Rousseau and the Theatre: Political-Aesthetic Ideals and Practices

A conference organised by Performing Premodernity, 24 -26 August 2015.

The starting point for this three-day conference was that Performing Premodernity wanted to emphasize that Jean-Jacques Rousseau, ever since his own lifetime, has wrongly been regarded by many as belonging to a long tradition of anti-theatrical thinkers. Numerous theatre scholars have refrained from exploring Rousseau’s theatrical aesthetics, convinced that the Lettre à d’Alembert sur les Spectacles (1762) was intended as a general rejection of theatre due to its negative effects on the virtue and morals of the people. The long tradition of seeing Rousseau as anti-theatrical – which has dominated within performance studies – has not taken account of the fact that he wrote several theatre plays and operas of his own. We wanted to challenge the traditional view of Rousseau within theatre research and performance studies.

A number of prominent researchers from different disciplines and countries were therefore invited to offer their views on Rousseau as a theorist and practitioner of theatre. The discussions focused on such questions as: How did Rousseau’s thinking influence the theatrical aesthetics and practices of the (long) eighteenth century? How are Rousseau’s activities as a philosopher, as a theatre and opera critic, and as a playwright related to each other? How are his theories on language, music and bodily movement connected to his ideas on theatrical practice? How were Rousseau’s plays and operas (meant to be) performed originally, in regard to acting, scenery, music and theatrical space? The following papers were presented:

Felicity Baker, “The anthropological foresight of the Letter on Theatre”
Patrick Primavesi, “Rousseau’s Lettre and its Double Bind Importance for (Pre-)Modern Theatre”
David Wiles, “In quest of Rousseau’s theory of the actor”
Jennie Nell, presentation of the research project ”Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Sweden ca 1760-1830. A network for the study of the reception of Rousseau in Sweden from the late Age of Liberty to early Romanticism”
Michael O’Dea, “Rousseau’s Ghost. Le Devin du village at the Paris Opera, 1770-1784.”
David Charlton, “Rousseau as a musical influence”
Jørgen Langdalen, “The voice of nature in the opera – Rousseau and Gluck”
Marie-Emmanuelle Plagnol-Diéval, “Rousseau and his early comedies”
David Marshall, “Rousseau and the Theater of Autobiography”
Jacqueline Waeber, “Rousseau’s Pygmalion and the limits of (operatic) expression”
Maria Gullstam, “Clashing harmonies – Rousseau, Rameau and Pygmalion”

We are happy to announce that this conference will result in a book under the (working) title Rousseau Centre Stage: Spectator, Playwright, Theorist, co-edited by Maria Gullstam and Michael O’Dea.


1st September 2015