In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Review Article Perilous Crossings and Borders: G.S. Rousseau and the Anthropology of Eighteenth-Century Culture RA YMOND STEPHANSON C.S. Rousseau. Enlightenment Crossings: Pre- and Post-modern Discourses: Anthropological (vall); Enlightenment Borders: Pre- and Post-11Wdern Discourses: Medical, Scientific (vol 2); Perilous Enlightenment: Pre- and Post-modern Discourses: Sexual, Historical (vol 3) Manchester University Press 1991 It would be surprising to find a serious scholar or graduate student practising eighteenth are surely as important to the cultural historian as the books they wrote. It is fitting that the final essay of the trilogy - a review of three books by the controversial and polemical British Enlightenment historian, J.C.D. Clark - should begin by asking 'What kind of. history should be written in the postmodemist/ poststructuralist world when so many forms of referentiality are called into doubt, and when local knowledge is the only kind to be trusted?' (292). In his review and analysis of the methodological and ideological biases of much British historiography it becomes clear that, for Rousseau, Clark's books and those of his British adversaries are not always self-conscious enough about their own status as fiction, as political platform, and as British nationalism: 'No version of history is ultimately IItruerli than any other; all are ultimately rhetorical, ideological, value-laden, fictive' (318). This is not Rousseau suddenly adopting some hopelessly relativistic concept of historicism or 'history' which makes the gathering of empirical evidence an ultimately meaningless thing because the narration of its possible significance is 'fictive'; rather, he is, I think, reminding all Enlightenment historians (of whatever stripe or subject or country) that until we are 'willing to concede the necessary fictionality of {our] own myth[s] of history' (318) and take seriously (even be willing to experiment with) the often very different theoretical and methodological approaches of other historians, the discourse of 'history' itself will suffer by virtue of being too insular and narrow. If I understand Rousseau correctly, the final essay of the trilogy implies that the health and survival of Enlightenment history and the writing of that history at the end of the twentieth century depend on theory, or, to put it differently, that the self·consciousness that can be made available in a wide-ranging knowledge of theories may offer the kind of 'sceptical' and 'disinterested engagement' (292) which would appear to characterize his ideal of the contemporary scholar who would pursue Enlightenment history. Despite the claim in his Introduction that, 'having begun historical ... I remain historicist' (xiii), it is clear just how much value Rousseau has come to place on theory as a way of vitalizing our histories of the Enlightenment: 'All my doubt has rested on a more proper approach to a deep-layer historicism ... than the ones we have at present. But the great challenge for theory during my adult lifetime has been its extraordinary possibilities for historicism. If I did not believe that, I would long ago have abandoned cultural history and rerurned to the old methods in which I had been trained' (xiii). It remains to say something of Rousseau's self-dramatization throughout these three long books, for the presentation of self - usually an intellectu~l persona but at times a sketch of the private man - is a significant aspect of one's experience 400 RAYMOND STEPHANSON of the trilogy, and part of the pleasure in reading Rousseau. He does not hide his ego behind some falsely constructed, translucent wall of verbal or pseudoscientific objectivity which pretends to replace the narrating human agent with 'truth' itself; his self-dramatization from the Introduction onward is bluntly a part of his subjects themselves, and its characteristics are these: the image of the lone man in the service of 'truth,' battling the curmudgeonly traditionalists and old fogeys on one hand, and resisting the narcissistic excesses and professional sway of the theoretical epigoni on the other. Rousseau casts himself as a 'pioneer' (Introduction, ix), the man who got there first, before others had even asked the question. I suspect some readers will find this rhetorical element immodest, although the fact of the matter is that in so many instances Rousseau has been the pioneer in precisely this sense. Keenly...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 388-400
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.