From the Compost Pile: an Intro to my Diderot book that Got Dumped
If Denis Diderot had provided the first paragraphs for his own biography, he might have begun by evoking the precise moment where he was conceived on a January night in 1713. This was, after all, how he liked to tell his friend’s life stories.
Angélique Diderot, his very devout mother, would have been the first actor in this short comedy. The equally pious Didier Diderot – a balding, perpetually smock-covered cutler who came home from work smelling of the forge – would have soon joined her on stage. And on a frigid evening next to a roaring fireplace, in the small city of Langres. . . . the two god-fearing folk would have pulled at least some of their clothes off before slipping into bed beneath their fetid wool blankets, acting, they believed, on God’s decree to be fruitful and multiply.
But as the zygote-turned-grown man who was produced during this moment would later say. . . what happened in this bed. . . had very little to do with the deity. It was, rather, the aching desire to be touched – and the craving and lust of his beloved parents – that pulled him from the dark void.
Love and sex were just the first part of how he would recount his own biography, however. What happened next was generally the most fun for him to describe. Chemical fermentation and epigenetic liquids became activated. A tiny organ was formed! Then another! And then another. And then a little brain. And then, months later, a tiny hominoid was born.
Food, love, and instruction made him a boy. Attached to his mother’s bosom, he took nourishment; he sensed; he thought; he was instructed; he grew, he walked, he excelled in school; and he finally left his small town of Langres and made his way to Paris, where, several years later, he was arrested both for heresy, and for being a wise ass.