March 7, 2023
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v2.1 Reference

On Imposture

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Literary Lies, and Political Fiction

Imposture is an abuse of power. It is the act of lying for one's own benefit, of disguising the truth in order to mislead. For Jean-Jacques Rousseau, however, imposture is first and foremost power itself. In On Imposture, French philosopher Serge Margel explores imposture within Rousseau's Discourses, Confessions, and Emile.

For Rousseau, taking power, using it, or abusing it are ultimately one and the same act. Once there's power, and someone grants themselves the means, the right, and the authority to force another's beliefs or actions, there is imposture. According to Rousseau, imposture can be found through human history, society, and culture.

Using a deconstructionist method in the classic manner of Derrida, On Imposture explores Rousseau's thought concerning imposture and offers a unique analysis of its implications for politics, civil society, literature, and existentialist thought.

About the Authors

Serge Margel is a philosopher and philologist who teaches at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. He was a student of Jacques Derrida and has authored numerous books and articles on the relations between literature, art, and philosophy. Several of his works have been translated into English, including The Tomb of the Artisan God: On Plato's Timaeus.


"In this incisive and decisive book, Serge Margel brilliantly diagnoses a founding aporia at the heart of Rousseau's thinking and writing, both political and literary.  With rare acuity, he demonstrates that the parallel figures of the legislator and the reader in Rousseau establish an originary and unresolvable scene of imposture which both allows for and simultaneously undermines all final legitimacy in what we call politics and literature.  In so doing, Margel both provides a strikingly original reading of Rousseau, and opens up some still burning philosophical questions about the fundamental possibilities and impossibilities of truth and lies, power and fiction in the space of democracy."—Geoffrey Bennington, Asa G. Candler Professor of Modern French Thought, Emory University

"This brilliant essay ushers the reader (that is to say: ourselves, since we are implicated in the exemplary figure of the legislator and impostor) into the heart of Rousseau's intricate paradox of the "innocent lie." In defining the archaic scene of imposture, where the literary and the political prove to be inseparable questions, Serge Margel gives us invaluable insight into our own out-of-joint times, which are marked by a crisis of authority and legitimacy, false facts, and outright lies. On Imposture reconstructs—and deconstructs—the very conditions of the body politic: is there a more pressing task?"—Ginette Michaud, Université de Montréal
Indiana University Press
Studies in Continental Thought

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March 7, 2023
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