Reveries of the Solitary Walker by Jean-Jacque Rousseau

Reveries of the Solitary Walker by Jean-Jacque Rousseau

Many scholars consider The Reveries of the Solitary Walker a continuation of the Confessions. In my view, the Reveries is a serious study of the problem of human identity. The ancient Greeks pointed the way with the sign we find at Delphi’s Temple of Apollo: “Know thyself.”

Rousseau’s tortured obsession with the inner core of his soul —the self or selfhood— is a fascination with personal identity, its authentication, and its validation. In brief, he inaugurated a new category of learning: personal psychology.


In his own informal way Rousseau anticipated not only Freudian psychology, but also the work of Ferdinand de Saussure, Structuralism, Deconstruction, the linguistic turn, and other theorists.

Musician, vagabond, philosopher, prose stylist, novelist, educator, and acknowledged father of the French Revolution and Romanticism, Rousseau, remains today, a colourful character–both derided and revered.

Writers influenced by Rousseau include Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

First walk —solitude, soul-searching, pleasure, and peace. Here all by my lonesome am I on this earth, with no brother, neighbour or friend, and no company but my own. I, the most social and loving of human beings, has been banned by the rest of society. In their unanimous refinement of their hatred they have continued to seek out the cruelest forms for torture for my sensitive soul, brutally severing all the ties which bound me to them…

… in ceasing to be human, they succeeded in losing my affection for them

…torn somehow out of the normal order of things, I have been thrown into an incomprehensible chaos in which I can make out nothing at at all, and the more I think about my current situation, the less I understand where I am.

–Rousseau

After a period of forced exile and solitary wandering brought about by his radical views on religion and politics, Jean-Jacques Rousseau returned to Paris in 1770.

Here, in the last two years of his life, he wrote his final work, the Reveries. In this eloquent masterpiece the great political thinker describes his sense of isolation from a society he felt had rejected his writings – and the manner in which he has come to terms with his alienation, as he walks around Paris, gazing at plants, day-dreaming and finding comfort in the virtues of solitude and the natural world.

“The Reveries of the Solitary Walker” is an unfinished work, one of the last composed in Rousseau’s lifetime. The book is composed of ten chapters, called “walks.” Walks eight and nine were never revised, and the tenth walk is incomplete.

Regardless, this work, like others written near the end of his life, is greatly autobiographical, consisting of descriptions of walks he took around Paris, as well as further comment on arguments he previously made, concerning education and political philosophy, among other subjects.

Meditative, amusing and lyrical, this is a fascinating exploration of Rousseau’s thought as he looks back over his life, searching to justify his actions, to defend himself against his critics and to elaborate upon his philosophy.


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