Beautiful losers. It was kind of a poor man’s version of Maimonides Guide for the Perplexed, drawing on navel gazing problems of then lo-fi culture such as cannibalism, sexual titillation, witch’s spells etc. Prime material for an Oprah book of the minute club. he book was on the Catholic Church’s Index of Prohibited Books for two hundred years, perhaps since it adopts the Talmudic approach to an issue: the same subject is plowed back and forth endlessly with multiple points of view. An endless infatuation with the rinds from the tree of knowledge after the Fall. Imagine instead of Dora, Freud had The happy hooker on the couch prattling on endlessly about her life, problems, the vagaries of her profession…..
Humanists talked of pleasure and pain while Montaigne, deciphering himself, made a thousand discoveries about real pains and real pleasures: the interrelations between great wealth and toothaches, and between logic and gout; discoveries about the small sweetnesses of life that every man enjoyed but about which philosophy kept silent, as if reason itself were too haughty to recognize the small dignities and harmless vanities by which men actually lived.
By 1577 Montaigne was fully launched on his monstrous plan. Though he was worried about its reception, he was fully convinced of its inherent worth. “Each man is a good education to himself, provided he has the capacity to spy on himself from close up.” And spy Montaigne did, creating a collection of writings which he called essais, and publishing them in 1580. The collection was never static, and Montaigne added to them, and revised earlier versions of the essays, until his death in 1592. At least five editions appeared during his lifetime, and several more “definitive” editions have appeared since his death. Read More:http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/likefire/pocket-review-how-to-live-or-a-life-of-montaigne-in-one-question-and-twenty-attempts-at-an-answer-by-sarah-bakewell aa
That provision is, of course, the mysterious hitch in the plan. Even Montaigne, perhaps to his own surprise, found the enterprise difficult, as every one of his innumerable followers has since discovered for himself:Three hundred years before Freud, Michel de Montaigne embarked on “a thorny undertaking, and more so than it seems, to follow a movement so wandering as that of our mind, to penetrate the opaque depths of its innermost folds, to pick out and immobilize the innumerable flutterings that agitate it” He was successful to an astonishing degree. To be sure, Montaigne was no systematizer: “I, who cannot see beyond what I have learned from experience, without any system, present my ideas in a general way, and tentatively … I speak my meaning in disjointed parts, as something that cannot be said all at once and in a lump” Read More:http://www.pep-web.org/document.php?id=aop.003.0297a aaa
And Montaigne might have added, to sort out what he truly knew from what he had merely taken in. His celebrated skepticism was really a tool, a crane, for lifting from his mind the burden of book philosophy. Until his death in 1592 Montaigne continued to amplify his original collection of essays, adding new ones for the edition of 1588 and stuffing the old ones
fresh discoveries and illustrations. Penetrating the “opaque depths” of his own mind, he had discovered a richness there that no one had ever dreamed existed; it was an analysis of desires, needs, wants that modern marketing would salivate at this one man show of the focus group interview that endured for years, as Montaigne unchained the traditional training of “to borrow and beg.”
Perhaps “we are richer than we think” was Montaigne’s ultimate discovery. The ripe fruit of his “monstrous plan.” By some strange quirk or fatality in the human condition, the opaque depths remain for the rest of us virtually impenetrable. Kind of like consumerism, where this accumulation renders precious little in our quest of self-deciphering. Our riches, so to speak, are locked up in trust, although it is a pleasure and questionably harmless vanity to know, as Montaigne has taught us; in fact its the highest form of leisure on the status scale; that these “riches” are there even if out of reach. This line of thinking is echoed today. Robert Woodruff of Coca Cola defined the brand as “a coke within an arm’s reach of desire.”
Were Montaigne’s ramblings an empty sort of vanity? To that too, Montaigne had an answer: Well, what of it? for ” the most barbarous of our maladies is to hate and disdain our being.”
Rothbard:Michel de Montaigne made a notable and highly influential contribution to mercantilism – the strictly economic aspect of state absolutism – as well. Although he claimed that he knew nothing, on one thing he certainly asserted truth, his much vaunted skepticism suddenly vanishing: in what Ludwig von Mises was later to call the “Montaigne fallacy” he insisted, as in the title of his famous Essay Number 22, that “The Plight of One Man is the Benefit of Another.” There is the essence of mercantilist theory, in so far as mercantilism has a theory at all; in contrast to the fundamental truth well known to the scholastics that both parties benefit from an exchange, Montaigne opined that in a trade, one man can only benefit at the expense of another. By analogy, in international trade, one nation must benefit at the expense of another. The implication is that the market is a ravening jungle, so why should not a Frenchman urge the French state to grab as much from others as it can? Read More:http://mises.org/daily/4215
This can happen because the Essays has no great meaning, no point to make, no argument to advance. It does not have designs on you: you can do as you please with it. Montaigne lets his material pour out, and never worries if he has said one thing on one page and the opposite overleaf, or even in the next sentence. He could have taken as his motto Walt Whitman’s lines:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Every few phrases, a new way of looking at things occurs to him, so he changes direction. Even when his thoughts are most irrational and dreamlike, his writing follows them. Read More:http://www.nationalpost.com/news/examined+examined+life/4794382/story.html