Rousseau, the Noble Savage & God: missing marginalia & footnotes?  

Source. Modern Man: Circa. 300,000 B.C.E. Moesgaard Museum, reconstructions made by Adrie and Alfons Kennis based on remains of homo sapiens found at Jebel Irhoud archaeological site in Morocco.

by L J Frank

…We fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful. –  Wittgenstein (Austrian Philosopher) Philosophical Investigations, #129

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a Genevan (Swiss) philosopher, writer, composer, and political theorist.   

Marginalia and footnotes intrigue me. Often those scribblings have beckoned me more than the text within which they reside. You see, I find marginalia and footnotes to be like savory morsels of chocolate. One piece is never enough. Like chocolate they expand my appetite.

Not too long ago I was browsing in the Strand Bookstore located in lower Manhattan in New York City when I peeked between the covers of an old edition of Émile. Why? There was a bookmark inserted in the book. I was curious. The page bookmarked displayed inked notes in English that read “see the following page” …. I looked at the page and it was blank save for a scribbling – “Noble Savage &?”. The writing that followed was smudged and unreadable except for “marginalia in Discours sur l’origine de l’inegalité” …. Nothing followed. The rest of the page was blank.  I placed the book back on the shelf, continued browsing and thinking.

Émile, was not well received, particularly, by the Roman Catholic Church. Rousseau wrote essentially of man’s personal inner light among other insights.

What does anyone know or think they know about another man or woman even if they had been intellectually and or physically intimate with them for years and read their writings or recorded their conversations? What else do we have to go by? What is left unsaid, or unwritten or if written has now disappeared. A person can be in a relationship for years and not be aware of another’s inner light as their words might be misinterpreted or to purposefully mislead even to oneself as doubt can be unnerving and gnaw away at the spirit and ego of any person.  So, we make calculated guesses by what remains behind. And occasionally, to think the unthinkable.

That which constitutes human progress can be bothersome as Rousseau knew during his daily walks, breathing in ideas and later comparing notes with the men and women of his station and times, a few of who he was quite intimate with, in mind and flesh.

To live in Switzerland in the 18th century and being a good walker had its benefits. Rousseau apparently reveled in the fresh mountain air and the ensuing clarity and would keep windows ajar even in winter supposedly……it was not unusual to witness him a few times steal away to the edges of town……. later hearsay suggested he shared whispers in the haystack of a farm on a hillside (good for him if that was the case). Some things in life are imagined, but people are drawn to hearsay……most sacred writings constitute hearsay, unless one happens to have first-hand experience. Sacred and wisdom writings are based on experience, inspiration, and imagination, and assuaging and making more bearable the harsh realities of existence.

Rousseau’s writings are a glimpse into an intellectually ambitious spirit. Relative to one’s position and role being played like an actor on a stage, one’s words and actions had an effect relative to that person’s position.  The natural state that he would reflect on evolved from his youth from a birthing mother he never knew as she died a few days after her giving birth.

Intellectual intimacy with others is almost as good as being skin to skin……  the naked thoughts of the teleological and musing on the state of man’s natural state……insouciant private conversations of erotic, au natural inquiry amid the harsh realities of mere day to day existence.…. though he was optimistic about the individual person though he did have a Platonian flavor of life concerning the mass of people’s ignorance.

 His concern was about that mass of men and so-called material progress…… what is natural in the nature of male and female as if portending the studies of twentieth century anthropology and high technologies of man and machines of war…… primitive passions are nondenominational as animism demonstrates. Who knows what will be discovered next, to alter today’s views……how timid, mute, and gentle and innocent does the Noble Savage appear from the distance of time……knowledge and facts can be lethal to both misinformation and disinformation, if discerned.

How does one ethicize the world in which we live…… in a world where humans possessed the desire, need, and want to know their Creator, and invented names like God, Yahweh, Allah, Jehovah, and so forth, for the sake of approachability and accessibility to the Creator and creation spread out before them?  Did a man or woman reflect under the dark skies of night and look up at the stars, while listening to the haunting sounds of predators, and in both innocence and reason ask – what was the intent of the Creator? Is the Creator so vain that he or she needs eternal worshiping to affirm their own existence and purpose?

Humanity is like a muddy river, always flowing and never stagnant, less it dies for the lack of oxygen, circulation and without being replenished from other sources feeding it.

Male and Female relish a variety of ritualistic, to counter the abstract or being chained to that which they have little control, unless it was the best of alternatives, I suppose. (Voltaire’s Candide, best of all possible worlds, aside)

 In any age, enlightened or not, words can spill from the lips, forming a thickness of speech from want……and in the 1700s the tavern gossiper cackled that God and Lucifer are hiding in plain sight…… dialogues on the nodules of the tongue, to another tongue with jokes of life’s mundane quality, only to revel in the blossom of spring’s flowers in the mountains, for no matter where one lived, if without movement even the mind can grow weary. Laughter splits the silence even when it’s laughing at oneself.  The mouth and heart can be greedy Rousseau intimated to his lover……grasping for meaningless adjectives…… searching for the actuality of the numinous (mysterious holy) for the unknown can be unnerving in moments of a weak heart.

In a sense, Rosseau’s inner light could be ascribed to as a link for Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason and his idea that my own mind is my own church. Rousseau and Paine both praised and criticized aspects of the Enlightenment. So, we imagine, invent words to tackle issues that rapidly change the status quo.

Rousseau found that friends with agreeable opinions are many, when the weather is fair, while the flesh bleeds from the consciousness in not wanting to see the truth (there are no alternative truths), while age begins its journey to the summit to meet the long haired white bearded guru with his benevolent smile and white robe only to reveal he had a woman’s breasts underneath the robe. Age coagulates thought into an ambiguous narrative.

The inner light that was revealed in Émile, and later the lyricism of a “Solitary Walker” extends beyond its writing, for that inner light transcends the evil brought by man’s very narcissism, insecurity, and purposeful manipulation of fear leading to a destructive nature…… evil itself in the form of totalitarianism. Indeed, the struggle in which humans find themselves is the struggle between the inspiration brought by imagining self-worth in its many forms, and overpowering evil.

Accumulation of the material is spiritually futile. Progress, wealth, materialism, and technology can have an ambiguously deceptive relationship.

The question is whether our freedoms are destroyed by the very venues that allowed them to occur in the first place. Things begin to feed on themselves, like the monopolizing of wealth, the material, and high technology, where profit and the material are the chief, worthy goals of life and liberty…… for even self-help mentors and guides have a profit motive.  Does human knowledge have to come with a paywall? What is the reality of the “noble savage”?  Of God? And of Man?

On the rear bumper of a shiny new luxury sport utility vehicle (SUV) driving on the interstate in the southern USA was the following message: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world only to forfeit his soul? Mark: 8:36