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Eli Friedlander reads Rousseau’s autobiography, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, as philosophy. Reading this work against Descartes’s Meditations, Friedlander shows how Rousseau’s memorable transformation of experience through writing opens up the possibility of affirming even the most dejected state of being and allows the emergence of the innocence of nature out of the ruins of all social attachments. In tracing the re-creation of a human subject in reverie, Friedlander is alive to the very form of the experience of reading the Reveries by showing the ways this work needs to—and in effect does—generate a reader, without betraying Rousseau’s utter solitude.
Friedlander’s book provides an afterlife for the Reveries in modern philosophy. It constitutes an alternative to the analytic tradition’s revival of Rousseau, primarily through Rawls’s influential vision of the social contract. It also counters the fate of Rousseau’s writings in the continental tradition, determined by and large by Derrida’s deconstruction.
Friedlander’s reading of the Reveries, a work that has fascinated generations of readers, is an incomparable introduction to one of the greatest thinkers in Western culture.