J. J. Rousseau: An Afterlife of Words
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Eli Friedlander reads Rousseau's autobiography, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, as philosophy. Reading this work against Descartes's Meditations, Friedlander shows how Rousseau's memorable transformation of experience through writing opens up the possibility of affirming even the most dejected state of being and allows the emergence of the innocence of nature out of the ruins of all social attachments. In tracing the re-creation of a human subject in reverie, Friedlander is alive to the very form of the experience of reading the Reveries by showing the ways this work needs to--and in effect does--generate a reader, without betraying Rousseau's utter solitude.
Friedlander's book provides an afterlife for the Reveries in modern philosophy. It constitutes an alternative to the analytic tradition's revival of Rousseau, primarily through Rawls's influential vision of the social contract. It also counters the fate of Rousseau's writings in the continental tradition, determined by and large by Derrida's deconstruction.
Friedlander's reading of the Reveries, a work that has fascinated generations of readers, is an incomparable introduction to one of the greatest thinkers in Western culture.
exchanges, moving back and forth between the collection of plants and the recollection of reveries through writing. This movement between reverie and botany, determined by inclination and gravity alike, relates the various themes of that walk. When Rousseau first tells of his botanical trips, early in the Second Walk, the reader might not attach significance to the detail that the leaves of the plants he collects lie between the pages of the book he carries, for books can serve to dry flowers.
of any power (empire) over me and henceforward I can laugh at them. (29) The original French reveals a series of related ambiguities in this passage. Rousseau finds suffering in the experience of meaning, in the excess of meaning. Through the pun on maux (pains) and mots (words) he hints at the relation between language and victimization, as if human suffering were to be found at the origin of language. Rousseau further describes a movement of return from the hyperbolization of the imagination
about such a transformation. My reading of the Reveries brings to mind a further moment in my reading of the Tractatus—call it Wittgenstein’s solitary moment—his claim that “The world is my world,” which relates the experience of the world to my capacity to judge it for myself, to approach it as if I found it. Yet the Tractatus itself is not a work in which that truth of solipsism is exemplified, but rather a critique that opens the possibility of that relation to experience. Through Rousseau’s
so strong that we read by turns continuously, and spent whole nights so engaged. For we could never leave off till the end of the book” (C, 19). 2. Michael Davis forms a parallel between Mme de Warens’ relation to Rousseau and Rousseau’s relation to his reader: “The Reveries as a whole is Rousseau’s attempt to do for us what Mme de Warens did for him. His soul is meant to become the vehicle for the realization of our souls; this is what it means for Rousseau to be a parent” (The Autobiography of
Press, 2001. Heidegger, M. The Fundamental Concept of Metaphysics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. ——— The Principle of Reason. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996. Hume, D. “My Own Life.” In D. Hume, Essays, Moral, Political and Literary, ed. E. F. Miller. Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1987. ——— A Treatise of Human Nature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978. Kant, I. “Conjectural Beginning of Human History.” In I. Kant, On History, ed. L. W. Beck. Indianapolis: The