Reframing Rousseau’s Lévite d'Ephraïm

BookReframing Rousseau’s Lévite d'Ephraïm

Reframing Rousseau’s Lévite d'Ephraïm

The Hebrew Bible, Hospitality, and Modern Identity

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2021:05


May 10th, 2021



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Le Lévite d’Ephraïm, Rousseau’s re-imagining of the final chapters of the Book of Judges, contains major themes of Rousseau’s oeuvre and lays forth central concerns of his intellectual projects. Among the themes highlighted in the concentrated narrative are: the nature of signs and symbols and their relationship to the individual and society that produce them; the role of hospitality in constituting civil society; the textually-displayed moral disorder as foreshadowing political revolution; and finally, the role of violence in creating a unified polity. In Le Lévite d’Ephraïm, Rousseau explores the psychological and communal implications of violence and, through them, the social and political context of society. The incarnation of violence on the bodies of the women in this story highlights the centrality of women in Rousseau’s thought. Women are systematically dismembered, both literally and figuratively, and this draws the reader’s attention to the significance of these women as they are perennially re-membered inside and outside the text. This study of these themes in Le Lévite d’Ephraïm places it in relation to the biblical text at its origins and to Rousseau’s own writings and larger cultural concerns as he grapples with the challenges of modernity.

Author Information

Barbara Abrams is Director of the Global and Cultural Studies Program and Associate Professor of French and Women’s and Gender Studies at Suffolk University Boston. Her main field of interest is Eighteenth-Century French literature. Her current research includes the consignment of women to convents in Eighteenth Century France. Mira Morgenstern is Professor of Political Science in the Department of Political Science at the Colin Powell School of the City College of New York. She is currently at work on a study of the Social Contract entitled The Social Contract and the Politics of the Imagination. Karen Sullivan is Associate Professor of French at Queens College/City University of New York. She has written a book on Rousseau’s aesthetics and articles on Rousseau, Graffigny and Gouges. Her forthcoming work on Rousseau explores Rousseau’s work through the lens of 20th century trauma theory.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
1. Rousseau and the Hebrew Bible: reading the Hebrew Bible in the eighteenth century23
Introduction: the conventional argument23
Social contract theorists and the Hebrew Bible26
Autonomy in the Hebrew Bible and its political implications for social contract theorists29
Moral autonomy in the Hebrew Bible and the evaluation of politics32
Rousseau and reading the Hebrew Bible34
Rousseau and images of power38
Rousseau and biblical tonalities42
Brief summary of Rousseau’s Lévite d’Ephraïm49
2. Crime and self-punishment: trauma, reading, and representation in Rousseau’s Lévite d’Ephraïm53
Rousseau in June 176259
Similarities and differences between Judges 19–21 and Rousseau’s Lévite d’Ephraïm62
Reconstructing the self through representation: Rousseau’s guilt and remorse71
Return to the scene of the crime: abjection and language81
The Levite’s story: exciting passions and muddying the waters87
Representation and violence91
Abjection and the power of the visual92
“Persuading without convincing”: abjection, the wise legislator, and the artist95
Action (physical) and intention (moral)99
Judgment: of action or intention?99
Conclusion: avoiding abjection—June 1762103
Abjection, trauma, and scapegoating today106
3. Decoding hospitality: image and polity in Rousseau’s Lévite d’Ephraïm109
First canto122
Second canto132
Third canto139
Fourth canto141
4. Strangeness, violence, and the establishment of nationhood in Rousseau145
Introduction: the political argument of the story145
Rousseau reads the Hebrew Bible148
Biblical narrative: destructive founding150
Circles of strangeness158
Rousseau and the stranger161
Afterword: hospitality as an Enlightenment project177
The political consequences of hospitality178
Modern considerations of hospitality181
Complications of hospitality184
The future of hospitality188
Appendix 1: Juges 19–21 (Lemaistre de Sacy translation)191
Appendix 2: Juges 19–21 (Ostervald translation)201
Appendix 3: Rousseau’s Le Lévite d’Ephraïm213
Appendix 4: The Levite of Ephraïm (English, Scott translation)227