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Beirut celebrates Rousseau’s tercentenary

  • Rousseau's tercentenary will be celebrated all around the world.

BEIRUT: Switzerland may provoke thoughts of unbreakable multiple-bladed knives, cuckoo clocks, banking or tasty chocolates. The country is also responsible for birthing Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

In certain circles, this 18th-century polymath can also be seen as the face of Switzerland. Born in Geneva on June 28, 1712, Rousseau was a philosopher, musician and writer. Known for his “Confessions” (1770), “Emile: or, on Education” (1762) and “The Social Contract” (1762), he was one of the principle figures of the 18th-century literary and political movements broadly termed The Enlightenment.

Over the course of this year, many events – exhibitions, concerts, movies and seminars – have been scheduled around Switzerland as part of “2012, Rousseau pour tous” (Rousseau for All).

Rousseau’s tercentenary is being marked Thursday with an event devoted to reminding us that, 300 years on, his writings and visions still influence our society.

“There are manifestations [of Rousseau’s tercentenary] everywhere in the world,” said Boris Richard, deputy chief of mission at the Swiss Embassy in Lebanon.

Beirut will celebrate Rousseau’s three centuries at Librairie al-Bourj, in the Al-Nahar Building, Downtown. There, Katia Haddad, professor at the University Saint Joseph, will deliver a talk entitled “Jean-Jacques Rousseau l’Eclaireur: Arpenteur de Chemins Litteraires Inexplores” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau the Enlightener: Surveyor of Unexplored Literary Paths). Haddad’s talk promises to take up the literary facets of the philosopher.

When asked what Rousseau would think of the world today, Richard said Rousseau would probably be shocked by the state of the environment.

“He was considered a founding father of modern ecology,” he said, going on to observe that Lebanon’s relationship to nature would be most shocking to the 18th-century philosopher. He was the first thinker, Richard added, to theorize on the bond linking nature and human beings.

One of the convictions Rousseau delineated in his “The Social Contract” was that society with its unequal distribution of wealth was a major cause of social and political unrest. He speculated that the problem stemming from such may not be alien to the Lebanese experience.

Rousseau’s “Confessions” opened the door to such matters as subjectivity, introspection and autobiography. Writing in the years before the French Revolution formally changed “subjects” to “citizens,” he explored the subject of citizenship in “Emile: or, on Education,” his treatise on education.

“There was modernity in what he wrote,” Richard observed.

Katia Haddad’s talk “Jean-Jacques Rousseau l’Eclaireur: Arpenteur de Chemins Litteraires Inexplores” is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. at Librairie al-Bourj. For more information, please call 01-973-797.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 28, 2012, on page 16.
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