For the past two days, I have been plugging away at Rousseau's Emile.
I can't remember when I got the idea of picking up Rousseau. Probably as a result of hearing so much flak about him.
Bitch, bitch, bitch. Everybody comes out with a sanctimonious statement about the fact that Rousseau abandoned his children to an orphanage. NOBODY comes out with the fact that he later publicly regretted it bitterly, and attempted to find them, to no avail. Nor that Emile was written as a form of reparation.
Nobody comes out with the fact that Rousseau led a hand to mouth existence for most of his existence, and let go a lucrative position as a wealthy banker's personal secretary because it entered into conflict with his personal beliefs.
In short, condemnation of Rousseau comes swiftly, and even in France, his writings are subtley disqualified by the powers that be, in such a way that yours truly ended up being curious, and decided to open him up to see what exactly could be the reason behind so much... pompous, self righteous disqualification coming from people who had never bothered to spend any time on his writing...
And I am not disappointed at all by Rousseau.
I have been laughing outright, and chuckling through his lush, incredibly rich prose.
Rousseau is an eccentric. He is an extremely irritating person, while being totally singular, unique (like yours truly, by the way, which is one of the reasons we get along so well).
He has passionate opinions, and he is a tissue of contradictions, when he is not driving you crazy through his desire to take things through to their logical conclusion.
His idea of education is a benevolent totalitarian enterprise, where his idealism infuses every page, and EVERYTHING IS CONTROLLED DOWN TO THE MOST MINUTE DETAIL.
And along with the idealism, if you read carefully you will understand TO WHAT EXTENT people like... Sigmund Freud and Charles Darwin had an incredible debt to Rousseau, whose works contain, in seed form, the ideas that the two giants above will develop considerably later.
You will also understand, if you bother to read him... just why the establishment has taken so many pains to discredit and disqualify him. For... ITS own good.
Because, Jean-Jacques Rousseau is an incredibly astute observer of the arbitrary manner in which the social body (that's us..) decrees what is right, and what is wrong, what education should be, and shouldn't.
And... believe you me, there is NO SUBJECT as PRICKLY as the education of the younger generation, no subject more prompt to unleash sometimes smoldering, sometimes blazing passions in their elders (that's us).
Some of Rousseau's pedagogical positions are as contemporary as the French Revolution in May, 1968. And some of what he suggested is, EVEN NOW IN 2010, considered ill advised, RADICAL, irresponsible. (Yeah, well, remember that Socrates got axed for corrupting Athenian youth, at least in pretext...)
Because we oldies just can't accept the idea that our children are REALLY our equals.
No, not for one minute. And the older generation tries to hang on to its real or imagined power/authority for as long as possible. Rousseau advocates letting necessity fix the limits for children, and not arbitrary adult authority. Revolutionary...
As the grandaddy of all sociologists (psychologists ?), Rousseau is a must read. He knows the tattered rag and bone shop of the heart so intimately that you will laugh out loud at some of his priceless observations on human nature.
I am not sure how well he has been translated, as it is difficult to render him with any justice, and I will not attempt it here (too lazy...).
End of ad.