Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A positive thought about J-JR

Podcast. It's a rare summer's afternoon when I find myself in my office at school, behind my desk, simulating work. (I don't teach summer school, my home is nearly an hour from campus.) Today I'm here, though, running errands, waiting for the IT people to finish updating my old laptop, and playing with my new office desktop. So here's a small inaugural post from a new machine.

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I've been trying to find positive things to say about J-J Rousseau, beyond appreciating and plotting to swipe the structural layout of his walking "reveries." I found something, in this short notice of the 2011 edition: he inspired Wordsworth's Prelude.
When Rousseau died in July 1778, the unfinished manuscript of Reveries was discovered along with the 27 playing cards on which Rousseau had jotted down his thoughts while walking. He had been working on the 10 "Walks" that comprise Reveries until three months before he died. "I am devoting my last days to studying myself," he wrote. The result is remarkable, the work of a man who felt himself rejected by society and who turned in on himself. His random walks spark brilliant "flights of thought" on life, nature and the falsity of society. Although not intended for publication, Reveries has been hugely influential, as Russell Goulbourne's excellent introduction to his new translation makes clear. The Reveries inspired Wordsworth's ambulatory poem The Prelude and Baudelaire considered naming a collection of poems about Paris The Solitary Walker. Rousseau's walks are not urban, but there are also clear parallels with the Parisian flâneurs and the dérive of the Situationists. A powerful meditation on the quest for self-understanding.
The dogs and I ambled through our neighborhood version of the Sandwalk this morning, over on the grounds of the nearby Baptist Church that we almost always have exclusively to ourselves. This time, though, we encountered something I'll bet Mr. Darwin and Bob never did: screeching Vacation Bible Schoolers, and firefighters on break. A good reminder that solitary walking always happens against a social backdrop, whether we're explicitly aware of that during the walk or not. Today we were definitely aware.

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