a sebald extract


When Rousseau fled to the Île Saint-Pierre in the autumn of 1765, he was already on the verge of utter physical and mental exhaustion. Between 1751 and 1761, in his fifth decade and in ever more precarious health, he had, first in Paris and then in the Ermitage at Montmorency, committed to paper thousands upon thousands of pages. The Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts, which earned him the prize of the Académie de Dijon, the treatise On the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men, the opera Le Devin du village, the letters on French music and on Providence, to Voltaire and to D’Alembert, the fairytale La Reine fantasque, the novel La Nouvelle Héloïse; Émile, and The Social Contract – all this and more was written during this period alongside the extremely copious correspondence which Rousseau always maintained. When one considers the extent and diversity of this creative output, one can only assume that Rousseau must have spent the entire time hunched over his desk in an attempt to capture, in endless sequences of lines and letters, the thoughts and feelings incessantly welling up within him. Scarcely had he reached the apogee of literary fame for his passionate epistolatory novel proclaiming the natural rights of lovers, than the state of nervous exhaustion resulting from this manic productivity was further exacerbated when Émile and The Social Contract were banned and confiscated by the parlement in Paris, thus making of the celebrated author an outcast, ostracised and banished from France on pain of arrest. Nor does Rousseau fare any better in his native city of Geneva. Here too he is condemned as a godless and seditious person, and his writings consigned to the flames.

more from WG Sebald at The Guardian here.