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quote 2017-01-28 02:19

Supposing eternal spring on the earth; supposing plenty of water, livestock, and pasture, and supposing that men, as they leave the hands of nature, were once spread out in the midst of all that, I cannot imagine how they would ever be induced to give up their primitive liberty, abandoning the isolated pastoral life so fitted to their natural indolence, to impose on themselves unnecessarily the labors and the inevitable misery of a social mode of life.

On the Origin of Language - Jean-Jacques Rousseau,Johann Gottfried Herder,John H. Moran,Alexander Gode

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
On the Origin of Languages

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review 2016-08-19 02:19
Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

"I am resolved on an undertaking that has no model and will have no imitator."

Have you every felt so completely sorry for someone that that emotion eclipses any others that he might stir up inside you?  Have you ever encountered someone who simply is a unique soul, a person who, no matter what they do, does not fit in easily with society?  Have you ever been charmed by someone and then repelled at the same time?  All these thoughts and emotions were boiling up, mixing together, as I read Rousseau’s Confessions, the autobiography of his life.
Rousseau was born in 1712 in Geneva in the Republic of Geneva, a city-state in the Protestant Swiss Confederacy.  He was born to a watchmaker named Isaac Rousseau and his wife, Suzanne Bernard, his mother dying tragically mere days following Rousseau's birth.  He described her death as, "the first of my misfortunes."  
Reading his mother's romance books at such a young age, with his father, appeared to shape Rousseau's character in an unusual way:
"By this dangerous method I acquired in a short time not only a marked facility for reading and comprehension, but also an understanding, unique in one of my years, of the passions.  I had as yet no ideas about things, but already I knew every feeling.  I had conceived nothing; I had felt everything.  This rapid succession of confused emotions did not damage my reason, since as yet I had none; but it provided me with one of a different temper; and left me with some bizarre and romantic notions about human life, of which experience and reflection have never quite managed to cure me."
Curiously, Rousseau's experience with books and their  affect on human character are echoed by themes in other classics including, Madame Bovary, Eugene Onegin, and Anna Karenina.
Les Charmettes where Rousseau lived
with Mme Warens
source Wikipedia
From the age of 10 on, Rousseau saw little of his father, who had moved away to avoid prosecution by a wealthy land owner. The boy was eventually apprenticed to an engraver, but at 15 ran away and began a rather nomadic lifestyle.  In Savoy, he would be introduced to Madame Francoise-Louise de Warens, a woman 13 years his senior, whom he would forever call "Maman."  She would be his Muse and surrogate mother for the greater part of Rousseau's life, as well his lover for a short period of time.  Later, his obsessive interest in music would be used to earn money as a teacher, as well as gain him subsequent notoriety as a writer of opera and various other articles and works on the subject.  
In 1742, Rousseau moved to Paris and became close friends with Denis Diderot, another enlightenment thinker, and his renown as a philosopher was born.  His first major-philosophical work, Discours sur les Sciences et les Arts was presented to the Academy of Dijon in response to the question, "...whether the Restoration of the arts and sciences has had the effect of purifying or corrupting morals."  In it, Rousseau offered a thorough critique of civilization, seeing it not as a chronicle of progress, but instead as a history of decay.  For Rousseau, no one is innately good, but instead must cultivate a rational knowledge to gain control of nature and therefore, self.  
Denis Diderot (1767)
par Louis-Michel van Loo
Upon returning to Paris, after a posting in Venice as a secretary to the Comte de Montaigue, Rousseau took Thérèse Levasseur as a lover, eventually having 5 children with her, all of whom he placed in a foundling hospital, being unwilling to bring them up due to the lack of education and undesirable social class of his in-laws whom he was supporting.  With his later books on education and child-rearing, these callous actions made him the target of vicious ad hominem attacks from some contemporaries, in particular Voltaire and Edmund Burke.  
Through most of his life, Rousseau dealt with various health issues including being unable to urinate without the use of a probe, odd romantic attachments, including a passionate unconsummated obsession with Sophie d'Houdetot, who inspired his novel, Julie, breaks with various friends and acquaintances upon his retirement to the country, and various and numerous attacks of persecution and threats.  When Rousseau wrote that all religions had value, in that they all encouraged men to virtue, an intense uproar exploded against him, and he was finally forced to flee to England with the help of the Scottish philosopher, David Hume.  In 1767, he returned to France under an assumed name and finally in 1770, he was officially allowed to return.  
While the tone of Confessions often oozed of lament and discontent, especially during the latter half, Rousseau also showed a rather mischievous sense of humour:
“As we became better acquainted, we were, of course, obliged to talk about ourselves, to say where we came from and who we were.  This threw me into confusion; for I was very well aware that in polite society and among ladies of fashion I had only to describe myself as a new convert and that would be the end of me.  I decided to pass myself off as English:  I presented myself as a Jacobite, which seemed to satisfy them, called myself Dudding and was known to the company as M. Dudding.  One of their number, the Marquis de Taulignan, a confounded fellow, ill like me, old into the bargain, and rather bad-tempered, took it into his head to engage M. Dudding in conversation.  He spoke of King James, of the Pretender, and of the court of Saint Germain in the old days.  I was on tenderhooks.  I knew about all of this  only of what little I had read in Count Hamilton and in the gazettes; however I made such good use of this little knowledge that I managed to get away with it, relieved that no one had thought to question me about the English language, of which I did not know one single word.” 
One cannot talk about Rousseau's life without mentioning his passion for nature.  Once removed to the country, he was in his element, his retirement not only giving him an escape from the petty intriguing of Parisian society, but also gratifying his love of long rambles in the woods, his eventual interest in botany and his joy of solitutde.
"Two or three times a week when the weather was fine we would take coffee in a cool and leafy little summer-house behind the house, over which I had trained hops, and which was a great pleasure to us when it was hot; there we would spend an hour or so inspecting our vegetable plot and our flowers, and discussing our life together in ways that led us to savour more fully its sweetness.  At the end of the garden I had another little family:  these were my bees.  I rarely missed going to visit them, often accompanied by Maman; I was very interest in the arrangements, and found it endlessly entertaining to watch them come home from their marauding with their little thighs sometimes so laden that they could hardly walk."

Rousseau méditant dans un parc (1769)
par Alexandre Hyacinthe Dunouy
source Wikipedia

Rousseau was a man of numerous contradictions.  On one hand, he was self-absorbed, petty-minded, overly sensitive, idealistic, peculiar, selfish, out of touch with reality, yet on the other, he was also rather lonely, at times generous, unique, creative, self-aware, and inquisitive.  He is a puzzling conundrum bottled up in one person.  Yes, he would have been hard to bear at times.  He is one of those people with whom one could never be comfortable, as you would always be wondering if you were living up to his standards.  He had a short fuse, yet also a generous heart. 

How did I come to these conclusions?  Well, you certainly get a sense of Rousseau’s perceived persecution that appeared expanded to gigantic proportions in his mind.  Many reviewers call this obsession his “paranoia,” an imagined grand plot with machinations designed by numerous former friends, ready to invest years of their lives to bring about his downfall.  Yet perhaps this behaviour is not so surprising in a man who had been raised mostly without family, obviously needing the intimacy of human companionship, yet who had never really learned or accepted the proper manners to fit easily in society; French society, in particular, follows certain constructs that do not allow for individuality.  

In spite of Rousseau's various eccentricities, I couldn't help feel profound sympathy for him.  With no one to shape his character and with his unwillingness to temper his idiosyncrasies and become homogeneous with his surroundings, Rousseau became a victim of himself, a plight for me that only excites pity.
© Cleo and Classical Carousel, Years 2014 - 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this written material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cleo and Classical Carousel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content
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review 2016-01-26 00:45
The Educated Human
Emile or Education - Jean-Jacques Rousseau

To say that Rousseau has a low opinion of humanity is an understatement – he absolute despises the corrupting nature of humans and the effect upon the world around them. This is clearly summed up in his opening statement:


God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil.


Actually, Rousseau has an interesting view of reality: the world is initially good and people are free however from the moment of birth the corrupting influence of humanity comes to the fore and seeks to enslave the child - this book is a treatise on how to insulate the child from this corrupting influence and thus to create a new and evolved human through education. The problem with Rousseau is that he does not seem to recognise that human corruption is a part of their nature as opposed to something that comes about through interaction with society, and as such despite being isolated from society the child will still be corrupt. In a way it is sort of like a genetic disorder that is passed down through the parents, meaning that if the parents are corrupt then the child will inherit that corruption despite the parents attempting to insulate the child from the corrupting nature of society.


As you have probably guessed, this text (and it is a pretty long one mind you – Rousseau himself indicated in his foreword that he initially intended it to be quite short but unfortunately it blew out to beyond all proportions) is about the best way to educate a child, however it goes beyond that to theorise on how to craft and mould the child into becoming what Rousseau considered to be an enlightened human, and to do so he realises that one cannot simply isolate the child from society for there must come a time when the child will partake in society, particularly when it comes time for the child to marry. However the conclusion is the belief that if the child is educated properly, right up to and including marriage, then it will form the foundations of a new and enlightened culture as the educated child will then pass that knowledge and training onto his children.


The Education System

I'm going to have to say that I'm not hugely familiar with the system of education back in Rousseau's days, however it was certainly not the system that we are exposed to today. My understanding was that back in Rousseau's day children were educated through the use of private tutors and apprenticeships. If a child were highborn (that is a member of the aristocracy) then private tutors would be brought in to teach the children, and in many cases this education simply involved how one was to conduct oneself in such social circles. In fact I would go as far as to suggest that a lot of the aristocracy of these days probably weren't educated, or at least they weren't educated in the way we understand education. However they no doubt were literate, and would have been exposed not just to the teachings of the church, but also to the writings of the ancients (and in some cases contemporaries, unless their writings had been banned, which was not all that uncommon).


The lower classes tended to be apprenticed and their training would be similar to what we understand as on-the-job training. The idea of going to school and deciding on a career simply did not exist – one's career had been decided by birth and that career was either in the family business, or based upon when one was born as well as one's gender. Females generally would not be given the same education as where the men, and they certainly weren't taught to be literate. One of the problems I found with this book though was that this sexism does permeate quite deeply, despite the fact that Rousseau does state that with the exception of some physiological differences men and women are basically the same.


However that does not necessarily mean that our modern system of education is better – in fact I would have to argue that in many cases it is worse. I suspect that if Rousseau were to be grabbed by Bill and Ted and taken to modern day San Dimas he would be absolutely appalled (isn't it interesting that when the people of historical significance explored modern day San Dimas they were all pretty impressed). The thing with our modern system of education is that it is a by product of industrialisation. Children are all seen as similar products and are put through a machine with the idea of them emerging identical at the end. In a sense it not only assumes that everybody is the same, it works on the principle that one can grade a student's performance on a standardised test. There is one big problem with that, as is exemplified by this cartoon:





Okay, I went through school before they came out with this wonderful idea of standardised testing, however there were still elements of it during the time I was there. The idea of having an exam at the end of every year, or even tests throughout the year, worked on the principle that everybody could write a perfect essay, or everybody was good at maths. The problem is that this is simply not true. I remember when one teacher said to the class that when he handed out an essay assignment that all of the essays when submitted were to be identical to each other. In fact he even wrote the entire essay on the board to illustrate what he expected. Needless to say I dropped that class and went on to do maths and science.


It is not necessarily the teacher's fault though as the teacher can only work with the tools given to them (and the fact that teachers are severely underpaid is a problem in and of itself). I personally believe that they should be given a lot more credit than they are by society, but I suspect that modern society hates teachers because as children we hated our teachers. In a way this is what it has become:





However, one thing that I will point out before I move on is that one of the ideas, especially for the later years of highschool and university, is that the student is supposed to become more specialised. That is the earlier years brings out the child's strengths and weaknesses, and in the later years the child then pursues subjects that play on the child's strengths. Of course I could also write about how the modern education system is also a form of mass indoctrination, but I will leave it at that for the time being.


On Religion

The main focus of this book is about education, but Rousseau needed to touch upon a number of aspects of his society to be able to explain this philosophy on how to train somebody to become an enlightened individual, and one of these areas is religion. I have noticed that many seem to believe Rousseau to be, while not an atheist, at least a humanist, but this could not be further from the truth. The idea of humanism is that humanity is the peak of the evolutionary ladder and that which humanity creates is worth paying attention. In fact our understanding of society and how to progress should come out of the whole body of human knowledge.


The problem is that Rousseau considers humans to be thoroughly corrupt, meaning that anything that is written by a human simply cannot be trusted, and this is very much the case with religion. Rousseau believes in the existence of God, however he points out that the problem with knowing the characteristics of god simply comes down to referring to human knowledge, which he considers corrupt. While be points out that in Europe at the time (as well as across the globe) there were all these groups claiming that their understanding of religion was the 'one true way' it all boils down to one thing – human understanding, which is untrustworthy.


Rousseau is basically a natural theologian in that his understanding of any spiritual reality can only come through observing nature, however he the goes on to conclude his treatise on religion by referring back to Christianity, and in fact pointing to Christ. His belief is that the horrendousness of Christ's death, and the fact that he was mocked and brutalised, adds to the truth behind Christ's claims simply because it is so absurd. The idea of God becoming a human is ridiculous enough, but subjecting himself to arrest, mockery, an unjust trial, and probably one of the most barbaric forms of execution is outright bizarre. In fact his suggestion is that it is so bizarre that it simply has to be true.


Mind you, he does touch on the idea of fundamentalism, and he does provide a warning that one needs to be very circumspect when talking about religion and belief systems as a whole because there is a danger that the child, if not taught properly, or even not taught at all, would become a fanatic.


The Social Sphere

Another idea that I picked up from this book was how decadent Rousseu's viewed the world of the French aristocrats. It was a world of high society, of debauchery, and of political machinations. No doubt this came about through their learning, particularly with the ancients. This is why Rousseau suggests one should be really circumspect on what they should be taught, and that there is only a handful of ancient texts that the student should be exposed to. In a way life in the upper crust of French society at the time was little different to that among the Roman patricians. While it has been a while since I have seen it, the film (which is based on a book) Dangerous Liaisons paints a very clear picture of what it was like.





This is probably why Rousseau, when he comes to the end of the book, suggests that his protegee (and his wife) should leave the city and live in a modest cottage in the country. In his mind the city is one massive cesspit of corrupting influence, and despite all of the work in training Emile, he knew that if Emile were to remain in the city, especially Paris (where much of the politics would be played out) then all of this hard work would be undone in short time. As mentioned, Rousseau believed humanity to be corrupt, and when humans got together in large numbers then this corruption would increase exponentially.




I wish to finish off here, namely because I found that this was probably the most unrealistic aspect of the treatise. The idea is that there will come a time when Emile will need to marry, and as such for the experiment to work Rousseau will need to find what I considered to be the perfect woman. However there is one problem:





So, my big question is, did Rousseau (or even somebody later) actually put this into practice, and did the whole experiment crash and burn when it came time for Emile to marry?

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1470101800
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review 2015-11-16 11:54
Man is Born Free and Everywhere he is in Chains
The Social Contract - Jean-Jacques Rousseau,Maurice Cranston

This is how Rousseau, an 18th Century philosopher, opens his treatise on good government. The writing is not so much about a good form of government, but rather how government should run to be the best for the people. Of some of the ideas he proposes is that the law giver and the sovereign are two different people. To have the ability to make and execute the laws in the same hands is repugnant to Rousseau. In fact, though he does support monarchies, he goes to pains to explain how the monarch should not have the power to make the laws, only to execute them.


However, being a treatise on how to have good government alongside freedom, really comes down to the tenant at the beginning of chapter 15. The crux of this argument is that as soon as citizens cease to take on board their duty (which is to participate in government) and to pay somebody else to do it for them is the first step to slavery, and thus the sentence 'use money thus, and you will soon have chains' is what I believe to be the pivotal statement in this book.


Obviously the title 'the social contract' is about the contract that exists between everybody in a society, and it is this contract that governs how we conduct ourselves, and being involved in the government beyond election day is an important aspect of our role as citizens. Unfortunately the way our system works, many of us prefer to turn off as soon as we walk out of the election booth, saying 'I've done my duty, now I can go and grab a sausage on the way out and go back to playing Fallout 4'. While there are avenues to influence government, many of us have little opportunity to actually do so beyond paying a visit to our local member of parliament (who pretty much spews out the typical party line anyway).



Rousseau is quite idealistic, but his concept of property is worth mentioning: there is no concept of property. The only reason that property exists is because at some time in the past somebody put a fence up around their land and said 'this is mine'. Thus this person alienates everybody but themselves from this land, and it is through their strength that they maintain this alienation. It is interesting that there still are societies out there that do not have the same concept of property as us westerners do, and ironically governments don't like it. This is very much the case with the Aboriginals in Central Australia. They basically want to live the way they have lived for thousands of years, and the government doesn't want that to happen. They have to concept of ownership in the way that we have it. However there is one tactic that the west has used time and time again to undermine an alien culture – alcohol.


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/187598533
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review 2015-01-04 13:17
The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel, Amanda Hall
The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau - Michelle Markel,Amanda Hall


This Brain Pickings article kept me in raptures and surfing this morning.

Henri Rousseau’s Heartening Story of Success after a Lifetime of Rejection, Illustrated by Maria Popova: How a kind old man who spent his life in poverty, worked as a toll collector, and was entirely self-taught became one of the world’s greatest artists.

One night, he dreams up a painting of which he is especially proud, depicting a lion looking over a sleeping gypsy with friendly curiosity.

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