Monday, June 06, 2005

Clandestine Philosophies

One of the aspects of early modern philosophy I know almost nothing about, an ignorance I certainly wish to remedy at some point, is what is usually called the clandestine philosophy. Clandestine philosophical texts circulated in a sort of European philosophical underground; their exact purpose is not always clear. Some texts seem to be deistic, others atheistic, but some are harder to pin down since (to name just one example) some of them seem to be Cartesianized materialist texts. Some of them play with paradox and irony; some may even be intended as elaborate jokes. It's an area in which there are many unanswered questions.

Adam Sutcliffe, in his "Judaism in the Anti-Religious Thought of the Clandestine French Early Enlightenment" [Journal of the History of Ideas 64.1 (2003) 97-117] describes one strand of this clandestine philosophizing in the following way:

There is still a great deal that is unknown about the culture of the French philosophical underground. The manner in which clandestine manuscripts were written, circulated, and discussed remains to a considerable extent a subject on which historians can only speculate. Leading authors and collectors have been identified. It is striking that many intellectuals prominent in the official academies of Paris, such as Bernard Fontenelle, Nicolas Fréret, and Jean Baptiste de Mirabaud, also dabbled in clandestine philosophy. However, in doing so they entered into another conceptual world, sharply segregated from their approved public personae....The ways in which these writers understood the relationship between open and clandestine texts and between their public lives and their clandestine philosophizing is clearly a subject of extreme complexity, and it suggests a striking fluidity in intellectual identities. (pp. 103-104)

There is an excellent online selection of some of the better-known texts (mostly in French) at Clandestine E-Texts from the Eighteenth Century.

It's a very cool topic; and when people ask you what you study, you can say, "Oh, I study Clandestine Enlightenment."

(Cross-posted at Houyhnhnm Land.)

UPDATE: Sharon points out this article by Margaret Jacob, on the works associated with the imprint of Philippe Marteau: The Clandestine Universe of the Eighteenth Century.

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