Rousseau's Legacy

Rousseau's Legacy : Emergence and Eclipse of the Writer in France

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Rousseau's Legacy is an original and ambitious work of literary scholarship that focuses on the emergence with Rousseau of a new and influential paradigm of the writer who brings together revolutionary sociopolitical critique and 'confessionalism'. Combining a wide-ranging knowledge of contemporary theory with an informed interest in sociopolitical context and cultural history, the author goes on to explore the persistent importance of the Rousseauist paradigm through the close reading of works by a number of major French writers from Stendahl to Duras, Althusser, and Foucault.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 314 pages
  • 152.4 x 228.6 x 21.1mm | 746.47g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • halftones
  • 0195091078
  • 9780195091076

Back cover copy

In modern Western literary culture, the writer who combines autobiographical witness with political critique has been the object of particular veneration, as the careers of such celebrated figures as Jean-Paul Sartre and Marguerite Duras among others attest. Dennis Porter argues in Rousseau's Legacy that this cultural idea of the writer - as distinct from the more traditional "man of letters" - first emerged in France in the decades preceding the French revolution, and has continued to exercise a nominative power over intellectual life well into our own day. In Porter's paradigm, Jean-Jacques Rousseau serves as a seminal figure who combined radical critique of existing institutions with a new form of confessional writing and a suspicion of the art of literature. Rousseau inaugurated the idea of a heroic and committed writerly life in which the opposition between public and private self is collapsed. Porter combines a wide-ranging knowledge of contemporary theory and cultural history over the past two centuries in his readings of works by a number of major French writers; he situates their work in larger cultural and political transformations. In addition to the literary texts, he also touches on the "idea" of the writer as represented in paintings, engravings, and photographs. Examining the works of Stendhal, Baudelaire, Sartre, Barthes, Duras, Althusser, and Foucault, Rousseau's Legacy is of obvious interest to scholars and students of modern French literature and culture, and, given the influence of French philosophy and literary theory on literary and cultural studies in this century, it will also appeal to a broader nonspecialist readership. Porter concludes with the provocativeclaim that, with the collapse among intellectuals of faith in revolution, and with the degeneration of confession into the stuff of TV talk shows, the idea of the writer as an agent for moral and political change is also in eclipse.
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Review quote

An entertaining and provocative book. * Times Literary Study *
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