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Diderot and the Last Luminare:
Waiting for the Enlightenment
(A Revised Encyclopedia)


Original Audio Works: John Goss.

Text/Voice Excerpts: Don DeLillo, Americana, Chinua Achebe, Arrow of God, Salman Rushdie, Ingeborg Bachman, Louis Sullivan, Secretary of Health, ACT-UP, San Francisco, Diderot and d'Alembert The Encyclopedia (1747-1765).

"Diderot and The Last Luminare" attempts to give new perspective on the aims, processes and structures of the Age of Enlightenment by skewing underlying similarities and examining the evolving differences between the scientific revolution of the past and contemporary nostalgic constructions of the notion of "progress" tinged with fear and desire. Diderot's writings on the function of culture and politics in society and his concept of the distribution of knowledge are made manifest in the plates accompanying the Encyclopedia. These plates structure the video. His subversive model of visual knowledge, designed to democratize information, is used as a springboard to examine current concepts of knowledge control, dissemination and threatened collapse. The tape is an "updated" 20th century encyclopedia with all of the attendant impossibilities, a ludicrous desire to interrogate larger questions through the structures of the past. In a sense it longs for the speculative order of the Enlightenment while realizing the impossibility of its replication. It is about the gap between these two impulses.

The original Encyclopedia (1747-1765 ) was broken down into categories that ranged from fishing techniques to geology. It occupied the greater part of Diderot's life and was sincerely designed to be functional. This "update" is a speculative project that could exist indefinitely, or could end tomorrow. It is a desperate electronic stand-in, comprised of inherited categories of knowledge which pretend inclusiveness, both comfortable and dangerous. The encyclopedic system, its privileged iconographic representation of labor and craft, and its visual and theoretical 20th century legacy coexist in visually speculative juxtaposition that posits a famial resemblance between our cultural industries, humanist impulses and one of the earliest "modern" compendiums of what was considered necessary human knowledge - Diderot's encyclopedia.



Diderot and The Last Luminare's script can be found in:
Felix: A Journal of Media Arts and Communication
Vol. 2, No.1, 1995.