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Friday, July 31, 2009

It is not good for man to be alone

The fifth book of Emile begins the “last act of Emile’s youth.” Which is described as follows: “Il n’est pas bon que l’homme soit seul, Émile est homme ; nous lui avons promis une compagne, il faut la lui donner.” This borrowing from Genesis, with Rousseau as the “we” and Emile as Adam presents us with a problem that is traditionally solved by simply extracting the concepts, here, connecting them to this “we”, and making out as if Rousseau were writing a treatise. The literary is a sort of small bend in the fall of the conceptual atoms, but nothing to worry about, if we go at this narrative as a thing that can be reduced to an exempla derived from the principles of practical reason.

However, enough - I've beaten this subject enough in the last post. Rather, here's the point: meditating on this not exceptional allusion to the creation story, we find we are faced with the true oddity of the project outlined in this book: this is a re-creation story in which Emile is and can’t be Adam. That he can’t be is clear enough – Rousseau has been clear throughout the book that there is an existing, intrusive society with which Emile will have to deal. Any education he receives will have to, in some way, work to insert him in that society. And yet that society is laced through with corruption in such a way that it isn’t clear that Emile will succeed in that society. And yet here, again, we have the Adam motif, for was Adam created to succeed in Eden? The story has always been unclear, always been related to many other stories in many other cultures about the peculiar fear that man evokes in the Gods. Created to worship God, and yet hiding, the Gods suspect, the aspiration to overthrow the Gods, to become as God.

It is not good that man is alone. In the blank towards which that statement gazes, there appears a woman – made not from Emile’s rib, but from our idea of the woman Emile needs, Sophie.

And as Emile is educated to take his place as a man, so Sophie should be educated to take her place as a woman. And that place is firstly a negation – of the solitude that is not good for the man. Right away, then, that place is company – peculiarly defined by a lack in the man. And yet, the logical step beyond company would seem to be the space of company, the public space. This is, of course, not going to be the case for Sophie – because that space is inhabited, it turns out, with many men, for all of whom it is not good to be alone, and who thus seek out the negation of that solitude in woman.

What is not good about that solitude? I’ll leave that question open for the moment.

Rousseau does go on to remark on the difference between his Genesis and the lesson of Locke, who Rousseau is tracking – Locke, who writes that not it is time for his gentleman to marry. Since I do not have the honor of raising a gentleman, Rousseau says, I will refrain from imitating Locke in this.

As for women: we can see that her first appearance, here, is as a negation, a necessary supplement, as pure company, as though, from the beginning, she is not alone. We can already see that this creation story is turning in the hands of its creator, and not exactly where those hands want it to go. This notion of women as company, as, on the primary level, a companion, will certainly determine woman’s education. But the denial of solitude in that first diktat will always fuck it up. Woman’s solitude will slide and hide under the hands of that creator and find their place in spite of his hands, ultimately corrupting woman’s companion-ship and throwing into question the education/creation of both Emile and Sophie.

“Sophie ought to be a woman as Emile is a man, that is to say, have all that is conformable to the constitution of her species and her sex in order to fill her place in the physical and moral order. Thus, let’s being to examine and conformities and differences of her sex and of ours.”

1 comment:

roger said...

I think this is the right note. I have found the clue, here, to the place of women in the rise of the happiness culture - which, in one way, was a huge advance for women, whether bourgeois, proletariat, or peasant. And on the other side, was from the beginning distorted by the remnants of the traditional definition of women as dependents that was shaken off, and renewed itself, in every stage of my history.