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  • Recovering Fraternité in the Works of Rousseau: Jean-Jacques’ Lost Brother
  • Kamilla Denman (bio)

Time may lift many veils; and if my memory descends to posterity perhaps one day it will learn what there was in me to say. Then it will be understood why I am silent.

Rousseau’s Confessions, closing words of Book 6

For Rousseau, the family is the original model for society: “The oldest of all societies and the only natural one is that of the family . . . the family, therefore, is, if you will, the first model for political societies.” 1 More than once, Rousseau observes: “the state remains, and the family dies out.” 2 For Rousseau, this was an autobiographical experience as well as a political assertion, for his mother died giving birth to him, his only brother ran away, and his father went into exile, leaving Rousseau completely severed from his family of origin by the time he was ten years old. 3 In his political writings, Rousseau is not surprisingly concerned with the “inalienable,” “indivisible,” fusing general will, with contract defending against alienation, and society replacing the family (“Social Contract,” 99). This contractual fusion of will is associated with origins and beginnings. In his autobiography, Rousseau begins with the only period in his life when his family was intact: “It is as if, feeling my life escaping from me, I were trying to recapture it at its beginnings” (Confessions, 31). Similarly, the imagined origins of humanity are essential to his political writings as he declares his purpose of “discovering and following the lost and forgotten paths that must have led man from the natural to the civil state” in the “Discourse on Inequality.” 4 [End Page 191]

Many readers of Rousseau have equated his political and autobiographical writings with his own family of origin. Rousseau has been seen as the perennially Oedipal son projecting his desire for the mother onto nature and his evasion of the father onto society: “O nature! O my mother! I am here under your sole protection. Here there is no cunning and rascally man to thrust himself between us” (Confessions, 594). The gendering of nature and society creates confusion for political man. According to Rousseau, masculine society casts man in a feminine role, making him “weak, timid and servile; his safe and effeminate manner of living completely exhausts both his strength and his courage.” By contrast, natural man, measured against feminine nature, is robust, masculine, strong, and courageous (“Discourse on Inequality,” 56). Attempting to resolve these contradictory gender roles in the “Discourse on Political Economy,” Rousseau seeks to integrate feminine nature with masculine society in “La Patrie,” the homeland, creating a feminized fatherland, which devoted sons and daughters must love as a union of mother and father, of nature and nation (“Political Economy,” 58–83).

Not surprisingly, Rousseau’s work has become a proof text for many psychoanalytic and Lacanian critics. 5 Yet the triangular model that so often proof-texts Lacanian lack is itself lacking: a fourth corner remains largely unrecognized in the text: Rousseau’s lost elder brother. Rousseau’s family of origin was not a triad. He was born into an already existing triad of his mother, Susanne, his father, Isaac, and an unnamed rebellious and dissolute brother, who was seven years old: “I hardly ever saw him. Indeed, I can hardly say that I ever knew him, but I did not cease to love him dearly, and he loved me as well as a scoundrel can love” (Confessions, 21). Psychoanalytic theory tends to ignore the impact of siblings on erotic and psychological development. Theodore Lidz, in his The Relevance of the Family to Psychoanalytic Theory, writes: “Although sibling relationships have received some consideration in the psychoanalytic literature, their importance has remained rather peripheral to the theory.” He promises to address the importance of siblings as rivals and as role models in his next chapter, yet in that chapter, he confesses, “I have not managed to find a suitable place to discuss the matter adequately.” Nevertheless, he gives the gist of what he had hoped to demonstrate, asserting that sibling “rivalries for parental affection and attention . . . can sometimes be as significant as rivalry with a...