter (the first new English translation since the eighteenth century!) and François de La Mothe Le Vayer’s 1653 essay ‘Of a Man-Born-Blind’ (available here in English for the first time ever!). Got all that?

Diderot’s Letter, which takes blindness as a starting point to investigate the very natures of perception and cognition, is one of the most innovative texts to have emerged from a century that certainly did not lack for intellectual innovation; that it had not been translated into English since Diderot’s own lifetime is astonishing in itself. Now, not only has Kate Tunstall has given the English-speaking world access to this key Enlightenment text for the first time in centuries, her elegant introductory essay provides readers with important context and original analysis of the complexities of Diderot’s philosophical arguments. Blindness and Enlightenment is a major achievement that will prove invaluable to scholars and students of Enlightenment philosophy, eighteenth-century literature and visual theory for decades to come.

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