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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Flowers Bloom (7e)—Bloom's Emile I

[a] Chinon 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. The Emile focuses on a particular kind of "do-over"—one that argues for a fundamental rethinking of education and human nature. Take a look at a few paragraphs from Bloom's introduction.
Shakespeare   Republic1   Republic2   Emile   Emile1   Emile2   Emile3   Emile 4   Emile5
 ***  ***
[b] Natural RF
We continue with our focus on Bloom and blooming this week. As I mentioned yesterday, I cannot begin to express the eye-opening, the intellectual godsend, that accompanied my first introduction to Rousseau's Emile. I had read (and had not even begin to understand) the Confessions, as well as Rousseau's first and second discourses. In the years since first hearing about the Committee on Social Thought I had done a fair amount (as we say back home) to shore up my understanding of the Western intellectual tradition.

I didn't have a clue about Emile. Not a clue.

Even after reading Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind and his translation of the Republic, I did not think about Emile. The only Emiles I knew were my great uncle from Hendrum, Minnesota, on the one hand, and the great sociologist (Durkheim), on the other. Little did I know that a fictional lad in the eighteenth century would be raised (in the world of Rousseau's peculiar narrative) almost from birth by his tutor, Jean Jacques. The tutor's goal was to take that little baby from the bosom of his nurse and then raise him to be natural man—someone capable of living like a latter-day Robinson Crusoe in the salons of Paris.

[c] Ebb/flow RF
It is one of the greatest works ever written, yet it had gone from rocking the big stars of the Enlightenment (note well the reference to Kant's reaction in Bloom's introduction, below) and inspiring "Emile clubs" dedicated to raising children in precisely the manner articulated by the idealistic author to...a big, fat, zero. It was forgotten—not so much in France, where Rousseau's influence ebbed a little but mostly flowed—particularly in Britain and the United States.

Let's read a few paragraphs from Allan Bloom's introduction to the Emile. Note especially the connections to ancients such as Plato, on the one hand, and Rousseau's contemporaries such as Kant and Schiller. Note as well Bloom's advice about tackling the book's arguments. They're stories. Stories. Rousseau got that. It is riveting and even breathless its own way. Enjoy a few paragraphs from Bloom and then, by all means, get yourself a copy of the Emile. If you read French, terrific. If you don't, get a copy of Bloom's translation.

It will change your life, just like Jean Jacques, tutor and author, changed little Emile's.

Introduction to Rousseau's Emile
Allan Bloom (1979) 
In the Discourse on the Origins of Inequality Rousseau summons men to hear for the first time the true history of their species. Man was born free, equal, self-sufficient, unprejudiced, and whole; now, at the end of history, he is in chains (ruled by other men or by laws he did not make), defined by relations of inequality (rich or poor, noble or commoner, master or slave), dependent, full of false opinions or superstitions, and divided between his inclinations and his duties. Nature made man a brute, but happy and good. History—and man is the only animal with a history—by the development of his faculties and the progress of his mind has made man civilized, but unhappy and immoral. History is not theodicy but a tale of misery and corruption.

[d] Healing education RF
Emile, on the other hand, has a happy ending, and Rousseau says he cares little if men take it to be only a novel, for it ought, he says, to be the history of his species. And therewith he provides the key to Emile. It is, as Kant says, the work which attempts to reconcile nature with history, man's selfish nature with the demands of civil society, hence, inclination with duty. Man requires a healing education which returns him to himself. Rousseau's paradoxes—his attack on the arts and the sciences while he practices them, his praise of the savage and natural freedom over against his advocacy of the ancient city, the general will, and virtue, his perplexing presentations of himself as citizen, lover, and solitary—are not expressions of a troubled soul but accurate reflections of an incoherence in the structure of the world we all face, or rather, in general, do not face; and Emile is an experiment in restoring harmony to that world by reordering the emergence of man's acquisitions in such a way as to avoid the imbalances created by them while allowing the full actualization of man's potential. Rousseau believed that his was a privileged moment, a moment when all of man's faculties had revealed themselves and when man had, furthermore, attained for the first time knowledge of the principles of human nature. Emile is the canvas on which Rousseau tried to paint all of the soul's acquired passions and learning in such a way as to cohere with man's natural wholeness. It is a Phenomenology of the Mind posing as Dr. Spock.

[e] Synoptic RF
Thus Emile is one of those rare total or synpotic books, a book with which one can live and which becomes deeper as one becomes deeper, a book comparable to Plato's Republic, which it is meant to rival or supersede. But it is not recognized as such in spite of Rousseau's own judgment that it was his best book and Kant's view that its publication was an event comparable to the French Revolution. Of Rousseau's major works it is the one least studied or commented on. It is as though the book's force had been entirely spent on impact with men like Kant and Schiller, leaving only the somewhat cranky residue for which the book retains its fame in teacher training schools: the harangues against swaddling and in favor of breast feeding and the learning of a trade. Whatever the reasons for its loss of favor (and this would make an interesting study) Emile is a truly great book, one that lays out for the first time and with the greatest clarity and vitality the modern way of posing the problems of psychology.

[f] Civil society (now) RF
By this I mean that Rousseau is at the source of the tradition which replaces virtue and vice as the causes of a man's being good or bad, happy or miserable, which pairs of opposites as sincere/insincere, authentic/inauthentic, inner-directed/outer-directed, real self/alienated self. All these have their source in Rousseau's analysis of amour de soi and amour-propre, a division within man's soul resulting from man's bodily and spiritual dependence on other men which ruptures his original unity or wholeness. The distinction between amour de soi and amour propre is meant to provide the true explanation for that tension within man which had in the past been understood to be a result of the opposed and irreconcilable demands of the body and the soul. Emile gives the comprehensive account of the genesis of amour-propre, displays its rich and multifarious aspects (spreads the peacock's tail, as it were), and maps man's road back to himself from his spiritual exile (his history) during which he wandered through nature and society, a return to himself which incorporates into his substance all the cumbersome treasures he gathered en route. This analysis supersedes that based on the distinction between body and soul, which in its turn had activated the quest for virtue, seen as the taming and controlling of the body's desires under the guidance of the soul's reason. It initiates the great longing to be one's self and the hatred of alienation which characterizes all modern thought. The wholeness, unity, or singleness of man—a project ironically outline in the Republic—is the serious intention of Emile and almost all that came afterward...

[g] Extraordinary RF
The foregoing reflections give a clue to the literary character of Emile. The two great moral-political traditions that were ultimately displaced by the modern natural right teachings—that is, the Biblical and the classical—were accompanied by great works of what may be called poetry. This poetry depicts great human types who embody visions of the right way of life, who make that way of life plausible, who excite admiration and emulation. The Bible, on the highest level, gives us prophets and saints; and in the realm of ordinary possibility it gives us the pious man. Homer and Plutarch give us, at the peak, heroes; and, for everyday fare, gentlemen. Modern philosophy, on the other hand, could not inspire a great poetry corresponding to itself. The exemplary man whom it produces is too contemptible for the noble Muse; he can never be a model for those who love the beautiful. The fact that he cannot is symptomatic of how the prosaic new philosophy truncates the human possibility. With Emile Rousseau confronts this challenge and dares to enter into competition with the greatest of the old poets. He sets out to create a human type whose charms can rival those of the saint or the tragic hero—the natural man—and thereby shows that his thought too can comprehend the beautiful in man.

Emile consists of a series of stories, and its teaching comes to light only when one has grasped each of these stories in its complex detail and artistic unity. Interpretation of this "novel," the first Bildungsroman, requires a union of l'esprit de géométrie and l'esprit de finesse, a union which it both typifies and teaches. It is impossible here to do more than indicate the plan of the work and tentatively describe its general intention in the hope of indicating the nature of this work whose study is so imperative for an understanding of the human possibility.
[h] Henri au naturel RF
[1] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile [Translated with an introduction by Allan Bloom] (New York: Basic Books, 1979), 3-7.

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

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