Apr 062017

I have often noticed this flaw, that instead of gaining knowledge of others we strive only to give knowledge of ourselves, and take more pains to peddle our wares than to get new ones. Silence and modesty are very good qualities for social intercourse.

—Michel de Montaigne, “Of the Education of Children”

 Montaigne on listening  April 6, 2017  Tagged with:
Sep 192015

Complete Works MontaigneI’ve wanted to read Montaigne’s essays for awhile but the sheer size of the volume has been an obstacle to getting started. My edition, which is trade size and has very small type, runs to 1,336 pages. So leaping in is a commitment, and one I’ve put off for a couple years now.

A friend who knew I was balking gave me Bakewell’s biography of Montaigne a few years back as a kind of stand-in for the real thing I think. He also suggested I just read a few of the essays. This wasn’t what I wanted. I couldn’t explain it, but if I was going to read one or two, I wanted to read them all and in the order Montaigne had arranged them.

Well these past few weeks, I’ve finally taken the plunge and am shocked how much I like them.

The first few essays are rough going. They are impersonal and analyse political hypotheticals that feel disconnected from my world. But slowly things shifted, and by the time Montaigne was talking about lying or speaking slowly or quickly, I’d become caught up in his digressions, his comparisons and his odd leaps from one subject to another.

Several hundred pages in—which barely makes a dint in the book—I’ve realized that I really like the person on display in these essays. If he was like this in real life and alive today, I’d want to be his friend.

I suspect my commonplace book may be univocal for a bit.

Sep 192015

It is good that he should have his pupil trot before him, to judge the child’s pace and how much he must stoop to match his strength. For lack of this proportion we spoil everything; and to be able to hit it right and to go along in it evenly is one of the hardest tasks that I know; it is the achievement of a lofty and very strong soul to know how to come down to a childish gait and guide it. I walk more firmly and surely uphill than down.

—Michel de Montaigne (cf. Cicero)

 Montaigne on Keeping Pace with Students  September 19, 2015  Tagged with:
Jun 182012

How to Live- A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an AnswerI’d wanted to read How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer but kept putting it off. It just seemed outside of everything else I was doing. But then I was given it by a friend, read it in only a few days and was astounded by it.

First, Montaigne himself is endlessly interesting. Engaged in his world and cut off from it too. Social, friendly, loving, but introverted and solitary too. Sophisticated but common. Second, his essays are magnificent. I’ve always been put off by the very first one every time I’ve tried to read them. The form and the context were simply too distant to be casually accessible and I’ve only ever tried to read them casually. But Bakewell works through them in a way that makes them inviting and essential. I come away from this book desperate to read these essays. Finally, the history of Montaigne’s reception is more interesting than it has any right to be, and reading about it, I picked up a quick history of modern France that I was sorely lacking.

Any one of these would probably have made the book worth reading, but it offers all three and–and this is the astounding part–it offers them in a carefully but lightly and beautifully written prose that is a pleasure to read.

Reading, I couldn’t help noticing that Bakewell writes the kind of book that I wanted my dissertation to be but was unable to pull off. Memory was the ingredient that was missing and holding me back–and that in fact suggests that intensity of work was the problem: I worked too slowly, too much in the corner of my life to remember as carefully as I needed to to write what I aimed to write.

I loved this book.