From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Flowers Bloom (7h)—Bloom's Emile IV

[a] Eros 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 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
Channel your eros, young Emile. That is the message for this pivotal point in Rousseau's argument (and Allan Bloom's introduction to it). Books IV and V of the Emile are all about sex, says Bloom, and he is not shy in engaging the ideas surrounding it. This is far more telling for the careful reader of Bloom than might be imagined. Many who opened The Closing of the American Mind in 1987 were shocked. This shock was less a result of prurience than what I would describe as a kind of embarrassed distancing—sort of like watching a racy movie with grandma. Allan Bloom's passages in Closing that detail the writhing musicality and sexuality of Mick Jagger caused more than one reader to put the book down and wonder what, precisely, the professor was trying to say.

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
Still, if you want to understand what is going on in Bloom's bestseller you have to master Rousseau's bestseller from 1762. Little Emile becomes young Emile, and he starts to changes. His tutor's task is to channel those changes—a growing, teeming (sexual) energy that he does not yet understand—toward a higher purpose. As strange as the idea might seem to the twenty-first century reader (and as easy as it is to veer off the rhetorical toward the ditch of elderly ranting), Bloom took this concept of developmental longing for knowledge very seriously. I don't believe that this point is made clearly enough in Closing, but we can see more clearly what he means in this excerpt from his introduction to the Emile. It is one of the big ideas of all time, and it has almost nothing to do with "sex" as we think about it today.

Introduction to Rousseau's Emile
Allan Bloom (1979)
[d] Learnin' RF
Emile at fifteen cares no more for his father than his dog. A child who did would be motivated by fear or desire for gain induced by dependency. Rousseau has made Emile free of those passions by keeping him self-sufficient, and he has thus undermined the economic foundation of civil society laid by Hobbes and Locke. Since Rousseau agrees with the latter that man has no natural inclination to civil society and  the fulfillment of obligation, he must find some other selfish natural passion that can somehow be sued as the basis for a genuine—as opposed to a spurious, competitive—concern for others. Such a passion is necessary in order to provide the link between the individual and disinterested respect for law or the rights of others, which is what is mean by real morality.

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
These last two books of Emile then undertake in a detailed way the highly problematic task of showing how the higher might be derived from the lower without being reduced to it, while at the same time giving us some sense of what Rousseau means by the sublime or noble. It has not in the past been sufficiently emphasized that everything in Books IV-V is related to sex. Yet without making that connection the parts cannot be interpreted nor the whole understood.

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
Sexual desire, mixed with imagination and amour-propre, if it remains unsatisfied produces a tremendous psychic energy that can be used for the greatest deeds and thoughts. Imaginary objects can set new goals, and the desire to be well thought of can turn into love of virtue. But everything depends on purifying and elevating this desire and making it inseparable from its new objects. Thus Rousseau, although Burke could accuse him of pedantic lewdness, would be appalled by contemporary sex education, which separates out the bodily from the spiritual in sex, does not understand the problem involved in treating the bloated passions of social man as though they were natural, is oblivious to the difficulty of attaching the indeterminate drive to useful and noble objects, and fails to appreciate the salutary effect of prolonged ignorance while the bodily humors ferment. Delayed satisfaction is, according to him, the condition of idealism and love, and early satisfaction causes the whole structure to collapse and flatten.

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...[1]
[g] Venus RF
[1] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile [Translated with an introduction by Allan Bloom] (New York: Basic Books, 1979),15-17.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment