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Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Confessions

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Confessions

The Confessions is an autobiography written by the Genevan philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau a philosopher and writer of the Enlightenment era also known as the Age of Reason. Writers and philosophers of that era were preoccupied with the “self” and didn’t omit to challenge the common practices accepted back then. Composed of different books, this manuscript slightly inspired from The Confessions of Saint Augustine retraces Rousseau’s life as he’s confessing to his audience what he has been through his life. Chronologically, The Confessions is about the persecutions that Rousseau has suffered from, his self-humiliation and the person he became as he was reading his book to salons and different audiences. It was animated by a wish to expose the author’s lifetime experience to learn and teach others from it. For an autobiography, some information may seem off. However, Rousseau started his writing with a memorable plead announcing some honesty to reveal his own life experience from childhood and answer to his enemies. “My purpose is to display to my kind a portrait in every way true to nature, and the man I shall portray will be myself” (Rousseau 17). Such a statement showed a willingness to confess the truth of nature. The confessions started with early life in the first book full of details about his personality and as he goes further in the book, Rousseau didn’t miss the chance to answer to his pairs. He made sure to develop the theme of revelation by exposing his personality and fixing his image.

Jean Jacques Rousseau began The Confessions with his desire to launch something that no one has ever tried before: a self-judgment or portrait “in every way true to nature”. A portrait that doesn’t hide nothing, not even the smallest detail that would embarrass him. Such an autobiography aiming to reveal some personal characteristics did show a little bit about Rousseau’s identity. That identity was pretty much forged and revealed through his childhood that he is telling us about. It is necessary to know how an individual grew and built himself up to really have an idea of his identity. It seemed clearer with these few words in the manuscript that Rousseau did know that and decided to take us back to his early ages to better confess his identity.

In order to know a person, it’s necessary to check his background and see how he forged himself and under which circumstances he was developed. Rousseau applied that theory by going to his childhood to expose himself to the public in order to better portray his person. That self-analysis included some experiences that a normal person wouldn’t share with people for the most part. A philosophy applied by the old Rousseau who is about to narrate his early ages to show us different spheres of his identity. It was a personal matter that he used to understand the fact that shapes human identity including his own.

Consequently, Jean Jacques Rousseau went ahead and applied his opening thesis to reveal, confess using his childhood experience like no one has ever done before him. That step was surely important in this book as it pretty much embarrassed the author himself. For example he wrote in details how he was being treated by Mademoiselle Lambercier and caught that sensuality from a beat up. “I had discovered in the shame and pain of punishment an admixture of sensuality which had left me rather eager than otherwise for a repetition by the same hand” (Rousseau 25). In reality, Rousseau was threatened then finally beaten. That experience at 8 years old was supposed to be terrifying and bad but Rousseau found out about his attraction and sensuality towards to Mlle Lambercier. It may feel shocking to some of the public to find out about Rousseau’s young boy thoughts, but this was the case and he clearly mentioned some precocious sexuality from him. There was an intention to break the rule and challenge the norms as an Enlightenment philosopher. Something that Ian Bell also mentioned in his overview when she said that Rousseau:

was much more concerned with defining his personal identity, with the operation of memory, with trying to pin down exactly what sensations and feelings were most important to him, and, although the experience is mediated through the process of narration, he resolutely refuses throughout his long book to moralize or sensationalize events.

The childhood experience is one of the main components of The Confessions first volume with the revealing of the major sins starting with the sexual pleasure derived from Mademoiselle Lambercier’s smacking. However, another sin says a lot more about Rousseau’s identity with the abandonment of his children to the Foundling Hospital, against the will of their mother. Again, such revelations appeared to be shocking but we are reading about a philosopher who promised to confess the truth of nature. It may seem irrational for a human being to do such bad things and yet decide to reveal it to the public, but we can see how Rousseau used that experience to make philosophical points. Furthermore, confessing all those details was also animated by a desire to show a personality through a self-analysis.

Harold Bloom the literacy critic pointed the fact that “for literary power in self representation for originality in sensibility, for strength or influence upon what came after (-) for all of these, Confessions are beyond comparison with any possible rival.” That’s only one of the reviews that emphasized the powerful influence of The Confessions. Especially through that self-analysis and it makes you wonder how many philosophers were also influenced by this manuscript.

Again, based on Rousseau’s point you have to know an individual’s


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