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Monday, May 14, 2012

Flowers Bloom (7f)—Bloom's Emile II

[a] Sufficient RF
I am supposed to give a series of lectures this week on Allan Bloom, the obscure University of Chicago professor who wrote a blockbuster bestseller on education precisely twenty-five years ago. At this time in 1987, The Closing of the American Mind was climbing the New York Times bestseller list. I am going to try a new approach. Instead of posting what I have written (I do a lot of that here on Round and Square already), I am going to post some of what I have been reading in preparation for the lectures. Consider this week's posts—which will appear under various topics on Round and Square, ranging from "Beginnings" and "Flowers Bloom" to "Displays of Authenticity" and "Endings"—as lecture preparation. 

And, just for the record, regular readers probably already know that I will post the actual lectures not long after they have been given. This week's posts focus on the preparation process, and tackling Allan Bloom's arguments should get your blood pumping. Today's text comes from the introduction to Bloom's translation of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's educational and cultural classic, Emile. Emile's tutor gives him one book: Robinson Crusoe. Take a look.
Shakespeare   Republic1   Republic2   Emile   Emile1   Emile2   Emile3   Emile 4   Emile5
 ***  ***
[b] Authentic RF
After Saturday's post from the beginning of Allan Bloom's introduction to the Emile, I have decided to stick with Bloom's discussion of what, precisely, Rousseau is up to in the rather strange and story-driven narrative. As we shall see, it is dominated by story in several significant ways, and one—what we will consider today—was an outrageous display of authenticity in Rousseau's world of Paris intellectuals. A world in which it is possible to ignore all of the distinctions of civil society? Impossible. A confident young man who is capable of ignoring the idiocy and inanity of life in the teeming swarms of humanity that would judge a provincial's suit as incapable of fitting neatly onto his figure (this is in the early chapters of Stendahl's The Red and the Black)? How could anything like this be possible?

Rousseau argues that Robinson Crusoe is authentic natural man, and he is determined (as the narrative's tutor Jean-Jacques) to impart Crusoe's lessons to little Emile. What I find most interesting for our purposes is Bloom's fascination with these matters. You see, Bloom (not unlike Rousseau) was wedded to a textual tradition, and it would be hard to imagine either one without a library. Still, little Emile gets just one book, and it is about finding one's way on a desert island. What does that say about "authenticity," and what can we learn about the next step—living with people who are obsessed by social distinctions, vanities, and what Rousseau would recognize as différence?

Take a look at this second (of three) glimpses into Bloom's thinking. Don't forget that he is relating to us Rousseau's approach to education. Allan Bloom's enthusiasm here should teach us volumes about his own understanding of teaching, learning, and becoming. And, as Bloom asserts, "here we have Rousseau's response to Plato." Wow.

[c] Self RF
Introduction to Rousseau's Emile
Allan Bloom (1979)
Emile is divided into two large segments. Books I-III are devoted to the rearing of a civilized savage, a man who cares only about himself, who is independent and self-sufficient and on whom no duties that run counter to his inclinations and so divide him are imposed, whose knowledge of the crafts and the sciences does not involve his incorporation into the system of public opinion and division of labor. Books IV-V attempt to bring this atomic individual into human society and into a condition of moral responsibility on the basis of his inclinations and his generosity.

Rousseau's intention in the first segment comes clearly to light in its culmination, when Jean-Jacques, the tutor, gives his pupil the first and only book he is to read prior to early adulthood. Before presenting his gift, Jean-Jacques expresses to the reader the general sentiment that he hates all books—including, implicitly but especially, the book of books, the guide of belief and conduct, the Bible. Books act as intermediaries between men and things; they attach men to the opinions of others rather than forcing them to understand on their own or leaving them in ignorance. They excite the imagination, increasing thereby their desires, the hopes, and the fears beyond the realm of the necessary. All of Emile's early rearing is an elaborate attempt to avoid the emergence of the imagination which according to the Discourse on the Origins of Inequality, is the faculty that turns man's intellectual progress into the source of his misery. But, in spite of this general injunction against books and in direct contradiction of what he has just said, Rousseau does introduce a book, one which presents a new teaching and a new mode of teaching. The book is Robinson Crusoe, and it is not meant to be merely a harmless amusement for Emile but to provide him with a vision of the whole and a standard for the judgment of both things and men.

[d] Solitary RF
Robinson Crusoe is a solitary man in the state of nature, outside of civil society and unaffected by the deeds or opinions of men. His sole concern is his preservation and comfort. All his strength and reason are dedicated to these ends, and utility is his guiding principle, the principle that organizes all his knowledge. The world he sees contains neither gods nor heroes; there are no conventions. Neither the memory of Eden nor the hope of salvation affects his judgment. Nature and natural needs are all that is of concern to him. Robinson is a kind of Bible of the new science of nature and reveals man's true original condition. 

This novel, moreover, provides a new kind of play for the first activity of the imagination. IN the first place, the boy does not imagine beings or places which do not exist. He imagines himself in situations and subject to necessities which are part of his experience. Actually his imagination divests itself of the imaginary beings that seem so real in ordinary society ad are of human making. He sees himself outside of the differences of nation and religion which cover over nature and are the themes of ordinary poetry. Second, he does not meet with heroes to whom he must subject himself or whom he is tempted to rival. Every man can be Crusoe and actually is a Crusoe to the extent that he tries to be simply man. Crusoe's example does not alienate Emile from himself as do the other fictions of poetry; it helps him to be himself. He understands his hero's motives perfectly and does not ape deeds the reasons for which he cannot imagine.

A boy, who imagining himself alone on an island uses all of his energy in thinking about what he needs to survive and how to procure it, will have a reason for all his learning; its relevance to what counts is assured; and the fear, reward, or vanity that motivate the ordinary education are not needed. Nothing will be accepted on authority; the evidence of his sense and the call of his desires will be his authorities. Emile, lost in the woods and hungry, finds his way home to lunch by his knowledge of astronomy. For him astronomy is not a discipline forced on him by his teachers, or made attractive by the opportunity to show off, or an expression of his superstition. In this way Rousseau shows how the sciences, which have served historically to make men more dependent on one another, can serve men's independence. In this way the Emile who moves in civil society will put different values on things and activities than do other men. The division of labor which produces superfluity and makes men partial—pieces of a great machine—will seem like a prison, and an unnecessary prison, to him. He will treasure his wholeness. He will know real value, which is the inverse of the value given things by the vanity of social men. And he will respect the producers of real value and despise the producers of value founded on vanity. Nature will always present to him, not as doctrine but as a part of his very senses. Thus Robinson Crusoe, properly prepared for and used, teaches him the utility of the sciences and makes him inwardly free in spite of society's constraints.

Here the we have Rousseau's response to Plato...
[1] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile [Translated with an introduction by Allan Bloom] (New York: Basic Books, 1979), 7-8.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Emile [Translated with an introduction by Allan Bloom]. New York: Basic Books, 1979.

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