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Unsettling Montaigne

Unsettling Montaigne: Poetics, Ethics and Affect in the Essais and Other Writings

Series: Gallica
Volume: 34
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Unsettling Montaigne
    Book Description:

    Montaigne's Essais (1580-1592) are one of the most remarkable works of the European Renaissance. The Essais' innovative open-mindedness is at odds with the dogmatism and intolerance of their times, the decades of civil and religious wars in France, and their tolerant and searching human questions and ethics of difference remain compelling for twenty-first century readers. But the sceptical open-endedness that vitalizes this writing is also often troubled and troubling: personal losses and the collapse of cultural ideals moved Montaigne to write, and their attendant anxieties are not resolved into tranquil reflection. Unsettling Montaigne reassesses Montaigne's scepticism. Informed by psychoanalytic and related theory, its close attention to Montaigne's complex uses of metaphor illuminates the psychic economy of his scepticism and tolerance and their poetics, while new readings ofhis Essais and other texts reveal the significance of disquieting questions, thought and affect for the ethos his writing fosters. The analysis deals with figures such as cannibals and cannibalism, hunger, shaking, tickling, place, the brother, and haunting in Montaigne's exploration of concepts which tested his understanding and self-understanding. The volume also demonstrates how figuration supports openness to difference for both writer and readers, and is fundamental to this writing's aesthetic, psychic and ethical creativity. Elizabeth Guild lectures in French at the University of Cambridge, and is a Fellow of Robinson College.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-245-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. viii-viii)
    (pp. ix-ix)
    (pp. x-xii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    ‘Je suis affamé de me faire connoistre … mais je crains mortellement d’estre pris en eschange par ceux à qui il arrive de connoistre mon nom’ (I am hunger-starved to make myself known … but I am mortally afraid of being mistaken by those who come to know my name).¹ These words capture something of the complexity, demands and cost of Montaigne’s desire to make himself known. The metaphor of appetite conveys the specific intensity of this desire; it simultaneously engages and unsettles the reader, signalling the kind of attention required by this communication. But desire rapidly gives way to...

  8. 1 The Possibility of Their Being Otherwise
    (pp. 11-39)

    Consider this short passage from an early chapter in the first book of theEssais:

    Feu mon pere, homme, pour n’estre aydé que de l’experience et du naturel, d’un jugement bien net, m’a dict autrefois qu’il avoit desiré mettre en train qu’il y eust és villes certain lieu designé, auquel ceux qui auroient besoin de quelque chose, se peussent rendre et faire enregistrer leur affaire à un officier estably pour cet effect, comme: Je cherche à vendre des perles, je cherche des perles à vendre. tel veut compagnie pour aller à Paris; tel s’enquiert d’un serviteur … qui cecy, qui...

  9. 2 ‘Je ne vois le tout de rien’: The Cannibal and the Place of Knowledge
    (pp. 40-72)

    Late in 1562 three aboriginal Brazilians who were visiting Rouen were invited to speak about what most struck them in their experience of France. They focused on three things, but Montaigne, who was present along with the king, Charles IX, and court, could apparently only remember two of them.¹ He had some further conversation with them, but his interpreter’s incompetence frustrated the exchange.

    Now to flesh out this rather spare account. The encounter, cited here, is represented towards the end of ‘Des cannibales’. In March that year over three decades of civil and religious wars in France began, with the...

  10. 3 Cannibal, Beloved: On Eating What is Good …
    (pp. 73-118)

    The inhumanity and injustice observed by the cannibal visitors to France, where the affluent were indifferent to the starvation surrounding them, were incomprehensible to them from the perspective of their own culture. They are also the antithesis of the ideal relationship between Montaigne and La Boétie memorialized in ‘De l’amitié’. In both cannibal culture and this ideal friendship-love, the other and the self are each other’s ‘moitié’: ‘nous estions à moitié de tout’ (in all things we were halves) (p. 193), and in both chapters highly charged forms of hunger for the other are at the heart of the relationships...

  11. 4 Confessions: The Desire for Knowledge, the Passion for Ignorance
    (pp. 119-151)

    ‘Sur des vers de Virgile’ courts danger: it speaks of what usually remained secret, unspoken, or might have been considered unspeakable. An ageing writer’s thoughts turn to his erotic life, and through glimpses of his reading of mildly seductive Latin poetry opens up reflections on marriage, love and sex. Then, through discussion of the pleasures of literary texts and of his own writing practice, he explores the relation between body and mind, other aspects of love, and what he has learned through his experience of love and desire. This is remembering, he says, as a cure, ‘remede’ (p. 842), for...

  12. 5 Tickling, Shaking, Shitting
    (pp. 152-202)

    This chapter explores the psychic economy of doubtful thinking and of the self and the self in the world, a self which is narcissistic, although as much a subject of doubt as everything else: Montaigne is ‘autant doubteux de moy que de toute autre chose’ (as doubtful of myself as of all other things) (p. 634). Doubt may be a condition and principle of thinking, both desirable and creative; it may also be troubling, hindering thinking; and, both troubling and creative, it may unsettle self-regard. At its most troubling in his text, ‘cette extremité de doubte qui se secoue soy-mesme’...

  13. 6 The Place of the Brother
    (pp. 203-241)

    In June 1580, having published the first two books of theEssais, Montaigne left his home for over a year, to travel, via Germany and Switzerland, around northern Italy.¹ His account, theJournal de voyage, records things and people seen in places visited, customs and beliefs, as well as considerable detail about his experience of different spas, and about the illness and pain that led him to try out the waters as potential sources of cure. It also conveys Montaigne’s curiosity about the other, such as courtesans, Jews, those thought to be possessed, or those required to convert.

    The direction...

  14. 7 Uncertain Futures
    (pp. 242-274)

    What is the relationship between Montaigne’s questions – not only the questions he explores but also his preference for inquiring rather than resolving or asserting – and the future, between his writing and its readers? Here I return to the themes and problems of my earlier chapters, to consider how questions – possibilities raised by new placings of things, new relationships between them (which we sometimes also call love) – like the effects of figuration in Montaigne’s writing, help build the text’s relationship with the future. Whether through play, seduction, surprise, disquiet or unsettling, what kinds of reading do his questions and reconfigurations engage?...

    (pp. 275-284)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 285-292)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 293-295)