I never got the study of “Literary Theory” and frankly I still hate it… I used to get hammered at concerts of GZA, etc., and forget to turn in rough drafts in that class, was lucky to get through with a B-. But when you think of someone who reads a lot as being a “nerd,” it’s got to be connected with this perversion of literary theory — designating terms like “signifier” and “signified.” Life’s too short to refuse to believe that a tree is a tree, when you’re father tells you it is.
Also, theoretically, if writing is to be “easy to read,” and we all want it to be that way, it should be most like talking, as talking is easy to listen to. Even if talking does lead to desultory or nervous laughter, or whatever, it is more sensuous, and so more closely related to life’s composite core. Reading is a gateway drug to literary theory.
I don’t think Rousseau is magnanimously nerdy, but he’s nerdier than Camille Paglia, and for this reason I agree with the latter’s foreboding portrayal of human beings’ intrinsic virtue. Paglia praises society where Rousseau calls such a thing “chains”: ““Society is a system of inherited forms reducing our humiliating passivity to nature” (Paglia 1/Sexual Personae). And though Rousseau surely means well, there is probably a lot of dark wisdom in Sexual Personae, which I’d be more inclined to divulge were I presently more in the spirit of depressing everybody, to refute what seems to be his idea that all would be hunky dory if people were “free.”
But the bottom line is, I think, both of these writers can be nothing more than users of the language, and Paglia just trusts language more than Rousseau does — its intrinsic ability to order, to govern, to organize and to edify. Take the way Rousseau flounders in the embryonic stages of his argument: “In this inquiry I shall endeavour at all times to ally the obligations of law and right with the requirements of interest, in order that justice and utility may never by disjoined” (Rousseau 3/Political Writings). What the hell is he trying to say here, and why wouldn’t the inherent power in language already have weeded this out for us? That is, given any clout of discernment in a society’s people, it should already form a continual assessment of this very motif, in reading. This is something for which every author should already hold self accountable — imbuing a confident fusion of life’s edifying, sophisticated or nurturing forces, and Paglia is never, under my scrutiny, guilty of this sort of philosophical circular diction. I agree semantically with Paglia, because she is the better writer — she has a greater faith in the English language, and maybe just needs it more, too.