Winner of the 2022 Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Title, sponsored by the American Library Association.
Bronze Medal (tie) in the 2022 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPYs) - History (World) Category.
A lively examination of the life and work of one of the great Enlightenment intellectuals
Philosopher, translator, novelist, art critic, and editor of the Encyclopédie, Denis Diderot was one of the liveliest figures of the Enlightenment. But how might we delineate the contours of his diverse oeuvre, which, unlike the works of his contemporaries, Voltaire, Rousseau, Schiller, Kant, or Hume, is clearly characterized by a centrifugal dynamic?
Taking Hegel's fascinated irritation with Diderot's work as a starting point, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht explores the question of this extraordinary intellectual's place in the legacy of the eighteenth century. While Diderot shared most of the concerns typically attributed to his time, the ways in which he coped with them do not fully correspond to what we consider Enlightenment thought. Conjuring scenes from Diderot's by turns turbulent and quiet life, offering close readings of several key books, and probing the motif of a tension between physical perception and conceptual experience, Gumbrecht demonstrates how Diderot belonged to a vivid intellectual periphery that included protagonists such as Lichtenberg, Goya, and Mozart. With this provocative and elegant work, he elaborates the existential preoccupations of this periphery, revealing the way they speak to us today.
About the author
Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht is the Albert Guérard Professor in Literature Emeritus at Stanford University. His books written in English include In 1926 (1998), Production of Presence (Stanford, 2004), In Praise of Athletic Beauty (2006), Atmosphere, Mood, Stimmung (Stanford, 2012), After 1945 (Stanford, 2013), and Our Broad Present (2014).
"Innovative, lively, and full of ideas and insights, Prose of the World is a major contribution to our understanding and appreciation of Diderot's thought."
—Thomas Pavel, author of The Lives of the Novel: A History
"This book represents a significant contribution by one of the world's leading literary scholars and public intellectuals, whose deep familiarity with the history of ideas and philosophy display a rare ingenuity."
—Markus Gabriel, author of Why the World Does Not Exist
"Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Literature Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, brings to bear his 50-year intellectual love affair with Diderot to give us this magisterial study."
—Dr. Cliff Cunningham, Sun New Austin
"Does Diderot (1713–84) have a particular affinity with the present time? Could the 21st century become, in terms of reception and resonance, the Age of Diderot, as the 19th was the Age of Voltaire and the 20th the Age of Rousseau? These questions drive this ambitious, erudite work by one of today's leading cultural historians and literary critics...Essential." CHOICE
"Gumbrecht's readings of these texts are astute, rigorous, and thought-provoking, and resist any straightforward or reductive explanation of Diderot's ideas.... By turns effortlessly readable and intriguingly opaque, intellectually provocative in its reflections and yet hard to pin down to one thesis, this study encapsulates something of its genial yet complex subject matter in its very approach."
—Joseph Harris, Lessing Yearbook