Volume 10, 2007
Ancient and Modern Philosophy
Diderot and the Despotism of the Body
The paper considers the multiplication of speech organs in Diderot's first novel Les Bijoux indiscrets. The main plot device of the novel—the talking "jewels" or female sex organs— enables Diderot to confront two different conceptions of the soul, the spiritual and material, in one and the same body. The voice coming from the head, traditionally held to be the seat of the soul, is contradicted by a voice that comes from that part of the body which is traditionally considered as to be the least submissive to the head or mind. When the body rebels against the women who believe themselves to be spiritual substances in command of the body to which they are united, it is in fact the soul which is identical with the body or with its organization that really rebels against them, and objects to the false portrayal of its seat—and function— in the body. Strictly speaking, by unmasking the testimony of the women as a lie, the jewels expose the very spiritualist position itself as a lie. The paper then argues that, unlike the spiritualism propounded by the head, the spontaneous philosophy of the "indiscreet jewels" is one of forthright materialism.