overidentification with Jean

my reading of Rousseau has been subject to tremendous variation. the original criticism and, quite honestly, my unabashed derision that I felt for him has faded into near reverence. to be clear there are a number of things that I take issue with in Discourse: Rousseau’s obtuse misogyny, rampant hypocrisy, superiority, limitless and sometimes baseless conjecture and the fact that his arguments rest solely on his own opinion of men and interpretation of history rather than any facts. As he says, “Let us begin by setting aside all the facts, because they do not affect the question.” Rousseau is not terribly concerned with the facts but with emotion. This is something that would typically gall me, and in a less talented writer (like Plato) it certainly would. But regardless of the holes in Rousseau’s arguments, by the end of his essay he has totally captivated me. His discussion on the inequality of governance and how men consign themselves to oppression and disparity is very compelling, with some very powerful lines like “citizens allow themselves to be oppressed only so far as they are impelled by a blind ambition” and ” fixing their eyes below rather than above themselves, come to love domination more than independence.” reading Rousseau felt very familiar to me and actually reminded me in some ways of my own writing style. not that I could compare myself to him in a stylistic sense, and my depth is an entirely lower level (several hundred levels below in fact). but his strengths and weaknesses are very similar to mine in the sense that he has a very strong position, and perspective, and he can be very persuasive. however, he is also prone to making sweeping generalizations, extreme hyperbole, and controversial judgments which would be fine if he relied on more than his own opinion as evidence to back it up, but alas. the other frustration that I have with him (similar to myself) is that he doesn’t always relate back to his thesis; he is so passionate about such a variety of topics that he often goes on lengthy rants about agriculture or jealousy without specifying the relevance that the topic has to his thesis. this caused me to become lost a number of times in the detail, attempting to determine what the hell he was talking about. I felt like he started off strong and then went on for about twenty pages about animals and farming and then finally by the last third of the essay he came back to his original topic. his saving grace is that Rousseau is an exceedingly talented and compelling writer, if not, I would have stopped reading very soon into the essay.

1 thought on “overidentification with Jean

  1. I feel exactly the same way! I love reading Rousseau. His writing style is engaging and, as you put it, captivating. But when I go to try to trace an argument in the text I am frustrated at how difficult it is. I finally got to the point where I felt I had an outline of it that reflected what he is saying, but then, as you note, the weakness of the argument becomes apparent. Sigh. I want to much to love his work, and I do love many aspects of what he’s saying.

    What I’d also love is someone who writes clearly and has a good argument, but whose style is as captivating as Rousseau’s!

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