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Theatricality, Public Space, Music and Language in Rousseau

Tracy B. Strong

In a well structured state, each citizen has duties to fulfill; and these important concerns are too dear to allow the leisure for the pursuit of frivolous speculations.

Rousseau, "Preface" to Narcisse

If spectacles have .. in my eyes a fault, it is that they are for us too little a distraction and too feeble an amusement.

D'Alembert, Lettre à M. Rousseau

If the first thing that one learns about Rousseau is that he was a supporter of community, the second is almost always that that he was moralistically opposed to theater as destructive of community morals. The source for this judgment is the Letter to D'Alembert, a text Rousseau addressed to his cosmopolitan friend when the latter had (on the probable urging of Voltaire) suggested in his article on "Geneva" in the Encyclopedia that opening a theater in Geneva would bring together the "wisdom of Lacedemonia and the grace (politesse) of Athens."

Rousseau was not primarily concerned with the supposed corrupting effects of actors and actresses (D'Alembert had seductively suggested that with proper regulation Geneva might have a group of morally well-behaved actors) but with the experience of theater itself. His apparent hostility has two elements, one moral, and the second epistemological. On the moral level, Rousseau's concern is with the status of the audience. He argues that in the contemporary theater what the audience experiences as emotion is not really their own. Thus one can afford to be upset or take pleasure in the spectacle for in the theater "nothing is required" of the audience. By "nothing is required" Rousseau means that our emotions have not life-consequences. It is, as it were, irresponsible to be an audience member, a bit as if one were on holiday from one's everyday, common humanity. For Rousseau, this irresponsibility is associated with the experience of an isolation which keeps one from being at home with one's self, a home which, he is at pains to show, can only be achieved with others.

The source of this moral danger -- the danger of irresponsibility -- derives from a second more basic quality of theater. Theater is, inevitably almost, representation. Here Rousseau's hostility to theater reflects and is reflecting in his hostility to representative sovereignty. Representation (on stage) requires interpretation of its audience, whereas a just political society was to be built from that which was so transparent in time and space that it could not be other that what it was. No matter what its subject theater cannot be common. And it cannot be the everyday -- it is the perfected, immortal, transcendent particular self, precisely that self that wants to overlook the common, more like a god than a human being.

In the preface Rousseau wrote in 1752 for his comedy Narcisse, just after the success of his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, he suggests in fact that theater is linked to philosophy and the arts and sciences in general in taking us away from the everyday and common in the desire to distinguish ourselves and stand out. From such an approach society can only be built on a networking of interdependencies and intersecting personal interests. In such a situation, Rousseau continues, "we must henceforth keep ourselves from being seen as we are."

It is true that in this situation, once we are in it, philosophy and theater can give us a simulacrum of virtue, in order to "keep us from the horror of ourselves were we to see ourselves discovered." In these circumstances, representation can maintain perhaps the appearance of public virtue without that virtue being found in our hearts. Commonalty would be, to paraphrase Thoreau, a phrase on the lips of most people, but in the hearts of very few. For those who have no humanity, philosophy and theater can give them the clothing of the human, but it cannot make available the experience of oneself or another as human.

The choice then is between being a human being and the theatricality of not-being. Being a human being is the result of a constitution and our only other choice is the existence of non-being. The reason for this is that the common -- the moi-common -- is what humans are as humans. Its existence is, we might say, our essence.

The problem with representation then, both in theater and in politics, is not just that it induces passivity into an audience but that some human qualities, perhaps precisely those qualities that mark the human, cannot be represented and be what they are. Just as you cannot promise for me, nor meaningfully say for me that I am sorry, and just as Cordelia cannot "heave her heart into her throat" truly to speak the words her father would require of her, some acts must be my acts and cannot be given over. You can report my promises: but you cannot make them for me. I must presently perform those actions. Rousseau's political hostility to the idea of the representation of sovereignty as well as his opposition to theater is based on his understanding of what the nature of commonality is.

It is tempting to ascribe this to a hostilty to art and a preferring of "nature." Yet such a conclusion soon gives the reader of Rousseau some pause. It is clear that his political hopes rested in an "art perfectionée." What kind of art would this be? Here we should look at the art that Rousseau thought particularly his own. Rousseau was after all, at least initially, a man of the theater, but even more importantly a man of musical drama -- opera -- and a musician.. I want to suggest that thesolution to the problems of theatricality can be foundin Rousseau's understanding of music and of the relaiton of music to language.

Rousseau first found a voice of his own in music, which he knew naturally and learned formally after running away from Geneva at the age of 16. It shapes the account he gives of himself. The Confessions are from its first pages filled with music -- the songs of his aunt Suzon, Swiss folk-songs that drive him to tears, a grandiose and disastrous concert he organizes in Lausanne for a piece he composed at a time when he is almost completely ignorant of music, his pretense to be an itinerant Parisian composer. The cadence of the book is itself operatic, with dramatic changes in tempo, recitatif alternating with action. In the Dialogues, that strange work of an ecstatic author, he has the character "Rousseau" say of the character "Jean-Jacques" who is the subject of the dialogue: "He was born for music.. He discovered approaches that are clearer, easier, simpler and facilitate composition and performance... I have seen no man so passionate about music as he."

Despite his dubious beginnings as a musician, such self-promotion was not without a certain justification. The concern with music sounds throughout his life. His first published work -- Project concernant de nouveaux signes pour la musique -- was a proposal in 1742 to the Academie des Sciences for a new system of musical notation, all on one line using numbers rather than symbols; it would, he averred, permit a more natural relation of the performer to the musical vocabulary. It is worth noting that Rousseau begins his career by proposing nothing other than a complete reworking of an entire language, with the explicit goal of making it more human, less professional.

In the early 1750's Rousseau becomes involved in two quarrels, which while related to each other, need to be kept separate. The first is a celebrated dispute with Jean Philippe Rameau about the relations of language and music.

Rameau had introduced a revolution into the understanding of music when, in 1722, he published the Traité de l'harmonie réduit à ses principes naturels. Prior to that time, it had generally been assumed that music imitated language. Thus, in the operas of Lully, the most important composer of the period, the music is as much declaimed as it is sung and the difference between song and recitatif is often had to determine. The melodic line imitates the rhythms of speech but the cadence is given by the composer to the singer: to the modern ear, it contributes to an impoverishment of both.

Rameau sought to bring science to music and thus insisted on thinking about music as a physical, rather than human, phenomenon. Thus he recalled the importance of resonance, that is the sympathetic vibrations of a plucked cord. From the fact that the numerical subdivision of a cord into 1/2, 1/3 and so forth gave rise to the notes which correspond to a major chord (tonic, third, fifth) he developed not only a theory of natural harmonic relations, but indeed the idea that harmony was primary. Harmonic modulation led the ear: nature governed the human. Thus, he writes in 1754, that when in C major "everything invites us" to move naturally from the G to the C. Melody was thus secondary to harmony, in fact it was derived from natural harmonic privileges. As he wrote in the Treatise on harmony: " it is harmony that guides us and not melody." In this view, rationality is the base of emotion. Our self answers to a Newtonian universe.

Rameau in fact makes a distinction between a noise, which he holds to be a simple impression on the ear, and a sound, which he holds to have a complex, multiple, hence harmonic impression on the ear. Such a set of privileged natural harmonics thus established the idea of a fundamental sound, a root, or tonic (Indeed, it is to Rameau that we owe our nomenclature of tonic, dominant, subdominant and so forth). Rameau calls this the "fundamental bass" (e.g. the C in a C major chord which can be given two inversions). As his thought develops, especially in response to various acoustic work, the fundamental bass comes to acquire a natural status, rather than just that of intelligibility. It need not be actually sounded and is thus rather an ever present reminder of the fact that for Rameau our experience of music is grounded, as Rousseau was to note, on rules and not by our ear.

In such a picture of music, although music, as Rameau continually argued, is not an imitation of language but an imitation of nature, it is still only that: an imitation, laboriously arrived at, the product of work rather than of revelation. Additionally, music must in this view be understood as a form of representation, that is as a construct of that which makes an image of nature apparent to us. And since music is the least plastic of the arts, it could contribute best to such representation by sounding like a storm, or adding dramatic effect to a dance. Here Rameau's operas (e.g. Dardanus, 1739; Les Indes galantes, 1735; ) were especially innovative.

One might say that Rameau represents a development of the stance which had been advanced by Descartes in The Passions of the Soul; writers are the time were not slow to find the parallel. Catherine Kintzler remarks on two parallels. First, truth for both is abstract and rests on formal relations. Second truth is revealed only in illusion and artifice. Rameau's work is thus an attempt to place music into a broader natural context. Rousseau, on the other hand, will try to explain the aesthetic importance of music itself, as itself and without reference to anything which might underlie it or to a universe of which it would be a part. He will understand music in relation to that which it requires of us as human beings; he thus places it in a context which will inevitably be moral and political, one in which the aesthetic can not be understood except in terms of the moral and political.

The quarrel with Rameau is a quarrel about the relation of music to human life. The second quarrel was about how music made a human life available. It was to this issue that Rousseau addressed himself in his contributions to the famous "Querelle des bouffons" which shook all Paris in 1752.

The success of Pergolesi's opera buffa, La serva padrona, ignited a conflict which had been smoldering since the turn of the century. It was that of the relation of music to national languages and to song. All Paris took sides. Freiherr Friedrich Grimm notes that political questions ceased being discussed. Rousseau was to suggest that the Ancien Regime's life was prolonged because of the diversion of attention away from the sins of the government. The philosophers of the Enlightenment -- d'Alembert, d'Holbach, Grimm, Diderot and Rousseau, found themselves in the pro-Italian so called Queens corner, against the old music. Across the street in the King's (and Mme de Pompadour's ) corner were the supporters of French opera, including that of Rameau. What was at stake was, on the one hand, the human, the direct, the natural and, on the other, spectacle, imitation, representation and illusion for illusion's sake: the popular against central power. In Rousseau's hands, and especially in his brilliantly polemical Lettre sur la musique francaise, the argument between melody and harmony became the argument between human expression and controlled artifice.

Despite the large number of pamphlets produced (over 70 in 9 months), Rousseau's work dominated the discussion. Indeed, reaction was so fierce that at one point he was hung in effigy by the musicians of the Paris opera. "I appeared," he writes later, " as the enemy of the Nation. One would have thought that the fate of the monarchy was tied to that of the opera." And, indeed, it was.

French, Rousseau argued, was consonantal, non-rhythmic, harsh, and unmusical. The French were thus forced to relay on the piling up of pointless harmonies and devices which "the ear cannot endure and reason cannot justify. [They are] remains of barbarism and bad taste.... like the portals of our Gothic churches which are the shame of those who had the patience to make them." Rousseau's contention was that some languages were more appropriate to music than were others. He thus went below the claim in Plato that the different modes -- each understood in terms of locality -- produced different educations. He had a different aim: to establish a principle by which music might be judged in relation to human life.

For music to become interesting, for it to carry to the soul those feelings which one was to arouse there, all the parts must come together to strengthen the expression of the subject in question. Harmony must only serve to render this more energetic; the accompaniment must make it more attractive with covering or disfiguring it; the bass line must, in a uniform and simple way (marche), so to speak guide the person who sings and the person who listens, without either noticing this. In a word, the whole must convey at the same time but one melody to the ear and one idea to the soul.

Such a musical unity can be achieved, writes Rousseau, in opera, which he defined in his Dictionary as "a dramatic and lyric spectacle in which one tries to bring together all the charms of the fine arts in a representation of a passionate action in order to excite, by the means of agreeable sensations, both interest and illusion."

Contemporary French opera was on a wrong track. In order to create an adequate illusion there was needed a "creaking fairydom, a puerile racket of machines, and the fantastic image of things never before seen." As a consequence, what disappeared was music itself. "One began to feel,: he writes, " as if the masterpiece of music was to make itself forgotten."

In pursuit of what an opera true to itself would be, Rousseau sets against the theater of his world the tragedies of the ancient Greeks. "Their theater was a form of opera." We know this, argues Rousseau, because we know that their "language was so accented that the inflections of speech in sustained declamation formed between them substantial musical intervals." They thus had no need for a separate form called opera. "But we," he continues, "must speak or sing." Due to the musicality of the language, Greek "opera" had no need to distinguish between aria and recitatif. We moderns, whose languages are not so musical have had to invent special forms, hence lyric verse. Modern opera thus has as its purpose the recovery of what had been obtained by Greek tragedy. The advantage of Italian opera is that it is close to what had been attained by the Greek tragedians, not in terms of subject matter on which Lully was considerably closer to the ancients than were the Italians, but in terms of the relation of language to music.

The question of accent is key. In the Dictionnaire de la musique, Rousseau indicates that aside from the accentuations found in grammar and logic, by which speech and ideas are respectively made possible, there is an accent of pathos or the emotions (pathétique) by which the feelings or meanings of the speaker are communicated. However, Rousseau continues, there are also accent patterns in each language by which particular expression is given. Thus the German gets angry in expostulations which are consistently and uniformly loud, whereas the Italian "modifies his voice in a thousand ways." The more modification a language permits, the more it will be musical. While grammatical and logical accentuation play a role in music, in the end music, as language, is the expression of feeling, that is, of the meaning that a particular speaker embodies in his or her expression. Music is thus about human beings and is more precisely about that in humans beings which seeks or demands expression in words. It is not that music exists before words, but that it is that in humans which seeks expression, hence is a sacramental sign of our commonness and possible presence one to the other (and to oneself).

However, in at least one language speaking and singing were close to coterminous. "The Greeks could sing while they spoke." Similar claims had been made about the Greek language by the Abbé du Bos and Abbé Batteux. Rousseau is however interested in Greek lyric drama, about which little was known. More accurately, he searches for modern parallels to it. Note that Rousseau's appeal to the ancients is not so much to discover rules for producing drama as to find a principle, the spirit of that music. In a subsequent article he importantly gives as the most "touching, most ravishing, most energetic sections of modern music" the "recitatif obligé" in which the recitor and the orchestra must be "attentive to and attend on each other." Then "the actor, agitated, transported by a passion which does not permit him to say everything, interrupts himself, stops, holds back, during which time the orchestra speaks for him, and these silences [of the actor] affect the listener infinitely more than if the actor said himself all that the music gave to hear." Note that when words fail the actor, then music speaks, and calls the actor out. Especially for the French composer, music is not so much a supplement here as it is a form of speaking when one has not words, or, more precisely, establishing a space between that for which one has words and that for which one needs to find words for oneself. Rousseau goes on to remark that he was the only French composer to use this approach (in a scene of the Devin du village)

In fact, and Rousseau himself calls attention to it, Rousseau did make another effort to develop the recitatif obligé more extensively. This is Pygmalion, strictly neither a play nor an opera, but what is called a monodrama. Written in 1762 and set to music in 1770, it was performed without Rousseau's permission at the Paris opera in 1772. The story is standard, drawn from the tenth book of Ovid's Metamorphoses. What is of interest here is also that claim (apparently correct) that the linkage of words and music in Pygmalion is entirely new. Rousseau (who composed three pieces of the music) and, under his direction, Horace Coignet, (who composed the rest) tried to link words and music in an entirely new fashion. What one should note is that the music makes no sense in itself but only when joined to the words to which it gives continuity. The recitatif has thus become entirely spoken while nevertheless playing the role of recitatif. Instrumental music thus replaces vocal music and especially traditional recitatif. One might thus think of the music as itself reciting. We know that Rousseau gave very precise directions as to the length and emotion that each segment should convey.

What he is after leads us to the following conclusions. First, in the development of the relation of music to the word, we find here that the interplay of music and the word can give the listener access to the emotions of the character without those having to be directly represented. Secondly that this can only be achieved by the development of an integrated and continuous art form. The door is open here (and the Germans in particular were influenced by this work) to what Wagner will later claim for his work: "In my opera there is no difference between what is called declamation and song," that is, to a unity rather than a juxtaposition of word and music.

Such a possible unity of word to music, of word to emotion, and of word to meaning might be achieved in opera. Opera in fact provides Rousseau with a model of an ideal perfect state. He writes in the entry Opera for the Encyclopedia as follows:

Suppose the King of France sent the actors and actresses of the Opéra to populate a desert island, and that he ordered them to only require what was necessary for life and to speak as they did in the theater. The children who would be born would stutter out songs, and all the inflections of the voice would be measured. The sons of dancers would always walk in cadence, wherever they were going... If savage peoples neighboring the island were to come to this place, far from finding it ridiculous, I doubt not that they would admire the genius of the actors and consider them to be celestial intelligences.

It is important to notice that this utopia is only made possible by the order of the king -- Rousseau is clear that it will not happen of and in itself, that it requires force to set it up and that to come into being it requires powers which make it impossible. If for Rousseau music provides the image of a utopia, collective and social, it is not an image which, in modern times, is realizable. For us there is no natural song.

For the Greeks, however, their language was enough, Rousseau continues in the Opera article, but given the deficits of our languages, we have need, in our opera of "arias, choruses, symphony." The most successful development of opera took place in Italy where, Rousseau notes, opera houses soon rivaled "in expanse the palaces of kings." Over time, however, Rousseau continues, music became increasingly detached from the poetry, such that contemporary opera now requires the confluence of three languages (that of music, of poetry, and of sight (for the scene) in order to work.

There is much more that could be developed here. The conflict with Rameau -- who, having been attacked at the beginning of his career for being too Italianate was now accused of not being Italian enough, was now ending his career on a sad and sour note -- went on through several exchanges, with Rousseau's friends cheering him on. What is important is the claim that there is a priority of music to all others arts as it is that which corresponds most completely to the human. There is thus a kind of natural human theater where music and language develop coterminously -- something Rousseau is at pains to show in all of his writings on the subject. However, the problem with musical theater as encountered in France and to some degree in all modern countries has to do with the dissociation of language, music, meaning and emotion that is characteristic of the times.

What has happened? "Melody is born with language"." The difference between melody and recitative would thus disappear in language -- if only our language were truly ours, if our meaning and saying were the same. Central here is Rousseau's repeated insistence against Rameau that harmony was not basic. Harmony would mean that each person or group would be singing (and legislating) differently, as it were) and that unity or commonalty would only come in the blend. This would not in fact be commonality since the union would be different from each individual. No one, as it were, would be human.

It is important to note that in the polemic opposing musical Italian to non-musical French, it is the qualities -- douce, sonore,harmonieuse, et accentuée -- of the Italian language that bring it closer to music. Rousseau's violent conclusion in the Lettre sur la musique francaise to the effect that the French can have no music makes a point not so much about Italian music but rather about the intimacy of voice and music. For Rousseau, both Lully and Rameau are confused about the proper relation of music and language. Lully took the French language as a mechanical model for music. Rameau presumed that there was a universal physical form of music. Neither saw that music was not just a language but a language which spoke to us precisely in those spaces for which we had not words, nor that the relation of music and language presupposed a moral and political quality to music which had to do with the place of speech and human voice in the human condition.

Both music and speech are languages in that they speak to us. Rousseau's use of the notion of language here is very broad -- it refers to any articulated form of expression. As such Rousseau was exemplifying an understanding that had become established by the middle of the XVIIIth century. Bernard de Fontenelle's famous question -- Sonate, que me veux-tu? -- presupposed that in the midst of all the concerting sounds, the sonata spoke to us and that we might answer it. Thus in the New Heloise, in a letter to Julie in which Saint Preux is urging her to throw all her French music into the fire, we find: "If the tones of feeling animate the simplest of songs, they will be interesting. ... A melody which does not speak will always sing poorly, and harmony alone has never known anything to say to the heart." I have italicized the two verbs to draw attention to the ease with which Rousseau passes from one to the other. Since the singing and speaking voices are of "absolutely the same nature" it would follow that strongly accentuated languages would be the most naturally musical. It is thus the case that music is at its best and most natural when in perfect sympathy with words and that our words are their truest when the most flexibly musical. Here is how "Rousseau" praises "Jean-Jacques'" opera The Village Soothsayer in the first Dialogue:

What makes this opera approved by people of taste is the perfect accord of words and music, the tight bond of the parts that make it up, the exact togetherness of the whole which makes this work the most unified of any I know in its style. The musician has always thought, felt, spoken like the poet....

The importance of this is that it means that music is inherently social in that it is bound up as and in a language; it cannot be understood apart from society. Here we need to look more closely at the arguments of the Essay on the Origin of Languages.

His initial claim is that language has a privileged position in human affairs as it is the "first social institution." IT thus has no origin except "natural causes." Such causes lie in sight and hearing, in the senses which are the only "instruments by which one human can act on another." What was communicated, he goes on to indicate in the next chapter is not physical needs but moral ones, passions. If all we had were needs, then gestures and sight would suffice for the human condition. As Rousseau develops this point, he gives a moral privilege to hearing, as opposed to sight. Language is the foundation of human relations. "A pantomime [of pain] without speech will leave you almost at ease; speech without gesture will wring tears from you." Hearing is more central to the human than seeing, because only in language can the human express the human as human. Hearing is an encounter. Importantly Rousseau goes on to assert that it is not because we have ears that we have morality but that our humanity uses ears and voice for its own purposes. The realm of physical necessity is insufficient to explain human association.

Here it is important to remember how problematic Rousseau thinks sight to be. In the Second Discourse, it is "the first glance that he had of himself that produced the first movement of pride.... Each began to look upon the others and want to be looked at himself ... this was at the same time the first step towards inequality and vice" The look is a form of domination in that it permits one to impose one's own desired reading on the other, who is no longer an other but simply a creation of our look. So also in theater, as the words are not that actors own (we know this as the premise of theater) for Rousseau we do not have to take them seriously -- we are on what I called above an emotional holiday.

If the first move is to assert the centrality of hearing, the second is to argue that the meaning of words is derived from human interaction and not from the imposition of sticker-names. (One thinks easily here of the first 89 sections of the Philosophical Investigations in which Wittgenstein is at pains to expand the slab model) Rousseau's argument is quite extraordinary. The first expressions used by human beings were "tropes" which in XVIIIth century rhetoric signified a displacement of a word onto something not its own and from which the meaning came only by virtue of the displacement. Hence language was figurative before it was literal. Rousseau gives this example.

A savage man, in meeting others, will be first of all scared. His fright will make him see these men as bigger and stronger than he; he will give them the name of giant. After many experience, he will have recognized that these supposed giants, as they are neither bigger nor stronger than he, the stature was not appropriate to the idea which he first attached to the word giant. He will thus invent another name common to them and to him, for example the name of human, and will leave that of giant to the false object which had struck him during his illusion.

Rousseau then extends this to phrases. The following seems noteworthy. First, our fears in relation to the other lead us to misuse language, or more accurately, to respond from the desire to do away with the other; second, the literal or correct use of language is attained socially and through experience -- it is learned; third, it consists in coming to accept commonalties, a shared world, which one had first refused or not acknowledged. There is, one might say, five years of psychoanalysis between giant and human. What is important is to realize that what makes the word "human" literal is the fact that is embodies the feeling of commonalty with the other. Humanity is something achieved. Thus although language is conventional it nonetheless has reality. Lastly, and most importantly, it does not appear that one can arrive at the literal or correct use of language without having the figurative or illusory use. The illusion is necessary to the capacity to develop the literal. And it is always retained along with our literal use. Our capacity for the literal depends on our capacity for the figurative. Our use requires that we can misuse. The argument against theater in D'Alembert is that it lets us indulge our misuse without being reminded of our use. The tension between the figurative and the literal disappears.

How do we come to use language as human beings use it, as the source of our commonalty and thus our difference? Most importantly what is or can be the role of music in this process. Three ideas are to be avoided, if we are to understand this. To grasp this let us look at a passage which Rousseau repeats three times in his writings of this period..

Music acts more intimately [than simple noise] on us by in a sense arousing in us feelings similar to those which might be aroused by another.... May all nature be asleep, he who contemplates it does not sleep, and the art of the musician consists in substituting for the insensible image of the object that of the movements which its presence arouses in the heart of he who contemplates.... he [the musician] will not represent objects [des choses] directly, but will arouse in the soul the same movements that one might have in seeing them [Rousseau has been talking of storms and such].

First, whatever music does, it cannot lay claim to reproducing nature, but only of arousing the sentiments which nature gives rise to. Rousseau's view of music is thus somewhat similar t a contemporary view of the relation of abstract painting. Secondly, music functions here then as language in its own right, a language which does not convince but moves, does not tell but calls. In melody we seek, writes Rousseau, to render the tone of the feelings. Third, it will also have to grasp what a particular culture can hear-- i.e., what a particular language experiences in the face of "nature." Thus Rousseau insists, for instance, that "our most touching melodies are vain noise to the ear of a Caribbean Indian..." and "Italians must have Italian airs." However, it is important to realize that language does not do this just by imitating the cadences of a particular language. It is not, as Rousseau makes clear in the Essai, an imitation of language but a voice calling to us, an interplay between an emotion transmitted and an emotion aroused. Not everyone is called by the same song and voice; we are only called to that which can be known as our own. Lastly, the reliance has to be on the melodic voice, which may, once established be supported harmonically. Most importantly, however, this passage gives us a sense as to what the art of the musician is: to make this happen.

I can thus summarize the claims made in the Essay on the Origin of Languages. The centrality accorded by Rousseau to hearing requires a focus on his part on the concept of voice. It is in speaking that humans come together. IT gives us a voice to which we seek appropriate words. Secondly, the centrality of voice in the construction of human association requires a focus on whether or not the words which are used actually carry the quality of the relationship that occurs. Language -- the word giant, for instance, -- carries with it an emotional element -- a feeling -- which is not added on but is integral to sense and in fact constitutive of a relationship, or, as it turns out, is a defense against such a relationship, out of fear. As the realization dawns that we share rather than fear the other another word is needed, one which carries with and constitutes the proper relation. Next, the notion of voice is singular. It is experienced as a unity, what Nietzsche was to call a style. This is the key of Rousseau's repeated claim that song and speech are originally the same. Note that a reading like that of Robert Wokler to the effect that Rousseau wants to strip away from music every thing except the melody is not accurate (nor is it accurate in the end about his other investigations). Rousseau wants a opera to be whole. Finally, Rousseau immediately sees the importance of all this as political in that the differences between the languages (vowel rich in the South and consonant heavy in the North) corresponds to the natural orientation towards public space. In the South they sing out of doors, a quality I cannot help but remember that Vachel Lindsay claimed in American politics for William Jennings Bryan.

The political implications are central to his concerns. In antiquity, such a harmony of words and music was most evident in ancient Greece, where "eloquence preceded reasoning, and men were orators and poets long before they were philosophers.... In the ancient festivals all was heroic and grand. The laws and songs carried the same designation in these happy times; they sounded in unison in all voices, passed through all hearts with the same pleasure, everything adored the first images of virtue, and innocence itself gave a gentler accent to the voice of pleasure." However, even in Greece, with the development of rationality forms became fixed, language became "colder and artificial." "The study of philosophy" plays a central role in this linguistic transformation. By cultivating "the art of convincing, that of moving people emotionally was lost. Plato himself, ... jealous of Homer and Euripides, condemned one and could not imitate the other." With the conquest by Rome and the arrival of servitude, all was lost. "Greece in chains lost this celestial fire that burns only for free souls and could not longer find to praise tyrants the sublime tones with which it had erstwhile sung its heroes." Latin is a "deaf and less musical" language than Greek.

A society that has a language for political life will value eloquence over the use of public force. The only form of speech appropriate to a people to whom it can be said "such is my pleasure" is a sermon and such people are taxed rather than assembled. In a society with no language for politics, no one can hear. In fact their language will have degenerated to the point that no one will be able to be heard in public.

Herodotus read his history to the people of Greece assembled out of doors, and he met with universal applause. Nowadays an academician who reads a paper in public session can hardly be heard at the back of the hall.

This extraordinary analysis of Greece, complete with its Nietzschean condemnation of Plato, reveals a central quality that free society must have for Rousseau. There is to be no disjuncture between emotion and expression, between weeping and words, between meaning and saying. When the two are transparent to each other, there is no possibility to take the speaker as other than he is. Furthermore, this experience of transparency only happens in a manner that makes it available in the same manner to any other person. The conditions of my freedom, as presented here musically, are the same conditions are that of yours.

What is important here is that those festivals in which words, music and action came together provide the model of what commonality is for Rousseau. In the Letter to D'Alembert, he footnotes a passage about free persons with the following childhood memory. It is worth quoting at length in order to follow the development of the experience recounted.

The regiment of Saint-Gervais [i.e. the militia of one of Geneva's quartiers] had completed its training, and, according to the custom, they supped by companies. Most of those who formed them gathered after supper in the St. Gervais square and started dancing together, officers and soldiers, around the fountain, on the basin of which the drummers, the fifers and the torch bearers had mounted. A dance of people cheered by a long meal would seem to present nothing very interesting to see; however, the harmony of five or six hundred men in uniform, holding one another by the hand and forming a long chain which round around, serpent-like, in cadence and without confusion, with a thousand turns and returns, a thousand sorts of figured developments, the excellence of the tunes which animated them, the sound of drums, the glare of torches, a certain military pomp in the midst of pleasure, all this created a very lively sensation what could not be experienced coldly. It was late; the women were in bed; all of them got up. Soon the windows were full of female spectators who gave new zeal to the actors; they could no long confine themselves to their windows and they came down; the mistresses came to their husbands, the maids brought wine; even the children, awakened by the noise, ran half-clothed amidst the fathers and mothers. The dance was suspended; now there were only embraces, laughs, toasts, and caresses. There resulted from all this a general emotion that I could not describe by which, in universal gaiety, is quite naturally felt in the midst of all that is dear to us. My father, embracing me, was seized with trembling which I think I still feel and share. "Jean-Jacques," he said to me, "love your country. Do you see all these good Genevans? They are all friends; they are all brothers; joy and concord reign in their midst. You are a Genevan....

They wanted to pick up the dance again, but it was impossible. They did not know what they were doing any more; all heads were spinning with a drunkenness sweeter than that of wine.... I am well aware that this entertainment, which moved me so, would be without appeal for a thousand others; one must have eyes made for seeing it and a heart made for feeling it. No, the only pure joy is public joy, and the true sentiments of nature reign only over the people.

Here we have a festival without invidiousness. This extraordinary description of what one might call the bacchanalia of the political contains a number of elements. First, the dance comes from the music and is both coordinated and formless: all work together as if all knew the same steps even though (perhaps because) the steps change all the time. This is not the coordination of Rameauian harmony, where each plays a different part and the whole is experienced only in the listener. Here each member performs the whole and hence, while requiring others, experiences the other as s/he experiences him- or herself. It is worth the reminder here that in the Essay on the Origin of Languages Rousseau indicates that music degenerates by "imposing new rules on itself," and by assuming a "fixed form," where the "rules of imitation were multiplied."

Secondly, the name given to realization of this joyous musical theater is that of citizenship ("You are a Genevan"). The unity achieved is the paradigm of citizenship: the joy is pure because it is unalloyed by that which it is not. If, as I have intimated before, citizenship is the pure form of humanness for Rousseau, this is because it is all we can mean by nature in a world characterized by the knowledge of mine and thine. "The only pure joy is public joy."

Thirdly, women are brought into the festival body politic and out of their homes. Commonality here transcends sexuality, at least for this moment. One should not be surprised that it does, since, as noted above, Rousseau had gone to considerable lengths to assure his readers that sexuality was not the basis of society.

Thus, fourthly, the effect of the gaiety is to loose all sense of self-consciousness ("they did not know what they were doing") in the revelry of one's public identity. Hence the players are not looking at themselves or others in the potentially dominating way noted above.This is the only space for true theater: life. In the Letter to D'Alembert, Rousseau had complained of the Frenchman's proposal to establish a theater in Geneva. But here we see that Geneva, at its best, was itself a broad and universal theater. Rousseau does not so much want to keep theater out of life, but to experience life as theater. Molière makes this impossible when, as in The Misanthrope, he leaves us as an audience off the stage laughing at Alceste: this is the source for Rousseau's attack. Molière gives the audience the pretense of being superior: his theater thus reinforces domination.

Fifthly, the quality of this experience is that it is "eternal," that is, is completely in the present. Time past does not effect, nor is it effected by the course through time. Rousseau, in his Confessions, presents himself as a person obsessed by his past: crimes of his childhood, oversights and omissions of his youth haunt him and lie, as Marx and Joyce were to say in similar contexts, on him like a nightmare. The boldness of the Confessions lies in the claim that by bringing his past into the present he will make himself available as a human being to those around him. The complete picture of a person is everything that person has been: no wonder humans are multiple beings. All of us (can) have been everything.

Here the demands of music are realized in public presence. The quality of presence in the St. Gervais festival is thus an encounter with, a being-in, the world as it is, with its being and not its historicity. As Hannah Arendt, following Martin Heidegger, was to argue one hundred and seventy-five years later, it is this experience which is at the source of human identity, with being a people. The movement from music to dance to the theatricalized political realm makes forgetting unnecessary: one can simply be what one is, naturally, as it were.

Lastly, it is central to remember that there are two citizens who do not participate in this great dance of re-membering. They are the young Rousseau and his father, framed in a window, looing down upon the natural stage of life. You only can know what makes you a citizen if you are not in media participation. The theorist is always a spectator, here of how he is in common with those whose share has a claim on him.


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[After Post-Modernism Conference. Copyright 1997.]