At the bookstore, I didn't find Rousseau under R with Rabelais and Rahimi. I asked, with shy hesitation, lest I seem like I am asking for the most obvious cliche: "madame, where can I find JeanJacques Rousseau?"
The book keeper sighed with deference at my ignorance: "Swiss literature section my dear!"
As you can see, Geneva is proud of Jean Jacques Rousseau. I have pointed to his statue when my kids and I cross the footbridge with his name, on bikes, over the Leman lake. Thus, my kids have heard about the philosopher before reading his texts.
On the occasion of his 300 birth anniversary, I took the eldest to a play that celebrated JJR the botanist,philosopher,writer and political theorist. As we rode our bikes to the park where the play took place, I shared my own knowledge of the thinker. "He wasn't a sculptor and artist as well" asked my son, now recognisant of the Michael Angelos and the DaVincis of this world.
I reminded him of the Confessions, one of the earliest autobiographies. I also told him that JJR was a humanist, that he developed the concept of citizenship. He was also religious but he despised institutionalized religion and preferred to find God through his meditation in Nature. He was a walker and an amateur botanist and this play would be interesting because it address the writer in the context of a walk with the actors through the park, by night!
The park's doors were thus locked behind us as we strolled "after-hours". It felt like we were intruders at Night at the Museum, only this museum was open-air. The small crew of actors walked with torch lights and led the way. Five scenes were prepared, of which a wonderful one, reminiscent of a Fragonard or Watteau painting!
I learned many small details about the life of the writer. I listened to some of his texts recited and I better understood his philosophy. They explained his rapport with his city Geneva, which maltreated him in his old age. Geneva today, while very proud of the prodigy, remains critical of JJR, pointing to his over-sensitive nature, or to his sexism as he wasn't fair in the realm of female education.
My 12 year old caught on most of the play, didn't complain at all (kudos to him for his patience) and credit to the acting that kept him attentive. As we sat listening to poetic recitations, it began to rain. Neither the actors, nor the audience flinched as my son and I wondered if we should leave. They were caught up in the story of their ancestor. Being in touch with nature is certainly a piece and parcel of Swiss culture.
Most important was the renewed idea of the Renaissance man, in the XVIII century: Rousseau believed in a well educated person, a well rounded one, interested in the arts and sciences, fascinated by the theoretical and immersed in the practical. It is up to us to look for answers in Nature, walk in the gardens, which is also an athletic pursuit.
I share his philosophy and introduced my children to it this summer of Rousseau celebration.
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