montaigne: sharing the fuzzy warbles

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…..

Auguste Racinet. ---Phillip Lopate:Montaigne regarded humanity as constantly in flux, vain, ashamed of itself, and contradictory. Rather than condemning people, however, he recommended a generous self-forgiveness. He preferred not to aim so high (there is little of the mystical, transcendent, or tragic in this author) but to steer a middle course. His thought evolved from an early expression of Stoicism (including the concern about dying well) to skepticism and eventually a brand of epicureanism (giving counsel on the art of living well). One of the most radical of Montaigne's practices was to follow his thoughts no matter where they led him. The result conveyed the spontaneity of mental discovery, on the one hand, and a heedless lack of structure, on the other. Read More: image:

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.

---"Death of Sardanapalus", c 1827 by Eugene Delacroix. It is 16th century France, and Christians are being slaughtered and persecuted, as the Roman Catholic church raises its head to fight the growing Reformation. John Calvin, now exiled in Switzerland, writes the King of France to challenge him to resist the cunning power of the Roman Catholic church.... Read More:

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: aa

Tapestry. France.16th century. ---This loss of clarity can be considered as an involution, which perhaps finds its most intense expression, as far as the French cultural field is concerned, in Huysmans, and in particular in his "Aurebours", in which the symbols are completely emptied, becoming superficial experiences of aesthetic and the senses... Read More: image:


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: aaa

Tarot. Based on Knights Templar 16th century France. Rothbard:Though a practicing Catholic, Montaigne was a thoroughgoing skeptic. Man can know nothing, his reason being insufficient to arrive either at a natural-law ethics or a firm theology. As Montaigne put it, "reason does nothing but go astray in everything, and especially when it meddles with divine things." And for a while, Montaigne adopted as his official motto the query, "What do I know?" If Montaigne knew nothing, he could scarcely know enough to advocate setting one's face against the burgeoning absolutist tyranny of his day. On the contrary, stoic resignation, a submission to the prevailing winds, became the required way of confronting the public world. Skinner sums up Montaigne's political counsel, as holding "that everyone has a duty to submit himself to the existing order of things, never resisting the prevailing government and where necessary enduring it with fortitude." Read More: image:


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 with fresh discoveries and illustrations. Penetra

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.”

Rothbard:Considering Montaigne's fundamental outlook, it is no wonder that he warmly embraced the Machiavellian concept of "reason of state." (May we say that he held the reason of man to be worthless, but the reason of state to be overriding?) Characteristically, while Montaigne writes that he personally likes to keep out of politics and diplomacy because he prefers to avoid lying and deceit, he also asserts the necessity of "lawful vice" in the operations of government. Deceit in a ruler may be necessary, and furthermore, such vices are positively needed "for sewing our society together,... Read More: image:

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.”

Viard reminds readers that such paintings as gabrielle.jpg“Gabrielle d’Estrées,” by an anonymous French artist of the sixteenth century, is on open display at the Louvre, including to minors. “Le ridicule ne tue pas” (“You can’t be killed by ridicule”) Read more :

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:

Sarah Bakewell:

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:

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