Montaigne

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I was introduced to Montaigne when I was 18. I hope to sometime run into the man who introduced me to this work. He sold the stories very well to me, and I devoured the book. He comments in his essays about the absolute range of human endeavour, from frienship, to torture, to sex, to the Education of Children.
The American philosopher Eric Hoffer employed Montaigne both stylistically and in thought. In Hoffer’s memoir, Truth Imagined, he said of Montaigne, “He was writing about me. He knew my innermost thoughts.”
The reason I bring up Montaigne, is I came across the following Book review in the LA Times addressing a new biography of the great man.
Montaigne is certainly the author an amazing ‘commonplace’ .
Blogs are certainly the modern interpretation of the common place idea. Hence the purpose of writing this blog, may be to help me to learn how to live better. Which is a very human idea.

But, of course, the Montaigne party has still not ended, and it is the measure of Bakewell’s book that she makes it seem like the hottest ticket in town. As she reminds us,

the best reason to read Montaigne is the one he would most approve: because it helps us contemplate ourselves

. Surely we, too, need to think about Liars and Idleness and Prognostications; about Solitude and Moderation; about Friendship and Age and Sleep. Surely we need to read about the Education of Children, and the Uncertainty of our Judgments, and the Inequality Among Us. Surely we, too, need to learn how to live. It is not that Montaigne’s essays contain an answer to that question. It is that they are an answer. How to live? Try.

It is said that great literature is timeless. What strikes me most about Mathematics and Culture (or anything done very very well) is the absolute timelessness of it. Montaigne should be read by us now, and by our descendants,

In sum, this book, like its subject, is expansive, genre-defying, and preposterously smart.

Works of Genius truly do last for ever. And perhaps the next book I re-read will be Montaigne. It sounds confusing to some but a book like that truly changes lives. And in some sense I don’t think we read Montaigne, like with Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, Shakespeare, Goethe or Poincare we meet them.
And like all the wonderful people we meet in our lives, they change us.

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7 thoughts on “Montaigne

  1. The New York Review had an article on March 24, written by Mark Lilla about Sarah Blackwell’s book on Montaigne ‘”How to Live, or, A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer”.

    The title of Lilla’s article was The Hidden Lesson of Montaigne. The online link is http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/mar/24/hidden-lesson-montaigne/

    His review was not too favorable, and he suggested reading him in the original instead.

    Which book would you recommend?

  2. I think what you say about meeting with rather than reading Montaigne is quite a compelling way to think about it.

    But I suspect it has more to do with the personal, conversational and humble nature of Montaigne’s writing and with personal essay writing as a genre than it does with writing as a whole.

    I may be wrong but I don’t think you can say that reading Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, conveys that same sense of meeting or conversation.

    • peadarcoyle

      I think the Essay plays a role in this. What I find is sometimes its better to think of ‘meeting’ an author than reading it. After all there has to be some involvement with the piece. Especially in Maths (my Masters I’m studying now is in Maths) if one views say a paper as ‘meeting the author’ you can actually get a better sense of dealing with very difficult ideas. Not all authors do this, but I do feel somehow that honesty with the audience is a part of great work. Jane Austen perhaps being a fine example.

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