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The Rise of the Memoir$
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Alex Zwerdling

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198755784

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198755784.001.0001

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Rousseau and the Art of Secular Confession

Rousseau and the Art of Secular Confession

(p.8) 1 Rousseau and the Art of Secular Confession
The Rise of the Memoir

Alex Zwerdling

Oxford University Press

Rousseau’s Confessions is the starting point for later experiments in the art of secular confession, focusing on his private life, on embarrassment, shame, and guilt, rather than on his career and public achievements. Rousseau considered himself a unique rather than representative human being and tried first to understand himself and his transgressions, and then to write honestly about his failings without expecting forgiveness, yet hoping at least for empathetic listeners, if not immediately then in some future time. Although the immediate response to the book’s posthumous publication was more often bafflement or outright hostility, over the course of the following century the Confessions became the foundation for a new form of autobiographical writing and eventually enabled the secular confessional mode that has come to be called the memoir.

Keywords:   Rousseau, unique self, guilt, incoherence, confession without absolution, uncertain audience

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