Week 20: Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Michel de Montaigne

Wikipedia:
Michel 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, including Blaise Pascal, René Descartes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Stefan Zweig, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Isaac Asimov, Eric Hoffer, and perhaps William Shakespeare. In his own time, Montaigne was admired more as a statesman than 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.

REQUIRED READING

Essays to read, see below and note that these Book numbers and essay numbers and titles are the same in all translations so if you have some other edition of the Essays the following will be using the same Book numbers and essay numbers. The Complete Essays from Penguin Classics also has a KINDLE version. This smaller less expensive edition that we use in class does not have a KINDLE version.

Essays to read for class:
Start with Montaigne’s Note to the Reader, p. 3
BOOK ONE (I)
8. On Idleness
26. On the Education of Children
31 On Cannibals 39 On Solitude
BOOK TWO (II)
1. On the Inconsistencies of Our Actions
BOOK THREE (III)
2. On Repentance

Michel de Montaigne,

The Essays: A Selection,

M.A. Screech (translator),

Penguin Classics,

ISBN 0140446028

PICTURES

A visit to Bordeaux, the wine region, and the chateau of Montaigne