”I laugh at the plots hatched by men,” he declared, ”and I enjoy my own being in spite of them.” He died soon after writing these lines, at Ermenonville, north of Paris, where he was staying as the guest of one of his protectors. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s ”Confessions” probably remain his most widely read work. They are a unique, amazing, fascinating, shocking, moving, exasperating document. It is only natural and fitting that students of the human soul should look at the ”Confessions” with a clinical eye and regard the entirety of his writings as the outpourings of a psychological cripple. It appears conclusive that Rousseau’s attack on society was the result of resentment and social inadequacy, or that his compulsion to recreate the world in his imagination was induced by several factors:
”….his inability to function ”normally” by his sexual inhibitions and his autoerotic tendencies. Rousseau’s personality was what psychologists would call immature; moreover he suffered from a number of psychosomatic problems in addition to the psychological ones. …yet such clinical discussions utterly fail to explain his influence or to invalidate his diagnosis of our social ills. It will never to brsuh aside ”The Social Contract” because…..Oddly enough however, such crtiticism is standard. Not only is it irrelevant, it also misrepresents Rousseau’s personality”. ( F.C. Green, A Critical Study ) If man is not born good, as Rousseau thought he was, at least he was born with the potentiality for good; and he has reached the point where, if he does not realize that potentiality by a collective effort of the will, he must perish. …
Jean Jacques Rousseau as a young man was an exceptionally amiable and good natured tramp. Almost Chaplinesque. A dreamer, a solitary wanderer with his head in the clouds. Something of a mystic; certainly not the anti-social recluse that he became after his brushes and skirmishes with the world of fashion, finance and the intellectual elite. Rousseau’s penchant for vagrancy never left him. He loved to travel on foot, and he did not always end up at his intended destination. One could imagine him as a precursor to the Beat Generation, on the road with Kerouac or in conclave with Allen Ginsberg. Though he did not shun work, Rousseau disliked working more than was necessary for his subsistence, and he treasured idleness above all things. The son of a watchmaker, he looked upon the day he threw away his watch as the beginning of his wisdom. At least for the first five decades of his life he was fundamentally companionable, by no means prudish and, while no Casanova himself, was never a puritan censor of other people’s sexual mores.
This is the one and only
it is the absolute world.
There is no other world.
The circle is complete.
I am living in Eternity.
The ways of this world
are the ways of Heaven. ( Allen Ginsberg, Metaphysics. Empty Mirror-Early Poems )
The parallels with Ginsberg, America’s foremost wandering Buddhist-Jew, and Rousseau seem quite appropriate since they both displayed such a conspicuous degree of alienation and rootlessness. ”Strange, mad, but genuine”, Gershom Scholem once said of Ginsberg. Ginsberg shared the same alertness to cultural oppression and the same breadth of social and political outrage. Like Rousseau, he had an epiphany, a mystical vision, in his case of William Blake leading to certain mystical boasts, which may in retrospect ring a bit hollow, such as dreaming of John F. Kennedy in 1959 with a hole in his back among other stated dreams which may conceal a deeper anxiety about his own visionary potential.
In East Harlem, in 1948, Ginsberg heard Blake reciting poetry from beyond the tomb. He interpreted it as a call to become a messianic prophet with a mission to inform the world of profound truths. Jerry Falwell and other Evangelicals have claimed similar inexplainable experiences which catapulted them into their callings. One could dispute whether Rousseau and Ginsberg, are best categorized as forces of ”enlightment” or ”counter-enlightment” . Ginsberg’s beat epiphany was matched by Rousseau; From Rousseau’s Damascus Road conversion: ” I felt my spirit dazzled by a thousand lights; swarms of lively ideas presented themselves to me at one, with a force and confusion that threw me into inexplicable turmoil; I felt my head seized with a dizziness like that of inebriation….I spent half an hour in such excitement that as i rose I noticed that the whole front of my jacket was wet with my own tears which I had shed without noticing it….with what ease I should have shown that man is naturally good, and it is through these institutions alone that men become bad.” ( Rousseau, Ernst Cassirer )
Both Ginsberg and Rousseau had a deeply paranoid view of life, which in the literary sense fueled the spectacualr rage and emotional charge of their work. Ginsberg termed this ”cosmic ferocious” ”Howl”, like ”Emile” was made the object of legal suppression, though unsuccessfully, in addition to an extensive file on Ginsberg by the FBI which had plans to embarrass him or ruin his reputation, such as it was. …
In a holiday episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the Devil is invited to a Thanksgiving dinner where, during grace, he is asked to tell what he is thankful for. He looks up and replies, “Pat Robertson.” It was only a joke, but Christians could feel as if Mr. Robertson is forsaking them for team Satan . His remarks about Haiti have only continued this trend, because what he said was foolish and apparently unrelated to the Scriptures or history.
”Christianity does not work this way. No part of scripture tells us that God intends to allow natural disasters to overcome any country that involves themselves in sin. Obviously, if things worked this way the Nazis could not have come into power, Stalin would have been struck by lightening, and nations that broadcast pornography during prime time would suffer yearly droughts….A lot of questions are unanswered. For starters, how did a bunch of Haitians find the Devil? Does he have a house around there, or is there a way to summon him that French slaves were privy to? Pat Robertson never works this stuff out and the Bible doesn’t make it clear that this sort of thing is even possible. The whole story is ridiculous and sounds more like pagan mythology than any part of Christianity….he has predicted natural disasters and terror attacks that never materialized – often accompanied by the phrase “…that is, if I heard God correctly…” (I don’t remember Isaiah ever saying that.) Other times, he is issuing condemnations, like claiming that homosexuals were responsible for Hurricane Katrina; this is a ridiculous notion that is not supported by any statement in the Bible. We are expected to take Robertson’s word for ….” ( Adam D. Jones )
To Rousseau, man had become perverse since he used his natural gifts to impress and oppress other men instead of living with them in a free and brotherly community. Rather than be themselves, humanity strove for the creation of a desirable image of themselves in the eyes of their fellow men. Rousseau’s thesis centered on humans sacrificing their birthright as citizens and self determined beings for the sake of security, pleasure and comfort, which invited the destruction of all freedom. Born free and with the gift of reason, they lived as slaves and dupes. These causes of unhappiness could be blamed neither on God or on human nature since people were endowed with the means to shape their fate.
Rousseau was a prophet, or certainly more in proximity with the biblical template than the gushings and militaristic rantings of white messiahs like Pat Robertson. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Rousseau’s prescriptions, it is impossible not to recognize that his persistent theme, that man’s alienation from nature is the price of modern civilization, continues to vex us.His insistence that only people can save themselves, that the tools are not lacking, only the will, seems more evident and more pertinent in our technological age than it was in his own. How to simplify man’s existence in an increasingly complicated culture remains the great problem. The evangelicals and other reactionaries across the faith based spectrum reflect the same steadfast opposition today that officially condemned Rousseau in his time and suppressed or torched his writings. Indeed, the mantra of ecclesiastical authority seems determined to fulfill Biblical inferences of the Apocalypse in the same manner in which Marxists called the march of history ”inevitable” . This discourse precludes the protestations of ”idlers”, and to some extent Rousseau prefigured the notion of the totalitarian state.Our present societal debate of how willing we are to sacrifice rights and freedoms to the state in exchange for protection and security from ”terrorists” has a similar echo; what Congressman Ron Paul aptl
ferred to as ”creeping fascism”.
”Quoted Thursday on Salon.com, UCLA anthropologist Andrew Apter says the notion of a “pact with the devil” as behind the slave victory “is so absurd it is almost funny. This notion of a pact with the devil is basically an echo of an old colonial response to the successes of the 1790s .’ ”
Clearly, Ginsberg and Rousseau were the sorts of figures in whom agencies of government have long taken a malign interest. Dangerous idlers at the source of the No Loitering movement. Ginsberg’s sexual frankness in poems and the poisoned political atmosphere of the Cold War, were fortunately not enough to earn Ginsberg what the Russians termed a ”tenner”, in his case a long hiatus chopping ice in Alaska; let alone imagine Ginsberg in Rousseau’s era sandwiched between the Catholic Sorbonne in Paris and the Calvinist Consistory in Geneva. Yet, Ginsberg’s anxiety about American society, and its racist, militaristic undercurrents were not unfounded:
”God doesn’t punish nonbelievers today to the same degree He did in the days of old. Granted, the tsunami was a fairly powerful sanction on those Orientals who worship everything from cows to obese men with feet where their hands should be. Katrina certainly taught those partiers, sodomites and Kwanzaa celebrants a valuable lesson. And as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson aptly observed, 9/11 reflected God’s fury for our tolerance of abortionists and homos. But lately, the Lord’s slaughter has been limited to the occasional flood, tornado and plane crash which involve just handfuls of nonbelieving sinners. But no more! The Lord is back with a vengeance…..One of God’s favorite conduits for extingushing evil is swine. Surely, we all remember the time that Jesus cast the devils possessing a nudist into a herd of swine which promptly drowned themselves. This time, the swine are staying alive and killing the devils, a/k/a Mexicans, a/k/a Catholics, a/k/a cultists, a/k/a idol-worshippers. Those people have always provoked the Lord with their “veneration” of Mary to the point that she has supplanted Jesus and become the Diana Ross of their religion, with Jesus relegated from THE Supreme to simply a Supreme. The cultists in the country just south claim to see Mary in everything from a stucco wall to an enchilada. They worship mortal “saints” and pray to statues. It was only a matter of time before Jesus became fed up and released the Trinity’s holy wrath on those dog-eaters….The Lord has never been good at exacting his vengeance with pinpoint accuracy. After all, the infants and unborn babies who died in the Great Flood and the fire and brimstone of Sodom and Gomorrah weren’t particularly culpable criminals, the firstborn children in Egypt couldn’t really be blamed for the Lord’s beef with the pharoah and locusts generally don’t limit themselves to the bad guys. But hey, whenever God goes on a killing spree to rid us of the wicked, it’s inevitable that there will be collateral damage. Let’s just pray that the INS strengthens its border patrols so wetbacks don’t spread the disease any further into this great nation….Of course, there is a silver lining to every tragedy. If this disease continues to spread in Mexico, it could substantially reduce our illegal immigration problem. Perhaps that is God’s goal. The Lord does work in mysterious ways.” ( Tiffany Wellsley, Republican Faith Chat )