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Rousseau Among the Moderns: Music, Aesthetics, Politics

Julia Simon
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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    Rousseau Among the Moderns
    Book Description:

    Renowned for his influence as a political philosopher, a writer, and an autobiographer, Jean-Jacques Rousseau is known also for his lifelong interest in music. He composed operas and other musical pieces, invented a system of numbered musical notation, engaged in public debates about music, and wrote at length about musical theory. Critical analysis of Rousseau’s work in music has been principally the domain of musicologists, rarely involving the work of scholars of political theory or literary studies. In Rousseau Among the Moderns, Julia Simon puts forth fresh interpretations of The Social Contract, the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, and the Confessions, as well as other texts. She links Rousseau’s understanding of key concepts in music, such as tuning, harmony, melody, and form, to the crucial problem of the individual’s relationship to the social order. The choice of music as the privileged aesthetic object enables Rousseau to gain insight into the role of the aesthetic realm in relation to the social and political body in ways often associated with later thinkers. Simon argues that much of Rousseau’s “modernism” resides in the unique role that he assigns to music in forging communal relations.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-06267-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    The history of the critical reception of Rousseau’s corpus bears the traces of interests conditioned by historical circumstance. While this is true of most writers, it is all the more true of the authorDu contrat socialand theDiscours sur l’origine de l’inégalité parmi les hommes. In the wake of the French Revolution, Rousseau’s work was reductionistically viewed with skepticism and even fear as the philosophical inspiration behind Robespierre and the Terror.¹ As the threat of a repeat of the atrocities of the Terror receded in collective consciousness and the experiments with forms of political authority—empire, constitutional monarchy,...

  6. 1 Performance, Rhythm, and the Constitution of Community
    (pp. 19-46)

    There is a strong dialectical tension throughout Rousseau’s work between the individual and the community. Whether in the social and political writings, the works dealing with education, or even in fictional representations, Rousseau seems to struggle between championing the rights of the individual over and against the claims of the multitude and maintaining the rights of community against dissenting voices.¹ Perhaps most representative of this emblematic tension is the gulf between the insistence on independence and isolation in theDiscours sur l’origine de l’inégalitéand the primacy accorded to the community inDu contrat social.

    Rousseau’s theoretical writings on music...

  7. 2 Singing Democracy: Music and Politics
    (pp. 47-74)

    Democratic theory, and particularly Rousseau’s, is suffused with the idealism and lack of pragmatism that make it both immensely compelling and extraordinarily frustrating. Conceived under the decaying edifice of the absolute monarchy, it strives toward perfection, offering theoretical formulations that often defy practical application. And yet this theory continues to inspire democratic practice and political debates even more than two hundred years after its writing.

    One of the key problems of interpreting Rousseau’s political theory concerns the conception of democracy. Indeed, in one passage ofDu contrat socialRousseau asserts, “S’il y avoit un peuple de Dieux, il se gouverneroit...

  8. 3 Rameau and Rousseau on Absolute and Relative Value: The Theory/Practice Problem
    (pp. 75-114)

    In the preceding chapter, I argued for an understanding of the general will as a relative absolute consistent with conceptions of normative group dynamics functioning in musical ensembles. Pitches are given to establish an absolute standard for tuning that can be revised according to conditions of practice and performance. As we saw using the tuning example, the general will can be understood to be absolute in the sense that all players are constrained to tune their instruments according to the tone given, but at the same time, adjustments to that pitch can be made as the instruments warm up. Likewise,...

  9. 4 Folk Music: Authenticity, Primitivism, and the Uses of Roots Music
    (pp. 115-146)

    Music is associated with happiness in the beginning of theConfessions. Rousseau describes his early childhood in elegiac, idealized terms, as a time when he had no wants or needs that went unmet. In the bosom of his extended family of father, nurse, aunt, friends, and neighbors, he paints a peaceful portrait of a contented and fulfilled childhood. Music plays a role in this happiness and is particularly associated with his aunt, to whom he attributes his passion for music in later life. Overwhelmingly, the associations with music in the opening of theConfessionsare emotional and positive. When writing more...

  10. 5 Rousseau and Aesthetic Modernity: Music’s Power of Redemption
    (pp. 147-172)

    Better known for his critiques of the project of Enlightenment and for the rhetorical barbs he aimed at thephilosophes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau is not normally considered to be a defender of progress or a champion of social change. WhileConfessions(1770 ) is often invoked as the first modern autobiography, andSocial Contract(1762 ) is widely considered to usher in an era of modern political theory, most of his assessments of humankind’s development dwell on the negative effects of the movement of civilization.

    Beginning with his tirade against the corrupting effects of the arts and sciences in theDiscours...

  11. Conclusion: Rousseau Sings the Blues
    (pp. 173-186)

    Of course Rousseau never heard the blues. The eighteenth-century Genevan was long gone when the form arose in the rural southern United States in the area near the Mississippi Delta between the 1880s and the 1920s. So why pose the question of what he would say about the blues? This speculation may just be a whim conditioned by two passions in my own life, but I believe that the thought experiment will prove useful in focusing on specific aspects of music in which Rousseau is strongly invested, and I aim to bring together the various strands of my argument concerning...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 187-216)
    (pp. 217-226)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 227-240)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-241)