In Rousseau’s Confessions, which I am reading at the moment, you encounter a litany of deviant or marginal sexual activity. In Book One Jean-Jacques confesses to the pleasure he derived from being spanked as a child. In Book Two he describes in graphic detail the horror he felt at seeing his first ejaculation when a man with a penchant for him masturbated in front of the him (‘je vis partir vers la cheminee at tomber a terre je ne sais quoi de gluant et de blanchatre’ – I saw something gluey and whitish shoot out towards the chimney and fall onto the floor). In Book Three we read how he used to expose himself to girls who went to a well to fill their pail with water. In Book Eight Rousseau recounts how after a little too much to drink he and two other men shared the favours of a girl, taking her in turns. We also learn in Book Eight of the five children he had that he immediately gave up to the Home for Lost children. I have four more books to read. He was no saint.There will be more revelations.
And yet, is it not healthy to reveal the misdemeanours of youth or even maturity? Would it be healthier to whitewash them out? In 2020 any errors in your youth might well disqualify you for respectability in later life. In the digital age we document them all the time. We confess without realizing it. We blunder into confession and self-revelation. Our fallibility has become a liability. I can see that we do not want to empower a monster, but the deep puritanical strain that I think comes from the US is growing. D’Alembert, a contemorary of Rousseau, had a term for the type of thinker that Rousseau was. Not Lberte, Egalite, Fraternite but Liberte, Pauvrete, Verite. Verite or Truth is sometimes a casualty of the frantic rearch for virtue.