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The High Enlightenment And The Low Life Of Literature

2174 words - 9 pages

Today, as historians look at the enlightenment they look at it through the eyes of the great thinkers.“The philosophic spirit itself took refuge in the writings of some great men”(D’Alembert,7).They helped create knowledge in how it is viewed today. However, the question remians what is the category that these men fall into. There are many different names and definitions of what these men can be called and who qualifies to fit in this group. It is said that many of the men that were classified in the category were not actual philosopher thinkers that expanded the mind and challenged thought. In the essay “The High Enlightenment and the Low-Life of Literature” by Robert Darnton he discuses the status of these philosophes that were being produced during the High Enlightenment. He argues that “the summit view of eighteenth-century intellectual history has been described so often and so well that it might be useful to strike out in a new direction, to try to get to the bottom of the Enlightenment, and try to penetrate into its underworld...from below”(Darnton,57). He decides to look at the status of the enlightenment thinkers during this time to see the social standing that they had and the influence upon the world around them, not from the overall philosophes. Not from their works that were produced or the social responses to them; from the actual men of letters themselves.Darnton criticizes other historians for having looked at the Enlightenment “only through the eyes of this elite and proposes that, instead, we examine it from the perspective of those who failed to break into this closed elite of ‘literary aristocrates’”(Who were the Philosophes, 44).
Darnton discusses, in his essay, the stance of the men of letters during the Enlightenment specifically from the stroy of Jean-Babtiste Suard, the development of the new status of the Philosophes when compared to that of the original men of thought, and the societal impact it had upon the development of the men of letters. He asks the question “Was the establishment becoming enlightened or the Enlightenment established”(Darnton, 63) , to see the elitism that was happening to the Enlightenment. The men of letters that were being produced during this time were regarded as “occupying a common social positions with the other intellectuals, a positions in fact involving considerable dissonance with existing society”(Baker, 53). To the outside observer they were being integrated into social standing with their knowledge. Thus, with the influences of society do we analyze their thought. Darnton thinks it should be studdied with out the influence of the world around them. “These Men of Letters, in this Age, have lost, in a great Measure, that Shyness and Bashfulness of Temper, which kept them at a Distance from Mankind” (Hume, 51). The original men of thought were more reserved, but as time progessed they lost some of these attributes.“The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can...

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