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This programme explores the idea of the 'Noble Savage' in the work of three 18th century French writers. It begins by tracing the literary tradition of the Noble Savage idea and the impact on that ...idea of the 17th and 18th century voyages of discovery, comparing the reality of savage life with its literary expression. Denis Diderot used the explorer's first hand accounts of Tahiti to both satirise his own society and point out the vulnerability of the Tahitians' own existence after they had been contacted by the Europeans. Rousseau suggested that the Tahitians were what man should be like, although he recognised it was impossible for Europeans to turn back the clock. Violtaire put forward the idea of an alternative advanced civilisation in preference to the Noble Savage's idyllic primitive society.
Metadata describing this Open University video programme
Module code and title: A204, The Enlightenment
Item code: A204; 10
First transmission date: 10-07-1980
Published: 1980
Rights Statement:
Restrictions on use:
Duration: 00:24:23
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Producer: Tony Coe
Contributors: Andrew Burt; Peter France
Publisher: BBC Open University
Keyword(s): 18th century French society; Diderot; Noble savage; Philosophy; Rousseau; Tahiti
Footage description: The programme opens with a still of Tahiti over which a caption quotes Dryden's verse on the Noble Savage. A variety of images contrasting the modern industrial environment with primitive societies are shown in quick succession. In voice over Dr France describes a Western European tradition of praise for the values of a primitive Golden Age. A brief extract from A204/07 shows the mock peasant cottages used by the 18th century French court. A number of prints show 16th and 17th century Europeans' views of primitive societies, over which are read comments on the idea of the Noble Savage from Montaigne and Shakespeare. A range of illustrations show primitive peoples encountered on European voyages of discovery. In voice over France comments on European reactions to these peoples and describes the growth of scientific observation of primitive cultures in the 18th century. As an example an extract from Joseph Bank's work is read over illustrations of Maoris. Over numerous illustrations of primitive peoples France describes three distinct European reactions to such people whereby they were seen as evil, ignorant or noble. A quotation from Lahontan is used as an example of praise for the noble savage. Drawings made on Cook's voyages of discovery are shown. In voice over France comments on the tendency to idealise the life of the savage. An extract from a BBC film entitled The Savage is shown in which Tahitians are observed. Over this a quotation from Bougainville is read in which le likens Tahiti to the Garden of Eden. Further 18th century illustrations of primitive peoples, over which France comments on the tendency of European intellectuals to liken primitive society to the Golden Age of Ancient Greece. He describes European interest in the freer sexual behaviour of primitive peoples. A portrait of Diderot is shown and an extract from his Supplement to Bougainville's Voyage is read in which he contrasts Tahitian marriage with that of France. Peter France discusses a paradox of Enlightenment thought between its enthusiasm for both scientific progress and the ideal of the Noble Savage. Portrait of Rousseau over which France describes Rousseau's enthusiasm for the Noble Savage. Passage from Rousseau's work are quoted over excerpts from a BBC Everyman programme We're not Savages, We're People. The film shows the life of South American Indians. France compares Rousseau with Montaigne. Over a variety of illustrations France gives Voltaire's view of the Noble Savage. An extract from a BBC production of Candide is shown in which El Dorado is discussed. France describes Voltaire's Utopia of an alternative civilisation and compares it with the views of those who idealised the Noble Savage. Cook's description of Europeans destroying primitive culture is quoted over prints of Tahitians. The programme ends with Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi played over aerial shots of a large factory.
Production number: FOUA048A
Videofinder number: 2268
Available to public: no