table of contents


Sepp Gumbrecht on Diderot, Voltaire, and Rousseau

Hans Ulrich (“Sepp”) Gumbrecht is an internationally renowned scholar who is the Albert Guérard Professor of Literature at Stanford University. In his scholarship, he focuses on the histories of the national literatures in Romance language (especially French, Spanish, and Brazilian), but also on German literature while, at the same time teaching and writing on the […]

download transcript [vtt]
This is KZSU Stanford. Welcome to entitled opinions. My name is Robert Harrison
and we're coming to you from the Stanford campus.
The American SAS Randolph-Borne, who recently joined this radio program's Board of Trustees, wrote the following back in 1913.
Thinking was given us for use in emergencies, and no man can be justly blamed if he reserves it for emergencies.
He can be blamed, however, if he does not expose himself to those crises that we'll call it fourth.
Now a friend is such an emergency, perhaps the most exciting stimulus to thinking one can find.
The persons, causes, and books that unlock the prison of my intellectual torpor, I can justly call my friends.
Well there you go friends, we are all gathered here, host guests and listeners alike to break out of the prison of our intellectual torpor.
Together we create an emergency. Together we provoke the most exciting stimulus to thinking one can find.
Born again, I quote, book, speakers, the music that I play, all these shall be my friends as long as I find myself responding to them.
It's as simple as that. If you respond to these shows, then entitled opinions is your friend.
If they get you to think, then you are a friend of entitled opinions. So all you responders, welcome to the emergency, welcome to the
Feast of Friends, entitled opinions coming up.
Don't take my word for it, ask Randolph-Borne.
Don't take his word for it, ask the crimson whale, and then write on down to the methane sea.
Born yet again, I quote, one of the curious superstitions of friendship is that we somehow choose our friends.
To the connoisseur and friendship, no idea could be more implausible. Our friends are chosen for us by some hidden law of sympathy and not by our conscious wills.
That certainly applies to the guests who joins me today in the studios of KZSU. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, otherwise known as ZEP, is professor of comparative literature here at Stanford.
He is a cherished personal friend and also a longtime friend of entitled opinions, having joined me for several shows over the years.
This is a fifth show that we are doing together and that is a record. So here we go with the Feast of ZEP, welcome to the program.
Hi, thanks for inviting me.
This wide-ranging diversity of shows that you and I have done together over the past decade is one aspect of what I would call your good Europeanism.
I think that that is a term that I am borrowing from Nietzsche, another trustee of this radio program, by the way.
He meant by that term a higher order of cosmopolitanism. It doesn't exclude a deep attachment to one's native roots, but it rejects the kind of narrow father-landishness as he calls it.
That binds a person to one regional nation over against all the others.
And you are as much at home in America as in Germany, as in Spain, and Latin America and your fluent in more languages than I care to count here.
But there is more here than ordinary cosmopolitanism because for Nietzsche, good Europeanism was also a way of thinking as well as a general cultural disposition.
I quote him, "But we who are neither Jesuits nor Democrats nor even sufficiently German, we good Europeans are free, very free spirits."
And that sounds like you to me. Here is another quote.
"I hear with pleasure that our son is moving rapidly toward the constellation Hercules, and I hope that the men on this earth will do like the sun, and we foremost, we good Europeans."
I'm trying to make as good Europeanism, good, bad Europeanism, bad, and you and I both know what I have in mind when I refer to bad Europeanism, but we'll leave that issue aside here.
Anyway, today we're here to discuss the three most iconic fellows' offs of the French Enlightenment, right?
Voltaire, Rousseau, and D'Hou, you're currently finishing a book about D'Hou, and you've recently been teaching courses on Voltaire, Rousseau, and D'Hou, separate courses, not just amalgamated.
And I guess it's impossible to be a good European without having at least some Enlightenment blood in your veins, but I'm curious what it is about these three fellows' offs.
Neither of whom, by the way, is on our Board of Trustees here on Title of Canadians.
Maybe make one of them, perhaps.
I'm curious what it is about them that has captivated your attention at this stage of your long, venerable career.
Well, thanks for venerable. It is actually when you were reading the firstborn quote about friendship.
I thought it is a beautiful example for that, because for random reasons, so some fate chose me, my very first seminar,
when I enrolled at the University of Munich, my first semester in the fall of 1967 was a seminar on the aesthetic writings of D'Hou.
And I was very fascinated, and I think this enthusiasm for D'Hou, and the sympathy for D'Hou, was sympathy, really the word.
Was the reason why I continued. I was altogether disappointed by the humanities, but D'Hou, reading D'Hou, and wanting to continue to read D'Hou, was a strong motivation.
And in a way, now looking back almost 40 years, now about almost 50 years, I mean, D'Hou has always accompanied me, and I've hardly ever written about D'Hou.
I mean, I've actually not a single essay on D'Hou.
And all of a sudden, when I was thinking, "What could be the next book?" I felt it was this sympathy.
I wanted to find out what it was that made D'Hou so attractive to me.
And then I realized that in a way, if D'Hou is always this one friend with whom you have a sympathy with whom you can, I shouldn't say that, but identify in a certain way, that in different ways, Voltaire and even a Rousseau, were also friends.
Friends in the sense that Voltaire is like somebody who always has a strategy, who always has an intention, and always gets it done.
And I admire that a lot from a distance. I wouldn't want to be Voltaire, but yes, he's the one person you like to know because he gets it done.
And in a way, Voltaire is in a very primary level, and there's not very sophisticated.
There's like somebody whom I don't like at all, but for some reason you cannot not interact with him.
I always get back to Voltaire, and I always find out that I can't stand Voltaire as a person, and yet he's fascinating.
So in three different ways, I feel as if to quote "born" again, some secret fate had chosen this friendship and this sympathy of very different tonality with the three of them.
That's great. It's a friend would be probably the right word for this sort of sympathy that you're describing with these.
I've spoken before, and you know that I've written on the other concept of adopting an ancestor.
Now, when someone becomes an adoptive ancestor, it's a little bit different than just being a friend because you feel in the genealogy that you are an heir to either their thinking or their sensibility or something of that sort.
Do you consider yourself in your good Europeanism, an heir of the French Enlightenment in any way, or is it just these individuals in their personalities that make you so friendly towards them?
Well, the two things I can answer, I mean, one is completely biographical, but as you know, I did my last high school in Paris, at least he only cut them.
I'm very proud to say I was Aishie Ames, you can say when you were at least he only cut. And that was really the reason why when I came back, I actually thought I would study medicine like everybody in my family and then I came back from that year and I wanted to humanity.
But for me, this was France. I mean, it wasn't Paris, and I bought books that I didn't understand the word, but I wanted to be an intellectual somehow.
So in that sense, you know, because you mentioned Spain, South America, yes, and maybe my relationship with France today is not as close, but the basis of that Europeanism, if I have it, was certainly France.
Now, is there a genealogy? I don't know, because the one that I liked the most, and that's the deal without any doubt.
I mean, that's sympathy in the literal sense of the word, has a mind and has, you know, you could say if you have his portrait,
it is not well-contoured. You couldn't say Diderou is XYZ. I mean, you could have key words, key concepts that would characterize what Rousseau's gave, but Rousseau's concerned about what Valtis concerned about.
That is not the case about Diderou. And Diderou has no center. You couldn't say this is the most important work for Diderou.
And I mean, as you know, sometimes people refer to me rather critically by saying, "Oh, this guy's all over the place." I mean, I'm not the specialist of anything special, but in that sense, it's not a genealogy, but I feel a very strong affinity with Diderou.
Although everything I know about, you tell me you're not an encyclopedist, you're not someone who aspires to encyclopedic knowledge of...
Well, Diderou, I always spend a little bit too much, I mean, in my private life, and Diderou started doing the encyclopedic learn some money.
But on the other hand, of course, during the encyclopedist being all over the place. I mean, Diderou has about... I mean, he wrote many more entries for the encyclopedi, but 60 of them are signed, but we know that we did the own. I always liked to seven or teach Diderou.
They go between Erotian and Buchar. That was one extreme, and the other one is Les Prix, I mean, the spirit.
And I mean, I could perfectly get so interested about the profession of a Buchar that I would write about it.
You know, if you looked at the five topics we have done in title opinion so far, that's a little bit like the beginning of an encyclopedi.
Well, sure.
But I would never be the editor of an encyclopedi, now, if somebody offered me enough money to violate in my life that Porsche that I always wanted to drive, maybe I would do an encyclopedi.
But the philosophy behind the encyclopedi was that one could actually totalize the sum of human knowledge and render it available in a form that would be kind of alphabetical.
Now, I'm probably not being fair enough to the complexity, but nevertheless, the idea that all of human knowledge can be synthesized in this new form of an encyclopedia kind of entry that even going alphabetically presupposes
something about human knowledge that I don't know what you tell me.
Do you share this idea?
No, it's interesting in that sense that, I mean, at the beginning, as you know, of the encyclopedi, there were two editors, one was D.D.O.
I mean, today we would say the humanists and the other one was Dan Ombre, the great mathematician.
And it is, the first place may be counterintuitive, but the introduction, the presentation of the encyclopedis by Dan Ombre.
Because Dan Ombre has a mathematician, was the man to say, "We define something." Whereas on the other hand, that is less known.
I mean, Robert Darnell, our colleague from formerly Princeton, now Harvard found that out.
D.D.O.O. was, for example, the one who instead of correcting entries that they didn't like, invented the principle that you had one article, let's say, by Voltaire on an entry, and then you invited a little sword to write a supplementary entry.
So this plurality, this openness, precisely that things are not defined in the literal sense of the word, have no end.
I think that was the contribution of D.D.O.O. to the encyclopedi, and in that sense, you could paradoxically say, it's an unencyclopedic form of encyclopedi that was his strength.
Do you ever consult the encyclopedi for purposes of acquiring knowledge, or do you consult it only for its, in a historic sense, to find out what people were saying about a particular encyclopedi?
I do something in between, and I do it quite frequently, and actually oftentimes to do that, I go to Green Library and take the original, we have even at Stanford, an origin of the encyclopedi.
I like to use it to get going on a topic. I give you one example, I mean, as you know, a couple of years ago, I taught one of those freshman courses on what is a classic today.
And so I went to the encyclopedi, the first volume C has classic, and then I had a definition in the description that it's completely counterintuitive to us, because it's classic, are those authors of Greek or Latin that are used in school,
because their style is so good, and the students should write like them.
I don't know, let me say, what is that? And this was 1753, and this is of course not what I wanted to tell our students, but as a starting point to get me going, it was absolutely amazing.
This is not always the case with the encyclopedi, but it's almost, you know, if I have any working principles, if I start something larger, something new, I oftentimes, if not always, go back to the encyclopedi article.
I mean, as I'm saying, it's not always successful, but oftentimes, precisely means counterintuitive. And you can say, you know, this is 250 years ago, and I thought a completely different way, it becomes very productive for me.
Among these trio, I've feel those offs with Voltaire and Rousseau and did you say that didro...
What's a champion of enlightenment ideology? The same way Voltaire was obviously, there's no doubt in Voltaire's case that he was the big champion of a certain kind of enlightenment ideology.
Did doro share that?
It's difficult. I mean, I actually, I would say about Voltaire, I mean, to continue with what you were saying.
I mean, perhaps Voltaire's main contribution was that in his letter writing, in his actions, and you can really say actions, he made a huge contribution to the creation to the emergence of the public space.
I mean, there was no public space when he started writing in the 1720s, and when he died, I mean, the public space existed, and he used it in a very perfect way, and lots of people imitated him.
So, you could really define this contribution. Excuse me, do you think that he opened up that public space or was he just happened to be...
Open it up?
It's difficult, but you could use the concept that we both like of emergence, I mean, in that emergency emergence.
It was probably beginning to emerge in the early 18th century, and early on, the first example was the English letters, letters on glass,
where he writes about England, he uses that, you know, to use the resonance, and in the 1760s, you can tell he was like a specialist, you know, as if this was a radio show, and he knows all the technical possibilities, what you can do with the public space.
He didn't invent it, but I think there was no other protagonist in Europe who contributed more to the emergence and to the institutionalization of the public space.
And there is no such contribution that you could associate with Diderot.
I mean, I wouldn't say Diderot was never anti-enlightenment, but for example, Diderot was... there was no central idea.
You know, from the time on, this was about the last 15 years of his life that he had a kind of stipend from Catherine the Great of Russia, and didn't have to publish anymore.
I mean, his financial situation was taken care of. He didn't even publish his things. He just wrote, he had ideas,
and there is no common denominator, and there is, for example, he hardly ever wrote about rationality, you wrote a couple of entries for the Ensign Club BED about political concepts, but you do not feel that this is the central intention.
I mean, I think this is somebody who is extremely open to the world, everything interests him, but even that is not a program for him.
This is just his way of living.
So not a public intellectual. In the same way Voltaire was, I don't know if you would call Voltaire the first one.
No, I mean, you know, but have you say something like the first one, it's like the first problem or I mean, you make a decision? Yes, I would say he was the first public intellectual in the canonical sense that we use a public intellectual, and maybe there was somebody else before, but one of the very first.
Dieter-Rol, for Dieter was existence, it was important that something like the public space existed, because for example, before Catherine's stipend, I mean, he lived basically by the salary that he received being the editor of the Ensign Club BED, and without a public space being there, nobody would have bought the Ensign Club BED.
But he was not yet no strategy what he would do with it. I mean, he just was using it. He just was, you know, occupying certain spaces of liberty that all of a sudden existed.
And he wrote also, I mean, we wouldn't call that pornography today, but he wrote to make money. What would be considered pornography in the 18th century.
And I think the affinity between the public space and Dieter-Rol is this openness that there is nothing you are not allowed to be interested in. Whatever interests you, you can develop, you can dedicate yourself to you can concentrate upon, but it would be very difficult to associate Dieter-Rol, for example, with rationality. Yes, he was rational, but he was actually above all an associative mind. You know, there's hardly even argument.
There's a very interesting thing for example, the letter on the blind is a beautiful, beautiful text, and if you teach it and ask a student, so what is this text all about? It's very difficult to say what it is all about. I mean, it's a plurality of century, frugal, very, very interesting, colorful ideas.
My impression is that if you take away the tumultuous character of the public lives of Voltaire and Rousseau, they get greatly diminished if they're just reduced to their corpus of writings.
That's so much of their iconic status, even still today, has to do with the way they lived their lives. It was a Vita Aktiva in combination with the Vita Contemplativa. Perhaps less the case with Dieter-Rol that he seemed to have a less agitated public life than the other two, but maybe we can talk about it.
It's not only a less agitated public life, you're perfectly right. Indeed, it was biography in a way except for this one voyage to St. Petersburg, which he had to because Catherine the Great wanted to get to know him.
And as she had paid him 50 annual salaries as a librarian in St. Petersburg, where he never had been, he had to go. But basically it was born in Longer, that's a small town, 20,000 people today, about 80 kilometers northeast of Paris.
And once, when he was about 28 years old, he went to Paris, and three or four times in his life went to Longer, but basically his life took place between downtown Paris where he lived with his family and had a kind of studio for the
the city of Paris, where some of his best friends like Melchor Grim or like Old Buck had castles, so he spent the weekend there, he spent the summer there. And there's a strange combination between somebody who is not really interesting and exploring the world.
But he wrote about somebody who had done that and that fascinated him. But this openness to the world, in his case, in a very strange way, was not related to doing anything dramatic, was not related to being explorer in the sense of moving in space.
But the world openness that can be satisfied almost by not moving, but just focusing on you and every day world.
Which is not the case with the other two.
So, if we can talk a little bit about Voltaire, maybe first, or who so I don't care which order it goes in, but we start with Voltaire because it's the even more dramatic one.
Right. So, Voltaire, if you look at the... Okay, here's a question that goes back to the intro.
Would you call Voltaire and who so good your appearance in that sense that Nietzsche had in mind?
Well, the degree to which maybe Voltaire might have felt that as much at home in England as in France and his relationship with Frederick the Great of Prussia, that I guess you would not want to call him a good European in that specifically in each sense.
But there was a cosmopolitan sense.
If you want to be generous, once again that's typical Voltaire, Voltaire very early on had an impression of that role and transformed it into a possible role that other people could copy.
And also that you could use as a concept.
So, he was actually, for having insulted and grande France, I mean a very high ranked aristocrat. He was in jail and then he negotiated as a young man.
Can I please go into exile in England instead of being in jail? And for some reason they considered that to him.
Nowadays in England and he realizes this time of the glorious revolution, there are things going on in England that are interesting for friends.
And he would actually, the English letters, Le Le Tras-Hung
Les when he had already returned to Paris, but he staged them and sold them as if they had been written in England.
And see, this is very specifically Voltaire, he understands the strategic value of that role.
The same with Frederick of Prussia, I mean they had written quite a number of letters to each other.
And the concept of this invitation to be part of the Prussian Academy, by the way a French president will pay us was, he thought that was good for him.
I mean to show that he had this friendship with an enlightened king to show that this state that was then emerging.
I mean, Prussia 50 years before that was a tiny spot in the map that nobody knew that this king was interested in him.
Pretty much everything that Voltaire does, but that second nature, I mean pretty much everything he does is,
strategic becomes an institution and is very very successful in that.
And in that sense maybe he is not a good European in the Nietzschean sense because it is too intentional, it is too programmatic.
But on the other hand you could say nobody is that more than Voltaire because Voltaire is the one who has an idea of what this would be.
In Voltaire case I am curious because I don't have an answer, I don't have an intuition about this, but whether you have just described which maybe we could call image management.
He was very much of a manager of his own image, but was he managing his image for his own narcissistic purposes or was he actually committed to a real ideology associated with freedom.
And that was he trying to amass this kind of public power and charisma around himself in order to promote the enlightenment agenda of increasing the measure of liberty for human beings.
Probably not to the degree that we would imagine in handbooks especially French handbooks about enlightenment would write.
I mean I like the fact that Voltaire's life really was a life in which the most the central activity also just in terms of time was writing letters, dictating letters.
He had always a secretary next to him that he could dictate letters. And we know today that less than an hour before he died and he knew that he would die. Probably that day he dictated a letter and probably he knew that it would be his last letter and the letter is about the then recently thrown king Louis XVI and he says, you know I think this will be a good king.
I mean we all know that was completely wrong. But I'm quoting that because it tells you a little bit in what direction he was going. I think you know I think this wasn't even about a constitutional monarchy.
I mean to have more public space with the monarch who would be ready to talk especially to him that was enough for him.
Well none of the three I would say had something like the French Revolution in mind. What would associate that the most with Voltaire because everything is so strategic.
I think what you're saying the image management, the management of the public space.
I think in Voltaire always enough nothing on earth against it, maximizing his income. Voltaire was extremely wealthy without any doubt the equivalent of at least a one digit if not a double digit billionaire today.
Which he acquired that wealth because he.
Well I mean he when when he was a young man it already had mainly by his publications acquired some wealth.
The beginning lottery industry in France had just collapsed. So he together with others there was a consortium.
They bought this lottery industry and in a very short time. I transformed it into something successful into something that then expanded all over Europe.
We know for example that the great German philosopher of blessing. I mean who kind of biddered his late years of his life after his wife had died playing too much lottery was actually paying into what he has lottery didn't know this was Voltaire.
Yeah so Voltaire we do know he made more than a million leaver on it's very difficult to say what the equivalent would be but something like half a billion today out of this first move.
And wherever he went he bought a castle and this was part of the image management but whenever he left he sold the same castle for more.
He would never sell anything that he had acquired without making benefits. So it was I mean I just want to say and once again this is not a criticize him as a humanistic professor would normally do.
But making income you know was one of the driving motivations and that he was interested in. I mean that this money would be his and could not be taken away by the state that he was interested in.
But I think there's evidence from his from his writing not so much that he was not in favor of his social transformation he didn't believe in that possibility.
Jean Paul Saffte reminds me of Voltaire in the 20th century not an image management but also he took positions on all these public events that were taking place way too much he was signing you know these petitions and denouncing this and so forth.
But you have a sense with Jean Paul Saffte that although you know like all good Frenchmen it's very concerned with his image but there was also something consistent with his existential philosophy about on Gajmall and so forth but.
Voltaire's legacy among French intellectuals up until this day I think is huge because precisely what you're talking about the way in which an intellectual made such a huge.
difference in the public sphere.
In Voltaire's career and that now we are in this kind of mode of lamenting the time when an intellectual could make such a difference in the world away someone like Voltaire could have done.
Yeah that is amazing I mean if you if you think of the media technology of that time you know.
How Voltaire managed whenever he wanted to and as I'm saying I think there are many many spread strategies.
He managed to get the national attention I give you one case and the tried to compress it as much as I can.
This is the invention of the concept of persecuted virtue which was very central.
For enlightenment and from which we still suffer today when we are surrounded by politically correct people.
So there was a scandal that very few people knew about in in to lose and this was a Calvinist who son had committed suicide.
And the father got accused by the Catholic church the son had committed suicide because he wanted to convert to Catholicism.
Well and then there was a trial and the father got sentenced to death and was actually executed because the father wanted to prevent him from converting.
Is that correct?
I mean I was you know we don't know but he was accused of that.
So Voltaire gets wind of that in Paris and has a real strategy to make this a national case.
So how does he do that there was no radio there was no TV there was no entitled opinions.
Well he wrote letters but when Voltaire was writing a letter that was never only for the address he knew that people would copy those letters.
Probably actually I don't know for a fact but he had people already copying those letters distributing those letters.
And this is I think 1761 and within half a year Jean-Colas that was the name of the victim so to speak of the father in to lose was a national topic.
Yeah and all of France including including the lovers of Louis the 15th the King.
So now this can never happen again this can never happen again and you know this is absolutely amazing.
I mean to be studied in detail how he managed to get this resonance and this is what I meant at the beginning when I say he was the first person who really.
In an almost technological way was using the public space.
And this is why the name of Jean-Colas until today that's where we can talk about it had it not been for this technique of the whole.
Nobody would know about the case today. Nobody would have known it about you know outside to lose and outside the friends of Jean-Colas in 1761.
And from what I remember about that case my feeling was that Voltaire was actually genuinely outraged at what he perceived to be a huge injustice being committed and that he came to the rescue of or went on this public campaign not so much for his own self aggrandizement.
But I don't know. Yes I mean I basically agree with you. What he did actually of course I couldn't rescue Jean-Colas he was already dead.
I mean because it had been executed. But the family was in jail and he started kind of sponsoring the family.
So we paid for example you know I don't know what exactly but it paid a person who would take care of the family would bring food to the jail and he also managed the family would be ultimately released.
But nothing ever did was done without public resonance. I mean yes like yourself I believe that he was outraged about that.
But it was also important to him that everybody knew what a wonderful person he was and that he had gotten the Colas family out of jail and that he had paid the money for them and so forth and so forth.
And I don't find that's horrible that's just Voltaire.
As up can we move on to who so? Yes.
It was a contemporary a friend and a whole different kind of personality in many ways no.
But an equally public very public life and his psychological complexes were such that the poor man had to live out in a public sphere many things that we would consider belong to the intimate privacy of a self.
And yet there's something about who so that confuses or at least the boundaries become very promiscuous in that regard.
What is it about who so earlier you said you you're not particularly sympathetic towards him that he's not a friend as such.
But he is someone who fascinates you.
I mean he is as a character and I think Robert V. United should admit that we're doing something that is very bad taste.
In you know official academic taste I mean talk biographies one doesn't do that but we both like it and I am probably even worse than you in liking biographies.
Who so was clearly what you would call an everyday language paranoid. I mean in every occasion he found out a paranoid pattern.
And I mean the likelihood is this is what the great living who saw special things and that's John Star Wabinski from Geneva.
Instead of Binsky that's often forgotten was in the first career a doctor as psychiatrist and a historian of medicine.
I mean Sturg Winsley is convinced that this was a case that we would call paranoia to clinical yeah clinical paranoia.
So he was not only paranoid in this everyday sense and in that sense you know there's a double reaction.
You think on the one hand my God you know I mean I could not even hang out with that guy because you know you do my favor and then he hates you for that favor.
And at the same time if you know a little bit more about the biography this was kind of sad biography I mean starting with effect.
That his mother died in child bed nine days after his birth that his father got remarried and dumped him on the family of his uncle.
Given the fact that he was incontinent wedding his pants whenever he appeared in public and people knew that.
So you also feel sorry for him but you know if you would ask me whether I wanted to go with Rousseau and I say that deliberately to an American football game.
I'd say no but I mean Rousseau of course would never have gotten to an American football game because of the violence that's implied there.
He was born a Calvinist I believe and yet his theory about human nature and the benevolence of
this pre-lapse area and humanity before it enters into the social contract is anything but Calvinist in fact it's a it's of an optimism that is a childishly naive from a Calvinist point of view.
I find that also something contradictory he's a person of great contradictions from many points of view.
The greatest impact of Rousseau I think already in the 18th century and until the present day is of course pedagogy.
I mean pedagogy as we know it even the word would probably not exist without Rousseau without a meal and this was immensely popular.
And I mean you know okay indulging my pleasure with anecdotes I mean in a meal and not only in a meal in the book about education he talks about breastfeeding.
That breastfeeding is a big deal and this is important for the child to be breastfed by the mother.
And this was of course a historical time when whoever could have thought it had a wet nurse.
But with Rousseau breastfeeding all of a sudden became popular to a degree that all these women who were now breastfeeding would write letters to Rousseau to no shut down because his publisher was a no shut down which is today Switzerland and would write him how grateful they were and how thankful and you think yeah that is wonderful.
And then again there's this Rousseau with whom we don't want to hang out he could have cared less about these letters. He never read any of those letters. He never answered any of them.
He didn't care about this enthusiasm that he had so it's there's always a contradiction there's always a but I mean if it's a negative side there's the but he was really a poor guy and this is a very generous and beautiful type of education.
But if you're a positive citizen my god I mean he's also unbearable he can be so cold. I mean this is always quoted you know he had five children you all left them in an orphanage being the great philosopher of education being the philosopher of compassion the philosopher of identification of equality.
Well that's Rousseau yes and if we had to hold intellectuals responsible for being consistent with the ideologies that they as far as I would think a lot would be in trouble although I do think that we should hold them by responsible.
Who so if Voltaire was a superstar in the public sphere who so even more so in a different kind of vein in much more modern vein because he he kind of.
Allowed that inner self that torment the torments of his inner self.
Air out in public whether he managed that process or not he probably didn't manage that process but he exercise a huge fascination on the public of Europe and especially women what was it due to.
Well I mean I think just empirically speaking the breastfeeding was probably the one thing and I'm mentioning that again because that's metonymical for everything I mean.
The book that made him really famous among women readers was a Lenovo Louise and this is this a history novel about a young woman from the low nobility who gets married to an older man the typical 18th century.
But is really in love with the instructor for children very typical thing of the 18th century but renounces and she becomes the moral hearing.
And this is not only I mean it's a very long novel to read today but in the 18th century people identified with that because historically speaking of course it is the time when the unfolding of what we would call today a specific psychology a gender specific psychology of women.
Boss beginning and in that sense Julie that's the name of the heroine was a character to identify with and I think that this is why those female readers were enjoying you know in printed edition today this is a novel about 800,000 pages but reading every line because I think by reading that they could begin to unfold and to discover their own disposition which until they are not the same.
The position which until then had probably existed psychologically speaking but had not existed in the public sphere and that made was so popular figure like it occurs today you know with stars in popular culture not so popular culture of course then people that make a distinction between the hero and the author and I mean the hero and the implicit author and the real author so they thought well if also writes about that he must be the most pleasant and comfortable.
As a result of the novel is the most pleasant and comfortable person to be around with which he was absolutely not but this is I think this novel his only novel was what made him a superstar and specifically for cultivated. How good do you think that novel is? You know I did with one of our graduate students and independent reading this quarter and I announced to him that this would be very very horrible is very long but you have to read it if you want to do an independent reading and know about who so and then he came back and said you know.
It's by far not as bad as you are saying well you know I felt bad and then I reread a little bit I did not do not have the time during normal quarter to read the entire thing but it is in this very subtle descriptions also including landscape descriptions I mean like everything fiction I also plays the plays in the Swiss Alps. What is today? Le l'Alacteux Bien not the luckily monde the lake of Geneva but the north and I mean the next one close to Lucia ten and Bien.
And it has something I mean it is you know today you feel we have a different pace of life I mean you never are quiet enough to inhale that novel but these descriptions of microscopic situations you know and it is also always the fiction of writing letters.
This is very well done this is very well done and if I had endless time perhaps after retirement I will reread it.
So he's appealed especially to the women audience was also about his saucy b'ite he gives rise to large dishonesty b'ite as opposed to the previous class.
Classical emphasis on maybe other rationality but that he also appealed greatly to other men so in England when he goes where David Hume becomes his not just his host but a friend and he's received there in England like.
Again another superstar by a lot of important intellectuals of the time he was hugely important as an intellectual.
Yeah I mean and also contemporary with Voltaire but a very different kind of persona.
Well I mean they I think I mean Voltaire famously wrote about even one of those letters that was a letter but that probably hundreds of thousands of people read.
If I take seriously philosophy he wrote about about also the ideal would be to become an animal and goes through the woods again.
I cut the pot.
Oh now I'll read the muchier cut the pot.
So yeah I mean so but that in a way was also good for also because if you were you know the antagonist of Voltaire that also made you famous in that sense.
They played with each other.
I mean a biographical thing that I've recently read a night that I really liked is that when Hume took him to England and that's because Hume believed that he was really persecuted and he was persecuted also.
That's the thing and paranoid.
They went to England to London to the theatre and that is amazing because Gary I mean who was not only the most famous actor in England then but maybe no actor in Western culture ever was more popular in his time than Gary in the English.
And then Gary in the third quarter of the 17th century.
So he staged actually a special performance for Rousseau because Rousseau was then on Raff Rousseau.
The royal family came and what the newspapers, this is also the age of the rising newspapers wrote that the royal family was more fixated on Rousseau to see how Rousseau reacted to the was going on in the stage than to the stage.
So I mean very very interesting you know this is like when Prince Harry today goes to the Rugby World Cup final and this is more interesting than anything else.
I mean something like that.
So Rousseau was really in the literal sense of superstar.
How much however different from Voltaire he was aware of it comfortable with it cultivated.
It is difficult to say I don't think he really ever cultivated that.
I agree. I agree. Which is nice.
Well it is and it reminds you of certain kind of rock stars who were so bad at managing not their image but their lives and that the more you have trouble they get into the more their quota goes up.
Who is so I don't know if he invents this modern phenomenon of sincerity but there is a rhetoric of sincerity that many of his admirers bought into as if when you read the Conficeon or the you know Pomeanad you feel that the self is talking about himself in a true recent seer mode.
I was told once at the etymology of the words sincere comes from the Latin Cenet Chéera which means without wax where they would bring statues over to Rome from Greece and in the boats in the ships they would often get broken in certain parts especially the noses of the gods or the statues and then what the Roman vendors would be.
The Roman vendors would do that they would put this wax on the nose or the finger or the limbs and then they would paint it off and they would paint it white same color and the people would buy it but then the summer time in the heat of the summer the wax would actually melt and you realize that it was doctorate up that way and so they took to the habit of putting Cenet Chéera above their you know their boutique so to say that this statue of the
this statue is without wax and I'm wondering when I I cannot ever take who so is sincerity seriously I think that there is a way in which if you held it up to the equivalent of the summer heat in Rome that something there would melt and you would find that this self which is crafted in his confessions is a very different thing from the real from the real person.
Yeah perhaps we could say that I mean he didn't discover in the sense that he thought about it and when did concepts for him but one could perhaps say in a larger context that was so is the beginning of the discovery of the impossibility of authenticity.
I think it's about authenticity I mean because he wrote Confessio and then he wrote the Communist really tear and then he wrote Jean-Jacques, which is probably men.
So you know at the end of his life this was always about writing autobiography and I do think he was convinced I have to do it another time because then I'm going to be completely sincere and what he discovered was he wouldn't reflect about the impossibility but next time I will do it completely.
I do not think on the other hand that this attempt at authenticity was completely staged I mean as I was saying he was probably a clinical case of paranoia he was convinced that people constantly conspired against him and I mean as you remember the opening paragraph the introduction of the Confessio.
I mean it's a confession and he quite literally replaces God I mean like in the Catholic confession by the reader and you said the reader I mean of course the quote is from Sand Augustine the reader in the end you will judge about me and of course the hope is that you will judge about me whether I'm a good person or not whether I'm as bad as the people are conspiring against me are saying.
So I think subjectively when he starts doing that my impression is this was authentic this was sincere but he discovered or did this cover was it was impossible on the other hand and that's typical so we do know that the idea to write biography was from his publisher because it's publisher after the novel the history novel knew that he could make a lot of money on a voice of biography and then you start doubting again.
That is also right exactly.
Well, you're the book that you're writing is about detour is not about the other two know and of course you cannot write a book about detour without mentioning the other exactly because they were in in time and you spoke about what your sympathy for detour consists in but what approach do you take in your book to detour?
I mean I start with a chapter and you have read in a meant a lot of to me that you liked it that concentrates on a completely unimportant letter of detour and the title of that chapter is a quote from that letter that says on film I scovver they do with me whatever they want I have really I'm in cable very different from Voltaire and that sense to ever pull through something that I want.
And this is about a weekend where he stays at the castle of his friend Melchor Glim the editor of the correspondence that all the aristocrats in Europe are reading.
And this is a weekend where people from Paris this is like early tourism but coming to the village because there's a village feast.
And as you know I don't want to be there when all these tourists quote on quote are going to be in the village so I want to go back to Paris.
And then Glim and his lover tell him oh we are so disappointed if you're not going to be here this weekend.
So he decides to stay that's the quote they do with me whatever they want I have no will of my own I'm not capable of ever saying no.
And then he describes that day and it is a day in which nothing particular happens it is like a letter of many snapshots many things are happening.
And at the end of the day I mean this is a letter to his woman friend Sophie DuVonel and I'm saying woman friend in this very politically correct way because this was a friendship that if ever had very little erotic implication.
And at the end he writes you know it's to a clock now we have had this beautiful dinner and it's very strange I have to admit that this was one of the most beautiful days of my life.
And there's nothing in the center I mean the one scene that he describes where it gets really excited is about the dinner and the ice cream you know ice cream gastronomically well then something new it had come from Italy.
And he says who came in the glass I mean you who like ice cream he writes to Sophie Volland to a mother whom he hates I wish you had been here and had shared this ice cream with me so there's nothing in the center there beautiful snapshots beautiful observations.
And it is this absolute radical the radical in the sense there are no limits openness to life that makes him so interesting.
And in a way I do think there's an affinity with our present day intellectual situation there might be wrong but I feel personally a very very strong affinity with him.
So yes and that's what I think is so interesting about the book is that you make a case for D to whole being much more I don't want to say our contemporary but pertinent to our own contemporary situation also because he was a big believer in science and not the rationalistic science but empiricism the Yansik Rupadi has a doctrine of empirical research and
and experimentation and I think that openness to the world that you're talking about goes naturally with a sense of the scientific openness to experience wherever it presents itself and in which in which ever forms it says and therefore a certain curiosity but all things and that perhaps the condition for that kind of openness is a lack of a strong center.
Yeah I mean the other concept I think if you're so open to the world and if you don't have this very strong principles I mean Rousseau throughout his life at different principles that each moment it was re-opinionated I mean it was not terribly opinionated and if you're in that situation I think once again you know we could elaborate that if it and this time there's an affinity to our time then judgment becomes central I mean you have to judge at each moment yeah.
I mean you know among many other things did a role as a certain that is probably the one thing where you say did a role is the first of many people are saying among them our colleague from Hopkins Michael free to great art historian did a well invented modern art criticism now how did he invent that he wrote about this along the the annual.
I mean he had no principles yeah it was not like oh by deduction from classical antiquity or from early modern painting this is a good painting or that is this is a bad painting he goes literally you know you see in the exhibition from painting to painting and makes an individual judgment not only his individual judgment but on an individual painting individual judgment with each painting and this is interesting his favorite.
Pander is gross I mean who by normal twenty twenty first centuries standards is a horrible painter he is his favorite but sometimes that notice this this penny by goes I don't like.
And then he explains why he doesn't like it and of course there's an implication as Kant would say about judgment that other people would agree with him but there is no conceptual.
You know deductive argument about why this is good so he is very good making judgments and he makes good judgments even his life.
But there is no central principle like there is no thematic center in his work there is no algorithm or there is no set or there is no.
Then no principles once again or hierarchy of values that you could say that is the devil and I think precisely this openness also as far as his intellectual style is concerned is what suggests me that there's a great potential affinity I mean unfortunately I will almost say I'm not the only one I mean.
John Staubenz gives over 90 years old published collection of essays on the three hundred anniversary and 2013 of his birth and says yes he has the same impression there is an affinity in the preface there's an affinity of this did a root to our time and I think that's enough to be said because once you start to define our time you get into a frame of mind that is not the erosion.
It's true so I feel a little bit conflicted because on the one hand I'm sympathetic and completely convinced that this lack of strong set of principles and an openness to the world and to particularism not particularism but this openness to particular which makes him so sympathetic towards empiricism.
That is very much attuned to our own situation where we have lost a strong center of principle.
I also lament sometimes the loss of what is often maybe stereotypically associated with the French Enlightenment which is a strong commitment to universal principles.
Whether it's in the realm of human rights or the Dichlass, or the Dühadellum or principles of reason principles of tolerance and I think that we in the West need a strong kind of reanimation of a certain ground commitment to certain basic principles in a world which is becoming so incredibly.
Let's say relativistic in terms of the moral values that the West no longer knows what it stands for.
I mean Dühadellum had no yet definitely no theory about being pluralistic.
In each case like what I was describing with a painting as a very strong opinion that this is a good painting or this is a bad painting.
I mean in those public cases, moral cases, he has strong opinions and he's, I mean as we would say to make a long story short, normally on the right side with that.
He also can get very committed to certain principles.
So I mean he's not the greatest as I was saying, you know philosopher in the sense of conceptual rigorosity.
But he was somehow convinced that movement was inherent in here and to matter which actually you know now is nuclear physics is probably not so wrong.
But anyway, so there is a fragment of his in which he tries to argue why movement has to be in here and to matter is of course monism.
And again see from page one on they will not be able to pull off that proof and then halfway through he kind of interrupted and says you know I can realize I'm not able to argue it but it doesn't matter because it's wrong.
Because it's right anyway.
And that's very much dido also he has strong opinions but you're right this kind of overarching principles, those principles around which you could build a party or you could constitute a community that is not a dido and that is in a way I agree with you a lack.
And yet I mean personally I have such a sympathy for the all over place dido. This openness dido, this dido you know who can get so enthusiastic about ice cream as enthusiastic as you and I can get about a good football game that him I would have invited to a game of American football although he had never seen one before but I bet he would have found it interesting.
Sure, for sure. And that's again we're talking about a certain form of good Europeanism which has that precise spirit of openness to what presents itself sometimes unpredictably and without preparation over determination.
I mean Catherine the great for example when he goes to Moscow to some Petersburg I mean he knew we had to go there was no way out.
And then actually during the four five months that is Sason's and Petersburg she talks to him five afternoons every week.
So she proposes a topic he improvises about the topic and until the next day he has written form about this. But she writes and that is so dido.
She writes in the letter to one of her ministers and probably also lovers because she had few ministers who are not also her lovers. She said you know if dido was stays any longer and I would have commotions all over my body because while he's talking is always touching my body not erotically they were both pretty old but it's always he cannot just talk.
I mean he gets so excited when he talks about how to organize you know at least say institution for girls or you know how to liberate or how to give more leverage to peasants.
I mean everything is important to him like the ice cream.
Yeah and compared to a rusoistic self obsession that is very very liberating and it's something that definitely I understand that.
That's why I'm asking you to contemplate to consider his inclusion into the world of trustees of the entire opinion.
I listen dido among these three it would be the first in line I think that he might just make it.
I think I'm gonna have to wait till your book is finished and read the whole thing.
I think we're gonna induct dido.
And have a nice dinner with ice cream.
We've been speaking with Professor Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Professor of Comparative Literature here at Stanford.
My name is Robert Harrison for entitled opinions.
Thank you for joining us.
We'll be with you next week.
Thank you Zep for coming on for your fifth appearance.
Yes thank you for coming on for a sixth.
All right.
Bye bye.