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Book Title: Selections from the Essays of Montaigne (Crofts Classics)|
Date of issue: June 1st 2011
ISBN 13: 9780882951058
The author of the book: Michel de Montaigne
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 871 KB
Edition: Harlan Davidson
Read full description of the books Selections from the Essays of Montaigne (Crofts Classics):"To learn that one has said or done a foolish thing, that is nothing; one must learn that one is nothing but a fool, a much more comprehensive and important lesson".
There is sheer joy for me in that sentence.
It opens up a new starting point in life, not one of humility but of humour. There is basic honesty about one's own ridiculousness, but also an honesty about the validity and value of one's own experience and life, as clumsy and awkward as this may be.
The honesty and directness about his own life can make reading Montaigne like settling down and listening to an old friend talk, about how he started off preferring white wine, grew over the years to prefer red and then some time later drifted back to white again, or about how he managed to trick a friend on his wedding night so he could overcome his fear of being unable to perform and consummate the marriage or how as he has grown older he has taken to wearing thicker and heavier hats to keep his head warm. It allows a for a remarkably intimate connection with somebody from a very different time.
The material is varied, the subject of the essay, like many a students' first attempts, simply a jumping off point for a long ramble interrupted by quotations. Over the years as he continues to write the essays become more confident and frequently longer, but they are bound together by his way of thinking about himself and his society. A way of thinking that often turns back to thinking about thinking in the broadest sense as in "when I am playing with my cat, how do I know she is not playing with me".
This can give the sense that he is looking in on his society as a stranger. For example in his contrast between the crowds of people eager to see the savage cannibals brought over from Brazil with savagery of the ongoing wars of religion in his native France. Possibly this is not so surprising as we learn in another essay that his Father had him brought up by a German teacher of Latin with the intention that Latin should be his first language (view spoiler)[If his wet-nurse was not involved in this Gascon may have been the first language he was actually exposed to (hide spoiler)]. The result of Montaigne's Father's decision was that his family, their retainers and tenants all had to themselves to learn at least some Latin in order to talk to the young Montaigne as a child. The impression is that he grew up as a foreigner in his own country.
This of course could come across as tragic but the effect is comic. Montaigne notes the peasants in his area are still using Latin names for tools, it is as though Montaigne's father involved them all in a great game, on the basis of a singular educational notion, that are all still playing years later. Something of this playfulness matures in the son into an openness that allows him to see the peculiarity of his own point of view and to appreciate how far it is shaped by where he happens to stand.
Read information about the authorMichel Eyquem de Montaigne was one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance. Montaigne is known for popularizing the essay as a literary genre. He became famous for his effortless ability to merge serious intellectual speculation with casual anecdotes and autobiography — and his massive volume Essais (translated literally as "Attempts") contains, to this day, some of the most widely influential essays ever written. Montaigne had a direct influence on writers the world over, from William Shakespeare to René Descartes, from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Stephan Zweig, from Friedrich Nietzsche to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He was a conservative and earnest Catholic but, as a result of his anti-dogmatic cast of mind, he is considered the father, alongside his contemporary and intimate friend Étienne de La Boétie, of the 'anti-conformist' tradition in French literature.
In his own time, Montaigne was admired more as a statesman then as an author. The tendency in his essays to digress into anecdotes and personal ruminations was seen as detrimental to proper style rather than as an innovation, and his declaration that, 'I am myself the matter of my book', was viewed by his contemporaries as self-indulgent. In time, however, Montaigne would be recognized as embodying, perhaps better than any other author of his time, the spirit of freely entertaining doubt which began to emerge at that time. He is most famously known for his skeptical remark, 'Que sais-je?' ('What do I know?').
Remarkably modern even to readers today, Montaigne's attempt to examine the world through the lens of the only thing he can depend on implicitly — his own judgment — makes him more accessible to modern readers than any other author of the Renaissance. Much of modern literary non-fiction has found inspiration in Montaigne, and writers of all kinds continue to read him for his masterful balance of intellectual knowledge and personal story-telling.
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