Monday, June 29, 2015

Rousseau's paranoia

Podcast. Before the plug was so abruptly pulled on this morning's dawn post, I was saying Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "reveries" were too solitary, his humanity too self-centered. His "first walk" begins with a blast of paranoia.
Behold me, then, as  if alone upon the earth, having neither brother, relative, friend, or society, but my  own thoughts; the most social and affectionate of men, proscribed, as it were, by unanimous consent.
Of course it's true that, just because you're paranoid, it doesn't follow that everyone might not be plotting against you. But Rousseau really seems to have had serious difficulty latching and hanging onto interpersonal and social reality. He did make some real enemies, as you might have guessed, and David Hume tried to offer sanctuary and friendship. It didn't last. (See Rousseau's Dog.)

I'm always surprised and disappointed by dog-lovers who abuse humans. Rousseau was one of those. And he was a walker, so I'm doubly disappointed in him. But I must come to terms with him, he wrote that book about solitary walkers.

I think "solitary" is key: Rousseau may have walked in company with a canine, but he did not expand his mental universe sufficiently to include or empathize with others of his own kind. He stands as clear evidence that walking as such does not necessarily improve a person's capacity for humility, fellow-feeling, or even baseline sanity.

Another key: in this translation he's the solitary walker. The gifted edition from my old friend JM, years ago, called him a solitary walker. Or at least I'm pretty sure that's true, and the presumption of ego in that deceptively small grammatical shift might be telling.

(More on this to come...)
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