A philosophical reading of Émile, ou de l'éducation privileges Jean- Jacques Rousseau's pedagogic advice, while a literary reading privileges the narrative aspects: either Émile is a treatise on education that relies on fiction in order to clearly assert its position, or it is a novel with Émile as its title character that happens to offer practical advice on education. To read it as both would be to reconcile the literary and philosophical aspects of Rousseau's thought; however, as the "or" that divides its title suggests, this work confronts readers with the potential irreconcilability of literary and philosophical discourses. The difficulty of reconciling these competing discourses, and consequently the challenge of reading Émile, is most notable at the moment when Émile, himself, must come to read the only book he will ever need to read, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. This one book, suggests Rousseau, will teach him to read all others, but within Émile the reader discovers the possibility that one only ever learns to read as someone other than oneself.

Contributor's Note

Brian McGrath is assistant professor of English at Clemson University; he has published essays in Studies in Romanticism, Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, and Sagetrieb.