Rousseau on Time

When John Donne wrote “no man is an island,” Rousseau hadn’t yet been born to defy him.  Living, as he did, apart from society—literally on an island—Rousseau came to a strange conclusion about the nature of happiness:


As I understand this passage, what Rousseau is saying is—in a nutshell—happiness is not being aware of time.  Temporal ignorance is temporal bliss.

Thinking on the Past (which is thinking about Time of course), brings with it all the baggage of nostalgia, of regret, of wouldas, couldas, and shouldas.  Thinking about the Past, or having any awareness of the past is a recipe for unhappiness.

So too with the Future.  An expectation for the future must necessarily be ever-compared to the present, and always with the likelihood of disappointment: expectations rarely meet outcomes.  Mellalgia abounds.  To hold oneself in a state of expectation is to deny presence.  For Rousseau, a state of anticipation is not a state of happiness, and therefore, any awareness of the future is a state of unhappiness.

Happiness is the eternal present.  Be Here Now.  One might think the experience of happiness is a sensation of some sort.  For Rousseau, happiness is the absence of sensation.  There is no future.  There is no past.  There is no time.  There is only the bliss of non-being.

And for a guy who abandoned his four children, pissed off just about every person he ever met, and therefore decided to live by himself on an island writing lengthy notes on playing cards, I suppose it’s quite understandable how happiness might be found in those brief moments when Rousseau forgot time, obligation, responsibility, and most importantly, the fact that he was Rousseau.

rousseauHow can we be not us?

What is that, optimism?
Why, it is the mania of maintaining that all is well..
..even when you are feeling bad.

Candide, Voltaire

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