Rousseau Jean-Jacques – Rousseau Judge of Jean-Jacques
Rousseau Jean-Jacques – Rousseau judge of Jean-Jacques, dialogues: Back in Paris in 1770 after eight years of exile, Rousseau, who lives modestly in his job as a copyist, is invited in the salons to read excerpts from his Confessions . Against his expectations, these semi-private readings collide with the embarrassed silence of the listeners. Fearing compromising revelations for herself and her philosophical friends, Madame d’Epinay, her former protectress, has them banned. Feeling betrayed and spied on all sides, Rousseau goes on the offensive and, taking up the pen, composes his Dialogues. This long work of apology will occupy it intermittently from 1772 to 1776, but will appear only posthumously. Persuaded, not without reason, that he is a victim of a vast hidden plot and that anonymous enemies seek to destroy his work by publishing under his name texts of which he is not the author, Rousseau is constituted at once Judge, lawyer and party and staged the trial that is denied him in reality. His advocacy, organized in three Dialogues, opposes two characters: a certain “Rousseau”, which should not be confused with the author, but who knows his writings perfectly; in front of him, a Frenchman, spokesman naive of all the slanders circulating about the denominated “Jean-Jacques”, third absent and only object of these debates.
In the First Dialogue, Le Français, who has never seen or read “Jean-Jacques”, declares that he is an “execrable monster”, an impostor and a plagiarist. “Rousseau” retorts, not without irony, that the author of La Nouvelle Héloïse and Émile can not be that of the crimes attributed to him. So there would be two “Jean-Jacques” … To clarify this mystery, they agree, one to go visit him, the other to read his books. “Rousseau” reports in the Second Dialogue that the individual he met is not a criminal. He is an honest man, an innocent man, a shy and clumsy dreamer who considers himself “the painter of nature and the historian of the human heart”. In the Third Dialogue, the intellectual counterpart of the preceding moral portrait, the Frenchman, who has finally read “Jean-Jacques”, comments in detail on his readings and admits that he was moved to the bottom of his soul. Returning from his prejudices, he accepts, if not to meet “J.-J.”, at least to contribute to his rehabilitation.
A brilliant but confusing work, Rousseau Jean-Jacques’ judge is the “J’accuse” of a writer who no longer belongs to himself, who no longer masters his reputation, and who suffers all the more cruelly because an uncompromising advocate of virtue “(Starobinski), he has always felt indebted for his image *. For many readers, the cleavage of the first and last name, combined with the obsessive rehashing of both real and imaginary grievances, are the symptoms of a paranoid state that reaches its climax here. For others, on the contrary, this self-portrait with two voices is a clever “self-staging” (Delormas) by which the author, fictitiously taking control of his name, seeks at the same time to ensure the integrity and durability of his work **. Indeed, at the end of Dialogues, Rousseau is no longer addressing himself to the French, nor to the king, nor even to God, and that, renouncing his claim to the men of his century, he now relies on posterity, certain that she alone will one day be able to do justice to her. (* Jean Starobinski, Accuse and Seduce, Essays on Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Paris, Gallimard, 2012) 38-39. ** Pascale Delormas, From autobiography to self-presentation: the case of Rousseau (Limoges, Lambert-Lucas, 2012), 46, 197.)