Rousseau's Republican Romance

Rousseau's Republican Romance

Elizabeth Rose Wingrove
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Rousseau's Republican Romance
    Book Description:

    InRousseau's Republican Romance, Elizabeth Wingrove combines political theory and narrative analysis to argue that Rousseau's stories of sex and sexuality offer important insights into the paradoxes of democratic consent. She suggests that despite Rousseau's own protestations, "man" and "citizen" are not rival or contradictory ideals. Instead, they are deeply interdependent. Her provocative reconfiguration of republicanism introduces the concept of consensual nonconsensuality--a condition in which one wills the circumstances of one's own domination. This apparently paradoxical possibility appears at the center of Rousseau's republican polity and his romantic dyad: in both instances, the expression and satisfaction of desire entail a twin experience of domination and submission.

    Drawing on a wide variety of Rousseau's political and literary writings, Wingrove shows how consensual nonconsensuality organizes his representations of desire and identity. She demonstrates the inseparability of republicanism and accounts of heterosexuality in an analysis that emphasizes the sentimental and somatic aspects of citizenship. In Rousseau's texts, a politics of consent coincides with a performative politics of desire and of emotion. Wingrove concludes that understanding his strategies of democratic governance requires attending to his strategies of symbolization. Further, she suggests that any understanding of political practice requires attending to bodily practices.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2354-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. A Note on Texts and Translations
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. INTRODUCTION How to Engender a Political Subject
    (pp. 3-23)

    Consent is an ambiguous thing. What guarantees the absence of coercion? When must consent be expressed directly, and when can it be assumed? And what constitutes a direct expression? These questions loom large for social contract theorists, who typically respond with appeals to process and form: what makes political consent authentic is power rightly instituted and reason rightly understood. Rousseau’s social contract is taken to be exemplary on this score: by casting citizens as the authors of every law that constrains them, the general will ensures that they are only ever self-coercing, and therein lies “the harmony of obedience and...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Savage Sensibilities
    (pp. 24-57)

    The Aristotelian epigraph to Rousseau’sDiscourse on Inequality, quoted here, anticipates that essay’s central concern: we can determine what nature authorizes only by looking at how it has been contrived. Alterations, transformations—in short, “ordered things”—give evidence of an ordering principle that precedes or transcends them, and sometimes the evidence is corrupt. This is a teleology troubled by history and by the coincident possibility that human artifice fulfills and perverts natural ends. Aristotle’s justification of natural slavery, from which the epigraph is drawn, finds evidence of this perverted fulfillment in the artifice of law: he is troubled by the...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Object Lessons
    (pp. 58-101)

    Rousseau’s portraits of men, women, and the relationships that sustain them as such respond to and reconstitute the problem of political origins outlined in theDiscourse on Inequality. They respond to that problem inasmuch as they depict difference, interdependence, and desire as aspects of a natural developmental process: the experiences of power and compulsion upon which democratic political agency depend are provided by the experience of sexual maturation. In this way Rousseau’s story of bodily and cognitive perfectibility incorporates the imperatives of conventionality: the encounter with dominant and submissive positions is as natural, inevitable, and ultimately irresistible as erotic desire...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Life Stories
    (pp. 102-143)

    In the hugely successfulJulie, ou La Nouvelle Héloïse, Rousseau narrates a tale of moral autonomy that takes the form of a consensually nonconsensual romance similar to what we saw sketched inEmile. Both books feature female protagonists whose passion simultaneously endangers and preserves the social order, and both depict male moral maturation in the context of submission to that same, endangering and preservative passion. But unlike the story of Emile and Sophie, the story of Julie, her lover St. Preux, and her husband Wolmar unfolds through a ménage à trois that enacts the tension between romantic passion and conjugal...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Loving the Body Politic
    (pp. 144-168)

    The “essence of the political body,” Rousseau writes, “is in the harmony of obedience and liberty, and the wordssubjectandsovereignare identical correlatives whose meanings combine in the single word Citizen.”¹ How is this possible? The notoriously cryptic answer given in theSocial Contractis: through the general will. Inalienable, unerring, and indivisible, the general will guarantees the perfect correlation of republicans’ subjection and their sovereignty. Is this a faculty of the individual? Yes: “Why is the general will always right and why do all constantly will the happiness of each of them if not because there is...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Republican Performances
    (pp. 169-206)

    Rousseau frequently rehearsed his uneasiness with imitation. In his briefDe l’Imitation Théâtralethis uneasiness is couched as an epistemological difficulty rooted in the levels of remove between a general idea, the things made in accordance with that idea, and artistic portrayals of those things. The first is “the original idea, existing by itself; the second is an image of it, the third is an image of the image,” and thus at two removes from the “truth.”¹ Painters and playwrights exemplify this dangerous art whereby things are depicted “such as they appear to be, and not as they are,” but...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Making Rhetoric Matter
    (pp. 207-235)

    TheEssay on Languagesargues that discourse always draws force from its correspondence with material things, and in the end, moral and political persuasion needs a sensational language. Rousseau’s stories feed this literary sensibility: in them, bodies generate narrative. What they say, and what is said about them, becomes intelligible within his grammar of sexual and political interaction. This is the grammar of consensual nonconsensuality, a logic of power and pleasure that articulates the sovereignty of the willing subject by means of its own servile desires. That this sovereign will belongs, ultimately, to the body politic is the persuasive truth...

  12. CONCLUSION Isn’t It Romantic?
    (pp. 236-244)

    The republican romance I have teased out of Rousseau’s writings raises questions for various feminist perspectives on his work and for feminist approaches to canonical political theory more generally. Among readers attuned to the politics of gender, the importance Rousseau accords to romantic and familial relations invites analyses of how those relations represent both power asymmetries and ethical alternatives. When feminist readers are focused on issues of citizenship and social justice, they underscore the diminished opportunities for women that Rousseau’s familial vision seems to require. Approaches attentive to the devaluation of women’s moral and social labor, by contrast, are apt...

  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 245-250)
  14. Index
    (pp. 251-255)