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Jacques the Fatalist
by Denis Diderot
If human beings are determined by their genes and their environment, how can they claim to be free to want or do anything? In this work, Diderot intervenes in the characters' lives to cheat our expectations of fiction and to show why Fate is not to be equated with doom.
'Your Jacques is a tasteless mishmash of things that happen, some of them true, others made up, written without style and served up like a dog's breakfast.' Jacques the Fatalist is Diderot's answer to the problem of existence. If human beings are determined by their genes and their environment, how can they claim to be free to want or do anything? Where are Jacques and his Master going? Are they simply occupying space, living mechanically until they die, believing erroneously that they are in charge of their Destiny? Diderot intervenes to cheat our expectations of what fiction should be and do, and behaves like a provocative, ironic and unfailingly entertaining master of revels who finally show why Fate is not to be equated with doom. In the introduction to this brilliant new translation, David Coward explains the philosophical basis of Diderot's fascination with Fate and shows why Jacques the Fatalist pioneers techniques of fiction which, two centuries on, novelists still regard as experimental.
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