Montaigne’s Blog

“Where I have least knowledge, there do I use my judgment most readily.” Thus Montaigne himself adds credence to the facile observance that the only difference between today’s blogger & his Essays is the medium. Well, let’s not overlook the fact that Montaigne was brilliant & most of us are not. But, that’s okay because, to borrow another commonplace observance: if we were all brilliant, Montaigne wouldn’t have been. Brilliance is brilliance only because of its rare appearances upon the human stage. As Emerson noted of Montaigne’s writing: “Cut these words, and they would bleed; they are vascular and alive”. (Emerson’s“Montaigne or, the Skeptic”)

Contrary to the assumption that Montaigne ‘invented’ the essay form, according to Terence Cave of St. John’s, Oxford, the essay for Montaigne is not just a literary genre – that came later with the likes of Charles Lamb, Les Essais, however, represents a mode thinking, of indeterminate thoughts, trials, soundings; which enables one to review thought processes over time – much like the hypomnemata of Stoicism repopularized as the commonplace book by Erasmus. Montaigne thus describes himself as “an unpremeditated & accidental philosopher.”

Another observance of conventional wisdom is that Montaigne was the sceptic’s sceptic, especially given the influence of Pyrrhonist skepticism behind Les Essais, not to mention popping up on the Vatican’s best sellers list of prohibited books. Now, according to a new book by Ann Hartle [Michel de Montaigne: Accidental Philosopher CUP, 2007], The Essay transforms skeptical doubt into dialectical reflection, in which “the world is presented as radically contingent but where the divine is present in an incarnational & sacramental way.”

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