A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Friday, 2 January 2009

Reverie And Reflection

I thought I'd start the New Year with an explanation of my blog's title, The Solitary Walker. I've done this before at the time I began blogging - but I've more readers now, and some of you may have missed it.

The Reveries Of The Solitary Walker was the last, posthumously published work by the great French political philospher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). I suppose Rousseau's most celebrated work is The Social Contract, which contains the famous quotation: Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.

With his highly personal Confessions and Reveries, Rousseau is regarded as the founder of modern autobiography. Rousseau himself considered Émile, his book about education, his best book. But after its publication in 1762 the Parliament of Paris issued a warrant for his arrest due to its revolutionary nature. He escaped from France into Switzerland in the nick of time. And it was during this period of exile in Switzerland that he wrote The Reveries Of The Solitary Walker.

The book contains 10 meditative "walks". This short paragraph comes from his Seventh Walk: I have sometimes thought rather deeply, but rarely with pleasure; almost always against my liking, and as though by force. Reverie relaxes and amuses me; reflection tires and saddens me; thinking always was a painful and charmless occupation for me. Sometimes my reveries end in meditation, but more often my meditations end in reverie; and during these wanderings, my soul rambles and glides through the universe on the wings of imagination, in ecstasies which surpass every other enjoyment.

This from one of the greatest philosophers of the European Enlightenment!

(There is one other work entitled The Reveries Of The Solitary Walker - and that is a painting by the surrealist painter René Magritte. I've written briefly about that painting here.)


Rachel Fox said...

I like that bit about the wings of the imagination. Reminds me of a poem I was reading recently on myspace by a poet called Gerry Potter
It's called The Imagination is God

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I was not aware of this connection - I had interpreted your title only literally as enjoying solitary walks!

Have not read any Rousseau. (Yet).

I too like his description of reverie.

May your solitary walks of 2009 be free ramblings which refresh your spirit!

The Solitary Walker said...

The literal interpretation is also true, Raph!

But - I really like walking in company too, as my Camino ramblings testify.

Anonymous said...

Rousseau - another writer I need to catch up with!
Thanks for the heads up. Happy New Year.

The Solitary Walker said...

Happy New Year to you too, Mark - and Carry On Blogging!

forest wisdom said...

Hmmm, shall I add this book bu Rousseau to my ever growing list? I think I shall. Thanks, SW. :)

The Solitary Walker said...

You won't regret it, FW.

All of us have to break those literal/metaphorical chains somehow in 2009! (Ref the Rousseau quotation in my post)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

It’s astonishing the number of really fine writers who liked to walk and think, or think as they walked. Though I don’t believe I’ve ever heard one before Rousseau say that deep thinking rarely brought them any real pleasure. How very, very odd.

The Solitary Walker said...

I think he was feeling sorry for himself in exile - becoming deeply introspective - and delighting in the freedom of 'reverie' rather than all his previous deep, philosophical thinking.

Then again, what a writer says is always to be taken with a pinch of salt..!