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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Rousseau and the women III

In the post before the Simmel post, I quoted a bit from one of Saint Preux’s letters describing Clarens in the Nouvelle Heloise. In that letter, a new question of place arises – but so discretely that it is hardly even heard, hardly exists:

They [the servants] well know that their surest fortune is attached to that of the master, and that they will never lack anything so long as the house is seen to prosper. In serving it, therefore, they serve their patrimony, and augment it in rendering their services agreeable. This is their greatest interest. But this word is hardly in its place on this occasion; for I have never seen a place where the rules [police] or the interests are so wisely managed, and where, however, they have less influence than here. Everything is done by attachment …

A word that is “hardly in its place” – a word that could be replaced by another word – I want to take this exchange over a place and make it thematic, even though it is not thematic, here. In fact, place (‘place’ and ‘lieu’) exists in Rousseau more as the stitching, one might say, then the clothing – more as what goes on semi-automatically, rather than what goes on thematically. Plus, of course, how does one make place a theme? Isn’t there a problem here in the fact that the conditioned is in the set of the condition? Especially as the place, here, is the place of words – and that relationship of places is vaguely but distinctly traced as the condition for the thematized condition of place.

Because I’ve been threading about Freud and projection, perhaps, this exchange of places between attachment and interest evokes the familiar Freudian spectacle of denial, which is the result of the logic of the Freudian bureaucracy: the lack of a ‘no’ function in the unconscious, and the management of the no by the superego.

However, I don’t want to take up the Freudian thread here, but rather speculate that the conflict between interest and attachment is, perhaps, definitive of the place of women in Rousseau, or the place of women in the society that Rousseau wanted, or in the revolutionary society that was associated with Rousseau. Three societies, linked by a disjunction that slightly differs them, but invites an exchange of places. It is as though here, below what is thematic, an intersigne is exchanged.

That slight incommensurability of attachment and interest in Rousseau has been felt, if not analyzed, all through the long career in assessments of Rousseau, like the pea under the mattress of the princess. The position of English liberalism is represented by Bertrand Russell, who writes, in his History of Philosophy, that Rousseau payed “lip service to democracy” but that in the Social Contract, where he dispenses with “sentimentality”, he “tend[ed] to justify the totalitarian state.” This is an image of Rousseau, and in general an image of what went wrong with the French Revolution, that was transposed into the Cold War culture. Hannah Arendt, who far outstripped Russell in her understanding of the sentiments, was a shrewder reader of Rousseau, but her reading elaborates on the charge of totalitarianism by continually confounding Rousseau with Robespierre. Never mind that all sides in the Revolution called upon Rousseau – no, in 1962, when Arendt’s On Revolution was published, one was aware that the general will, that madness to sweep away all property arrangements, was alive on the edges of the Imperium, advancing from the peripheries: the sans-culottes (or the guerillas in the rice paddies in Vietnam, or in Algiers, or the civil rights marchers in Mississippi) could think that they embodied the popular will, the secret popular will underneath the orderly exterior. Possibly the general will had been frozen, paralyzed by the vocabulary of the colonial order, paralyzed by every mechanism put in place to manipulate the collective dream – the American dream, the dream of freedom, the pop dream. This is what made Rousseau a figure as frightening in his way to the Imperium as Marx.

I want to quote two other passages that are about and not about place in Rousseau – in my next post. Meanwhile, I’d suggest those who have not read the Nouvelle Heloise to look at Amie’s summary of one of the narrative ends of that book in the comment to this post.


roger said...

ps - and I finally am done for a couple of days! that is, I do have to write a review of two books on Gaia, but piece of cake, man. So I will try to be more entertaining on this site, if I can be.

Anonymous said...

LI, far be it for me to say a bad word about Gaia, but like your other readers I'm awaiting the continuation of your Rousseau thread. In the meantime, you and your readers hardly want another of my wandering off-topic comments. And Gaia and Rousseau could well lead me to such.
While thinking of your recent related post on Simmel, I was reminded of an earlier post of yours re Simmel and war, a post that also mentions Schmitt. You didn't mention the place of women in that post, but perhaps there is a relation to it and and this thread.

Revenons à Schmitt et prenons du champ. Ce qu'une vue macroscopique peut mettre en perspective, de très loin et de très haut, c'est un certain désert. Pas femme qui vive. Un désert peuplé, certes, un plein désert en plein désert, et même, diront certains, un désert noir du monde : oui, mais des hommes, des hommes, des hommes, depuis des siècles de guerre, et des costumes, des chapeaux, des uniformes, des soutanes, et des guerriers, des colonels, des généraux, des partisans, des stratèges, et des politiques, des professeurs, des théoriciens du politique, des théologiens. Vous chercheriez en vain une figure de femme, une silhouette féminine, et la moindre allusion à la différence sexuelle.

Let's come back to Schmitt and give ourselves plenty of room [du champ]. What a macroscopic view can put into perspective, from very far away and high up, is a certain desert. Not a woman to be seen [qui vive]. A populated desert, certainly, a complete desert in the middle of the desert, and some will even say a desert pitch-dark with people: yes, but with men, men, men, for centuries of warfare and with suits, hats, uniforms, frocks, and with warriors, colonels, generals, guerillas, strategists, and with politicians, professors, theoreticians of the political, theologians. You'd search in vain for a woman's face [une figure de femme], a feminine silhouette, and the slightest allusion to sexual difference."

Derrida, Politics of Friendship