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View Full Version : Discussion Group: Confession's of J.J. Rousseau



Buh4Bee
06-10-2009, 06:44 PM
A few people will be reading the above mentioned text. We will read the introduction and Book One by next Wednesday, June 17th. E-version text to Introduction linked below:

www.online-literature.com/rousseau/confessions-of-rousseau/0/

Happy Reading!

alexar
06-11-2009, 04:19 PM
here's Book 1:

http://www.online-literature.com/rousseau/confessions-of-rousseau/1/

Don't let the introduction, written in 1896 by someone else entirely, put you off!

Buh4Bee
06-11-2009, 06:18 PM
No kidding, it's a little dense, but makes sense with a good reading. Good background information.

alexar
06-12-2009, 07:08 AM
the Rousseau is so clear though, could have been written yesterday in terms of theme, psychological insight and pace. Style is the 1890s translators but it's clear too. More than half way!

Buh4Bee
06-12-2009, 07:53 AM
I agree. I'll be done by Wednesday. I have a sister visiting and that can mean getting nothing done, but maybe a little!

I did it! Finish book one and I loved it. I hit a few rough spots, and looked up a ton of vocabulary, but completely identified with Rousseau and his sorrowful disposition.

Ok, I'll stop there and save it for tomorrow. I hope you liked it as much as I did!

alexar
06-17-2009, 12:59 PM
Yes I did enjoy it. Interesting self-presentation - free of the you-know-that-I-know ironies that would now make any such writing either coy or solemn. Maybe it's the confession tradition that allowed this openness. What I mean is, if you sat down to write your life story now, you'd be in the very familiar genre of the memoir or autobiography, and constantly making adjustments so as to let your readers know that (for example) your modesty wasn't false, etc etc. But Rousseau wasn't doing that because he didn't have those genres to worry about - as he understood it he was writing a secularised confession - so out it all comes.

And just as religious confession is meant to cleanse the soul, secular confession celebrates the individual. Rousseau's sins are redeemed by their contribution to his individuality.

acdouglas92
06-17-2009, 01:14 PM
Hey guys, do you mind if I join in the discussion? I got the link for the Introduction and Book 1 - I'll be racing to catch up! Finished the Intro - looks good so far!

alexar
06-17-2009, 01:43 PM
Hi ac - join in, do.

Buh4Bee
06-17-2009, 02:04 PM
And just as religious confession is meant to cleanse the soul, secular confession celebrates the individual. Rousseau's sins are redeemed by their contribution to his individuality.

Well said sir! Rousseau's introspective self-examination was sincere and honest. His perspective on situations wins you over and makes you want to support him as his audience.

More coming!

Welcome AC, I'm glad the invite on the thread caught someone. Hope you enjoy the discussions.

Buh4Bee
06-17-2009, 02:10 PM
What do you think about Rousseau and his overly sensitive nature? I was trying to find a quote that pointed this out, but I'm still looking. He struggled as a 'scraper' in the town clerk office and then later was bound as an apprentice to an engraver. In both circumstances, he felt extremely oppressed and developed some interesting coping mechanisms. I believe another interesting facet of his sensitive nature was the deep affection he developed toward Miss Vulson. I empathized with Rousseau and accepted the idea of him being the victim or better yet oppressed by his master. What do others think?

Buh4Bee
06-17-2009, 02:32 PM
I think I'm supposed to put all this in one post, so sorry for the long list.

I wanted to return to Alexar's earlier point about the Confession being written as an original autobiography. I think he makes a well founded argument. Since Rousseau was one of the first to write in this genre style, he did have any other works to compare or model himself after. This affected the authenticity of the writing style. So true! And the other idea that he is not writing a religious confession, allows himself to not have to sensor anything that he writes. So Alexar's right, it all come out.

We should talk about the humor too. Rousseau is funny. I grew up in New Jersey, outside of NYC. He would be categorized there as a "nut-job" or "lunatic". His humor would redeem him, if he had to make friends there.

Buh4Bee
06-17-2009, 04:34 PM
If everyone agrees, we will continue reading Book II for next week, Wed., June 24. We will continue to blog over the week about Book I. Good start so far! High Five, all fingers up!;)

Here is the link to Book II:

www.online-literature.com/rousseau/confessions-of-rousseau/2/

acdouglas92
06-17-2009, 07:00 PM
What do you think about Rousseau and his overly sensitive nature? I was trying to find a quote that pointed this out, but I'm still looking. He struggled as a 'scraper' in the town clerk office and then later was bound as an apprentice to an engraver. In both circumstances, he felt extremely oppressed and developed some interesting coping mechanisms. I believe another interesting facet of his sensitive nature was the deep affection he developed toward Miss Vulson. I empathized with Rousseau and accepted the idea of him being the victim or better yet oppressed by his master.

Well, I'm only a little into Book 1, having just met Miss Vulson. But so far, I can tell that perhaps his nature is not so much overly sensitive, but rather, self-pitying. He seems to place himself over ordinary men from the beginning, telling them to "listen to my confessions...blush at my depravity...tremble at my suffers...and, if he dare, aver, I was better than that man" (1).

So I think what we have her is a man who is constantly trying to justify his actions - the whole idea of placing himself before a judge seems to follow this - and perhaps even place him above others. Therefore, I think self-pitying may be a better word choice.

It's rather dense, but so far I'm enjoying it! Thanks to whomever started this discussion! Cheers!

alexar
06-18-2009, 04:09 PM
I can see that, ac - he's so pleased with himself and his general specialness - but somehow I find him quite disarming. It's this strong impression of honesty, just letting it all out, all the human stuff, all the things we normally keep to ourselves. Including self-satisfaction. There's something childlike about it, in a good way.

Buh4Bee
06-18-2009, 04:20 PM
I went back and reread the beginning. I believe part of the purpose of Rousseau's introduction is to proclaim to the reader that he is trying to present his life as objectively as possible through this self-reflective process. We can be the judge, but better yet, in the end God will be the judge.

I also think part of the writing style is somewhat similar to other philosopher at the time. I did read Fear and Trembling by Kierkegaard (Hong) as well as Civil Disobedience by Thoreau and both reminded me of the writing style found in Rousseau's autobiography. Although both Fear and Trembling and Civil Disobedience were written in the mid 1800s. They seemed to call the reader into the essay in the introduction by asking them bare witness to the following arguments and to judge the ideas according to one's own conscience. I don't agree that Rousseau is trying to put himself above others, but trying to be sure he is presenting an accurate and balance narrative of his life by asking the reader to judge his writing and story.

I think Rousseau is charming and sentimental, but another way to perceive this may be self-pitying. One could hear a whiny tone in the writing, which I can detect. I think I am prone to empathize with Rousseau's maladjusted character, because he grew up without a mother.

Buh4Bee
06-18-2009, 04:31 PM
Here is the quote I was finally trying to find to describe Rousseau's overly sensitive nature:

"Such were the authors (parents) of my being: of all the gifts it had pleased Heavento bestow on them, a feeling heart was the only one that descended to me; this had been the source of their felicity, it was the foundation of all my misfortunes."

I think in this quote you can perceive Rousseau as being self-pitying or just frustrated by his personality weakness. I'm interested in seeing how Rousseau develops into a young adult.

Quark
06-20-2009, 11:30 AM
Thanks for starting up this discussion, jersea. Reading groups and conversations about a single text can be fun, but there are so few of them on LitNet (groups and conversations that is, not text--we have way too many texts actually). When there's just one work to talk about it focuses the discussion, and makes people talk to each other. A lot of the time in other threads people just exchange random opinions, and the conversation doesn't really go anywhere. When everyone has read the same text, though, it keeps people grounded in something that's familiar to everyone. It also holds the conversation to the thread's title. When you join a thread that says "Confessions of J.J. Rousseau" you know the posters are going to be talking about the Confessions. One would think that the thread's title would always be an indication of what's going on inside the thread, but frequently it isn't. Random opinions lead to random topics, and a thread that started out talking about the poems of William Blake turns into an argument over whether popularity is a means for measuring a book's success (a made up example, but not an unfair one). I prefer these kind of reading groups where there's a classic work like the Confessions up for discussion. Right now, I can only post here and there, as I'm still involved with a discussion of Chekhov's short story "The Trousseau." Eventually, though, I hope to post more.


I think Rousseau is charming and sentimental, but another way to perceive this may be self-pitying. One could hear a whiny tone in the writing, which I can detect. I think I am prone to empathize with Rousseau's maladjusted character, because he grew up without a mother.

I detect the self-pity, too, but I give Rousseau some license to be self-pitying. His autobiography is also a tragedy, and what's leading the action is a sense of downfall and sadness. There's also a context to consider--a motherless context, as it turns out. Rousseau's life just isn't that happy, and it's particularly sad from the position he was writing this work. I suppose this is a bit of a spoiler, but Rousseau eventually goes into the exile because of an unfavorable (to say the least) reaction to his Emile and other works. Rousseau is playing a tragic role to cast himself in the role of a victim. While in France, he asserted his views through open declaration, but later in exile it appears that he's trying to use pity to gain support.


I went back and reread the beginning. I believe part of the purpose of Rousseau's introduction is to proclaim to the reader that he is trying to present his life as objectively as possible through this self-reflective process.

True, and that's important. Self-reflection and self-knowledge are key concepts for the book. Earlier autobiographies often emphasized an individual's quest for something--like Augustine looking for God--but Rousseau believes that just being himself is enough. The Confessions is more a matter of acquaintance than it is of accomplishment. Rousseau wants to acquaint us with himself, and isn't so interested in laying out what he's accomplished. The world is only important as it give Rousseau a chance to express himself. William Hazlitt later said in the nineteenth-century that "Rousseau, in a word, interests you in certain objects by interesting you in himself." This can seem egotistical (maybe it just is egotistical), but it's important to how Rousseau sees autobiography.


I also think part of the writing style is somewhat similar to other philosopher at the time. I did read Fear and Trembling by Kierkegaard (Hong) as well as Civil Disobedience by Thoreau and both reminded me of the writing style found in Rousseau's autobiography. Although both Fear and Trembling and Civil Disobedience were written in the mid 1800s.

Those are interesting comparisons. I can see the connection with Thoreau, but I'm not sure about Kierkegaard. That is, I don't doubt the comparison--I just don't know exactly what the comparison you're drawing is.


I don't agree that Rousseau is trying to put himself above others, but trying to be sure he is presenting an accurate and balance narrative of his life by asking the reader to judge his writing and story.

I don't know how he views other people exactly. This is where people like Rousseau, Thoreau, and others of that stripe radically diverge. They all believe that the individual is important, but they each have different approaches to others and society. I'm not entirely sure what Rousseau's approach would be.

Buh4Bee
06-20-2009, 08:28 PM
Welcome and thank you for joining the thread, Quark. I was excited to see your post and all your responses to my comments, which, no doubt, were built on the ideas of others that have posted here. We will again have another discussion beginning on Wednesday about Book II. I think we all have different ideas and background knowledge of Rousseau, so it keeps the conversation interesting.

So far, I think it is a great group and am enjoying the blog.

Buh4Bee
06-24-2009, 02:33 PM
Here are some reactions I compiled:

Book II is just as entertaining as Book I. Rousseau takes it upon himself again to remind the reader to pay close attention to his stories and his character as he describes the events of his 16th year in great detail.

“I ought to offer an excuse, or justification to the
reader for the great number of unentertaining particulars I am
necessitated to repeat. In pursuance of the resolution I have formed to
enter on this public exhibition of myself, it is necessary that nothing
should bear the appearance of obscurity or concealment. I should be
continually under the eye of the reader…”

We see him struggle through several more passions toward older women (Madame Warrens and Madame Basil). It seems in both circumstances, the women return Rousseau’s affection. Although one can question Rousseau judgment and particularly that of the older women, they turn out to be still a charming in nature. I wonder why Rousseau becomes attracted to these mother figures? Is it because he never had a mother? Maybe the following idea grants one insight into Rousseau’s inability to relate to girls his own age.
Rousseau reveals he was a prodigy as a child. I personally can accept this self-proclamation.

“Why should I now disguise my thoughts? I am
persuaded I had more. In my childhood, I was not a child; I felt, I
thought as a man: as I advanced in years, I mingled with the ordinary
class; in my infancy I was distinguished from it. I shall doubtless
incur ridicule by thus modestly holding myself up for a prodigy..”

I wonder how his intelligence and overly sensitive nature handicap him from succeeding in main stream society?

I’ll stop there and let others post, I can talk all day about this

Buh4Bee
06-25-2009, 07:51 AM
Here is a less juicy topic, but still just as important. Rousseau ends up as a ward of the Catholic church to be converted. He goes through the process and completes the conversion ritual. Moving through, this he practically has a religious crisis:
Though young, I was sufficiently convinced, that whatever
religion might be the true one, I was about to sell mine; and even should
I chance to chose the best, I lied to the Holy Ghost, and merited the
disdain of every good man. The more I considered, the more I despised
myself, and trembled at the fate which had led me into such a
predicament, as if my present situation had not been of my own seeking.

He also critiques the superiority of the Protestant faith when compared to Catholicism:
Protestants, in general, are better instructed in the principles of their
religion than Catholics; the reason is obvious; the doctrine of the
former requires discussion, of the latter a blind submission; the
Catholic must content himself with the decisions of others, the
Protestant must learn to decide for himself.

In general, it seems there is some prejudice against the Catholic faith on Rousseau's part.
I have theories about why he ended up in the Catholic church, but mainly I believe it is because of the weakness of his youthful character.

acdouglas92
06-25-2009, 10:33 AM
Sorry to be late with this one Jersea, but just to clarify - you give the impression that he, well, gave in to the Catholic Church - but why do you think it was because of his youthful character? Are you saying that his youth made him weak?

Buh4Bee
06-26-2009, 09:17 AM
Sorry to be late with this one Jersea, but just to clarify - you give the impression that he, well, gave in to the Catholic Church - but why do you think it was because of his youthful character? Are you saying that his youth made him weak?

Ah, AC you’ve got me in a tight bind here. So, I am going to tell you what I was thinking and you can correct me if you think I am wrong.

First let me say, I believe we lived in a youth obsessed culture ranging from our love of athletes to our fascination with the tabloids in the grocery store. Then on a deeper more personal level, I believe youth can be a great strength. Those, in their prime, can be more optimistic, flexible, and willing to take greater risk. I believe Rousseau has exhibited many of these characteristics, such as his willingness to leave an apprenticeship because he was abused, even though he was unwilling to return home for reasons of shame. I believe, whether Rousseau realized it or not, this action took great fortitude to rebel in such a drastic way.

More specifically now, you asked me if it was Rousseau’s youth that made him weak and as a result of this flaw, ended up in the Catholic Church. I believe that it was Rousseau’s lack of worldly experience and fear of conflict that got him into trouble. This is what I meant earlier as his youthful character. I believe Rousseau often saw the world through rosy colored glasses, and experience horrible disappoint when things turn out differently than what he expected. Despite these disappointments, we see an incredibly flexible young person, who always goes with the flow and regains a hopeful and joyous attitude towards life even after minor disappoint.

I would like to start by analyzing what I think happened to Rousseau when he had dinner with M. de Pontverre. First of all, I believe Rousseau arrived hungry. Once dinner began he found that he was repleted by the food, intellectually stimulated by the conversation, and made festive by the wine. He was in good ambiance and didn’t want to disrupt the festivities of dinner, and was unwillingly to discuss his jarring difference of religious opinions. To complicate matters further for Rousseau, I believe he has issues with conflict and tries to avoid it at all costs.

I only wished to avoid giving offence to those I was sensible
caressed me from that motive; I wished to cultivate their good opinion,
and meantime leave them the hope of success by seeming less on my guard
than I really was. My conduct in this particular resembled the coquetry
of some very honest women, who, to obtain their wishes, without
permitting or promising anything, sometimes encourage hopes they never
mean to realize.

Following this part of the narrative, Rousseau reflects on how the priest’s behavior contributes to this situation. As we have seen in the past books, Rousseau calls further the necessity of virtue in the world and how it being absent affects him:

Reason, piety, and love of order, certainly demanded that instead of
being encouraged in my folly, I should have been dissuaded from the ruin
I was courting, and sent back to my family

Rousseau points out that the priest, M. de Pontverre’s pursuit of evangelism leads him to overlook virtuous behavior and does not send the confused kid home. Rousseau claims that an adult with good sense or virtue would have encouraged him to turn around, relax, and go home. This is not what happened and as a result Rousseau was provided with food, clothing, and shelter for a while longer.

I am glad Rousseau ended up in the Catholic Church and so far I have come to like him and all his character flaws. Youth or not, Rousseau is a gentle sort of soul and the basis of his character comes from a source of good. For whatever reasons he ended up in the Church, he gained an incredible experience that most likely enriched his own personal philosophy.

Buh4Bee
06-29-2009, 06:04 PM
The discussion group for Book 3 will reconvene on Wednesday the 15th of July.

Hope everyone has a nice holiday!

Buh4Bee
07-15-2009, 04:11 PM
Book III. It seems Rousseau is starting to grow up, but still struggling to find his chosen path. He always seems to be pushed in the direction of seminary. I'm glad he gets thrown out. It's not the place for him. I think his attachment to Madame Warren is weird. I call him a yes-man because he keeps getting into situations in which if he protested, he could avoid them.

acdouglas92
07-15-2009, 07:19 PM
Haha you liked seeing him get thrown out...wow jersea. I still have to catch up, (angry face) but in the meantime could I perhaps get a more in-depth synopsis...only to test your knowledge of Book III, of course :)

Buh4Bee
07-15-2009, 08:34 PM
Not too much, you're making me do too much work here, but I'll bite!

So far Rousseau leaves his current place of employment and tramps about the country side with a friend. (Nice part to skim). He returns to Madame Warrens, his beloved something. He sees her as a cross between and mother and a MILF. She tries to better his future and he ends up going to seminary. Gets kicked out and learns that one of his teachers got an unwed young girl pregnant. Some other events happen, but maybe some else wants to fill in.

Quark
07-19-2009, 01:39 PM
Hi, jersea. How's the conversation going? When's the next discussion scheduled for? I have things to post, but am a little unsure about how you have this set up. Do you only discuss for one day at a time?

Buh4Bee
07-19-2009, 01:54 PM
Quark, Post anytime. We have made Wednesdays the time to finish a book. Posting can go on any time! Next Wed. is book 4. Took a few weeks off b/c people were away. A few responses, but it's been kind of a running monologue for me. AC's been great about asking good questions. I really like the Confessions and I'm a huge fan of Rousseau.

See you soon and please post any time.

Quark
07-19-2009, 02:51 PM
Quark, Post anytime.

Good deal. I'll come up with something outrageously intelligent to say.

Buh4Bee
07-19-2009, 04:50 PM
Not too intelligent, I'm brain dead these days as I just found out I'm expecting my first baby. After a long time trying and then something mysteriously happened around the last day of my school year. (I'm a teacher.) Of course I did not know for like 6 weeks after that, as I have had no symptoms except fatigue and awful crying fits (Wooo! Too much information.). I think you'll are male, but I could be wrong as I really don't know who I am talking to on the internet.

Be kind, gentle, and understanding!

:flare:

Buh4Bee
07-21-2009, 08:06 PM
I'm not finished with Book IV yet, but I still can only say I continue to grow to love Rousseau more and more. I'm sure not every reader feels this way about him and this is a matter of personal taste, however, I think he is fabulous.

Rousseau stated:
"for it is impossible for man,
and difficult even for nature herself, to surpass the riches of my
imagination."

This is what Rousseau thinks when he walks into the filth of Paris after he has carried with him an aggrandized vision of the mythical city. Meaning that his imagination of Paris is a better place to be than the Paris of reality.
I am charmed by the activity of his richness of his inner world that so often disappoints him when faced with reality. I wonder if he ever matures out of this coping mechanism?

alexar
07-22-2009, 08:01 AM
I just found out I'm expecting my first baby.

Wonderful news! Congratulations!


After a long time trying and then something mysteriously happened around the last day of my school year.

Wonder what that could have been? ... :idea:

Buh4Bee
07-22-2009, 02:36 PM
Alexar, the world is a great mystery and all I can say is I'm sure you had a course in the birds and bees. My bees just kept going in the wrong direction. Haha!

Buh4Bee
07-22-2009, 06:18 PM
So I continue my soliloquy and finished Book IV. Rousseau has emerged as a young adult, about 20. It is nice to see his own self-awareness of his own immaturity.

"These long details of my early youth must have appeared trifling, and I
am sorry for it: though born a man, in a variety of instances, I was long
a child, and am so yet in many particulars."

Rousseau states this at the end of Book IV.

Rousseau returns to Madame Warrens who really is a mother/protector to him. She continues to take care of Rousseau as she sees it is her duty under the church.
"This, sir, is the poor young man I mentioned;
deign to protect him as long as he deserves it."

She gets hims a good job as a secretary to a surveyor. As their relationship unfolds there is nothing more there than an unusual friendship. Very sweet!

Buh4Bee
07-29-2009, 03:42 PM
Book V- Rousseau and Madame Warrens have an affair. "Oh my Gawd! Can you believe this?"

Rousseau starts to mature and moves into a small house with the Madame at the end of the book. She's a real live Madame Bovary, an adulteress, and she loves Rousseau.

One should return to the text and see his reaction to the affair. He equates it to incest with his momma. Yuck! She's in her forties and Rousseau is early thirties. He is a virgin, I presume. He describes how she has aged, but in his eyes she is still the same, as when he first met her.

He details her instruction about intercourse as through discourse and encouragement. Personally, this is the point when I question the honesty of his recounting the real situation. There must be some truth to the inaccuracies of the Confessions. One would think, after all those years of pent up desire, he'd be an animal. This however, is not a genteel way to describe such condescensions, and Rousseau was very genteel and romantic.

So far this is the worst book for me. It's long and difficult to read. I found it hard to be sympathetic to any one character or side with Rousseau's warped or romantic notions of Madame Warrens or that of his world in general.

However, Rousseau is finally growing up, but I think he has an immature side that he will never out grow. Is that so wrong? I don't think so.