Rousseau’s Reveries of the Solitary Walker celebrates self-indulgent emotion through the seemingly paradoxical state of melancholic solitude. Although useless in terms of its impact on the world, melancholy is a complex emotion with a deep introspective nature that can lead to the simultaneous indulgence in, and effacement of, the self. While Rousseau’s melancholic state can be understood as a retreat from the painful trials and tribulations of the public world, his self-imposed solitude encourages peace specifically through the inwardly focused indulgence of “reverie,” a seemingly purposeless solitary rumination encouraging self-knowledge. This essay explores the personal and pseudo-divine nature of Rousseau’s self-effacing reveries to consider how melancholic solitude and self-imposed exile function together, not merely as an act of selfishness, but as an essential pathway for experiencing a pseudo-divine form of existence. Rousseau’s intense emotional self-indulgence feeds off these reveries, providing an endless source of pleasure by exploring feelings and significant memories that are triggered by the beauty of the natural world. The natural world serves as a trigger for stimulating Rousseau’s melancholic reveries, thereby indicating the importance of a subjectively significant physical atmosphere to enhance an otherwise wholly internal experience. The combination of mental detachment from the external world with actual physical isolation – in an inspirational aesthetic environment – enables the solitary individual to achieve the ecstatic sense of enlightenment possible from the most intense form of melancholy. Rousseau’s solitary contemplations ultimately heighten the profoundly introspective properties of the simple existence that he celebrates in Reveries.
Franiczek, Aleksander, "The Pleasurable Pain of Melancholic Solitude: Examining Rousseau’s Emotional Self-Indulgence in Reveries of the Solitary Walker" (2017). 2017 Undergraduate Awards. 19.