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The philosopher instrument is sentient; he’s at the same time the musician and the instrument. Sentient, he has a momentary consciousness of the sound he is rendering; animal, he remembers it; memory, the organic faculty, by connecting the sounds inside itself, at the same time produces and retains the melody. Imagine that the harpsichord possesses both sentience and memory, and tell me if it won’t know and replay by itself the tunes you have played on its keys. We are instruments endowed with sentience and memory. Our senses are like keys plucked by the environment which surrounds us, and that often pluck themselves; and there, in my judgment, you have everything that takes place in a harpsichord constructed like you and me.
–Denis Diderot, Entretien entre D’Alembert et Diderot (Le rêve de D’Alembert) (1769) in: Œuvres (Pléiade ed. 1951), p. 880 (S.H./E.H. transl.)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Number of people who attended the World Grits Festival, held in St. George, South Carolina, last spring:
The brown bears of Greece continued chewing through telephone poles.
In Peru, a 51-year-old activist became the first former sex worker to run for the national legislature. “I’m going to put order,” she said, “in that big brothel which is Congress.”
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“Civilization masks us with a screen, from ourselves and from one another, with thin depth of unreality. We habitually live — do we not? — in a world self-created, half established, of false values arbitrarily upheld, largely inspired by misconception, misapprehension, wrong perspective, and defective proportion, misapplication.”