|[a] Eros RF|
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 is the last in a week-long series on Bloom and the core texts that shaped his thinking. It comes from the introduction to Bloom's translation of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's educational and cultural classic, Emile. Today's slice from Bloom's introduction focuses upon the very core of Rousseau's argument. Emile's tutor knows that growing up builds a kind of energy that can be harnessed to greater purpose...or wasted. Take a look.
|[b] Channeled RF|
It's all here in the key chapters of Rousseau's Emile.
If you want to understand part one of the Closing of the American Mind (the only chapters most readers finished), the path lies directly through Rousseau's great book. Bloom has channeled Rousseau's argument in a way that relatively few readers really grasped in 1987. This is partly Bloom's fault, and even, arguably, one of the reasons the book was so successful. He came across as a somewhat prudish elder scolding "today's" youth. That is the thread that weaves its way through a large number of reviews, and let's not kid ourselves: Bloom loved it. He didn't mind being criticized, and it often appears that he didn't particularly mind being misunderstood.
|[c] Social RF|
Introduction to Rousseau's Emile
Allan Bloom (1979)
|[d] Learnin' RF|
Rousseau finds such a solution in the sexual passion. It necessarily involves other individuals and results in relations very different from those following from fear or love of gain. Moreover, Rousseau discovers that sexual desire, if its development is properly managed, has singular effects on the soul. Books IV-V are a treatise on sex education, notwithstanding the fact that they give a coherent account of God, love, and politics. "Civilization" can become "culture" when it is motivated and organized by sublimated sex.
Sublimation as the source of the soul's higher expressions—as the explanation of that uniquely human turning away from mere bodily gratification to the pursuit of noble deeds, arts, and thoughts—was introduced to the world by Rousseau. The history of the notion can be traced from him through Kant, Schopenhauer, and Nietszche (who first introduced the actual term) and to Freud (who popularized it). Rousseau's attempt to comprehend the richness of man's soul within the context of modern scientific reductionism led him to an interpretation which is still our way of looking at things although we have lost clarity about its intention and meaning. Rousseau knew that there are sublime things; he had inner experience of them. He also knew that there is no place for the sublime in the modern scientific explanation of man. Therefore, the sublime had to be made out of the nonsublime; this is sublimation. It is a raising of the lower to the higher, reducing the sublime things to their elements and losing a hold on the separate dignity of the sublime. We no longer know what is higher about the higher.
|[e] Sleeping eros RF|
Rousseau takes it for granted that sex is naturally only a thing of the body. There is no teleology contained in the sexual act other than generation—no concern for the partner, no affection for the children on the part of the male, no directedness to the family. As a simply natural phenomenon, it is not more significant than eating. In fact, since natural man is primarily concerned with his survival, sex is of secondary importance inasmuch as it contributes nothing to the survival of the individual. But because it is related to another human being, sex easily mingles with and contributes nascent amour-propre. Being liked and preferred to others becomes important in the sexual act. The conquest, mastery, and possession of another will thus also become central to it. This semifolly leads to the extremes of alienation and exploitation. But precisely because the sexual life of civilized man exists primarily in the imagination, it can be manipulated in a way that the desire for food or sleep cannot be.
|[f] Mixed RF|
Rousseau's meaning is admirably expressed by Kant, who, following Rousseau, indicated that there is a distinction between what might be called natural puberty and civil puberty. Natural puberty is reached when a male is capable of reproduction. Civil puberty is attained only when a man is able to love a woman faithfully, rear and provide for children, and participate knowledgeably and loyally in the political order which protects the family. But the advent of civilization has not changed the course of nature; natural puberty occurs around fifteen; civil puberty, if it ever comes to pass, can hardly occur before the middle twenties. This means that there is a profound tension between natural desire and civil duty. In fact, this is one of the best examples of the dividedness caused in man by his history. Natural desire almost always lurks untamed amidst the responsibilities of marriage. What Rousseau attempts to do is to make the two puberties coincide, to turn the desire for sexual intercourse into a desire for marriage and a willing submission to the law without suppressing or blaming that original desire. Such a union of desire Kant called true culture.
Rousseau effects this union by establishing successively two passions in Emile which are sublimations of sexual desire and which are, hence, not quite natural but, one might say, according to nature: compassion and love...
|[g] Venus RF|