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Montaigne, Essays, cont.
(click here for first Montaigne page)


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Today, just a few reminders about the things you're supposed to bear in mind as you read.

First of all, keep track of the dualities we identified last time in class. What does Montaigne understand by the following, and how is he using them to structure his arguments?:

  • "honesty" vs. --? ["rhetoric"?]
  • private vs. public
  • self vs. other (Cannibals, Imagination)
  • natural vs. artificial (or "nature" vs. "culture"?)
  • naked vs. clothed (Cannibals, "To the Reader")

How can these be seen as metaphors for language? For knowledge? What, for Montaigne, can be known (recall the difficulty we had on Thursday trying to pin him to a notion of "capital-T Truth")?

In the two essays you are reading for tomorrow, more dualities float to the surface; be on the lookout for them, especially for any metaphorical treatment of the opposition between "inner" things (guts and their contents, foetus, soul, mind) and "outer" ones (skin, clothes, body, excrement (once eliminated), portraiture, applause...?). What do these add to our understanding of Montaigne?

How does Montaigne use the following?

  • eating/digestion
  • sex/procreation
  • clothing
  • painting/portraiture; representation

The last one is tricky, because our translator has not translated M's "portraiture" vocabulary consistently. See, for example:

"it is myself that I portray" (que je peints) --p. 3

"Those who tell us [lit.: who paint] how they die, and who describe [lit.: represent] their executions, depict [paint] the prisoner spitting in the faces of his killers..." --p. 117
(Ceux qui les peignent mourans, et qui representent cette action quand on les assomme, ils peignent le prisonnier crachant au visage de ceux qui les tuent...)

"Others shape the man; I portray [lit.: recite] him, and offer to the view one in particular, who is ill-shaped enough..." --p. 235
(Les autres forment l'homme; je le recite et en represente un particulier bien mal formé...)

"I do not portray his being; I portray his passage [lit.: I do not portray being. I portray passing]..."
--p. 235
(Je ne peints pas l'estre. Je peints le passage...)

In light of the four themes mentioned above, what does it mean when Montaigne says "I myself am the substance of this book" (p. 3)?

Additional questions

  1. What does Montaigne have to say about repentance? What is its value (or lack thereof) for him? How would you compare his position on repentance to that of another Christian author, such as Augustine or Dante?
  2. Why does Montaigne talk so much about physical pain? What does pain do? What is the relationship between pain and the ability to write? How does pain complicate or alter the mind-body relationship?
  3. What is the answer to Montaigne's axiomatic question "Que sais-je? -- What do I know?" ? Of what kind is Montaigne's "knowledge"-- moral/ethical, cognitive/empirical, textual ("book-larnin'"), or what?

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