JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU: The Quest by Lester C. Crocker


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Like other biographers of Rousseau, Crocker takes the Confessions as his point of departure and as a result spins out psychological interpretations as well as historical corrections, enlargements (a brilliant tour of early eighteenth-century Geneva), and interpolations. It's a blow-by-blow commentary on a notoriously complex life. Rousseau's obscure works are resuscitated in light of his ambivalent attitudes toward himself and ""society""; the best-known writings are left to the reader after a long barrage of psychoanalytic reconstructions. Crocker goes beyond the standard views of Rousseau's hangups (paranoia, snobbishness, Calvinism) in quite conventional Freudian terms (latent homosexuality, penile deformation, and an ""obsessional"" character which entailed further horrors). The book suffers from ignorance of the psychology of creation and latterday analytic categories--and from a glib, frequently inelegant style (not jargon but ""artful wenches"" and ""gathering clouds""). Nonetheless, Crocker has built a fine case history out of a specialized topic--he succeeds in offering not only fresh explanations of classic episodes (from the ribbon-theft to the quarrel with Diderot) but also fulfills the central biographic purpose by tracing plausible relations between subjective development and intellectual substance.

Pub Date: Aug. 5th, 1968
Publisher: Macmillan