Montaigne’s Essays are rightfully studied as giving birth to the literary form of that name. Ann Hartle’s Montaigne and the Origins of Modern Philosophy argues that the essay is actually the perfect expression of Montaigne as what he called "a new figure: an unpremeditated and accidental philosopher." Unpremeditated philosophy is philosophy made sociable—brought down from the heavens to the street, where it might be engaged in by a wider audience. In the same philosophical act, Montaigne both transforms philosophy and invents "society," a distinctly modern form of association. Through this transformation, a new, modern character emerges: the individual, who is neither master nor slave and who possesses the new virtues of integrity and generosity. In Montaigne’s radically new philosophical project, Hartle finds intimations of both modern epistemology and modern political philosophy.
Montaigne in Motion
Jean Starobinski University of Chicago Press, 1985 Library of Congress PQ1643.S7413 1985 | Dewey Decimal 844.3
Educated in the humanities and trained in psychiatry, Jean Starobinski is a central figure in the Geneva School of criticism. His classic work, Montaigne in Motion, is a subtly conceived and elegantly written study of the Essais of Montaigne, whose deceptively plainspoken meditations have entranced readers and stimulated philosophers since their first publication in 1580 and 1595.
Here Starobinski offers a decidedly postmodern reading of Montaigne. In chapters dealing with the themes of public and private life, friendship, death, the body, and love, Starobinski reveals much that will remind us that Montaigne’s thought is as apropos to our time as it was to his own.
“The most important contribution to Montaigne studies since Friedrich’s work . . . . [It] will be the critical framework in which scholars will discuss Montaigne in the years to come.”—Choice
“Starobinski brings Montaigne to life by treating him as our contemporary and asking him modern questions.”—Hudson Review
Montaigne’s Essays are treasured for their philosophical and moral insights and the fascinating portrait they give us of the man who wrote them, but another of their undoubted delights is that they tantalize the reader, offering beneath an apparent disorder some hints of a hidden plan. After all, though the essayist kept adding new pages, except when he added the third and final book he never added a new chapter, but worked within the structure already in place.
Order in Disorder: Intratextual Symmetry in Montaigne’s “Essais,” by Randolph Paul Runyon, offers a new answer to the question of how ordered the Essays may be. Following up on Montaigne’s likening them to a painter’s “grotesques” surrounding a central image, and seeing in this an allusion to the ancient Roman decorative style, rediscovered in the Renaissance, of symmetrical motifs on either side of a central image, Runyon uncovers an extensive network of symmetrical verbal echoes linking every chapter with another. Often two chapters of greatly different length and apparent importance (one on thumbs, for instance, balanced against one on the limits of human understanding) will in this way be brought together—not without, Runyon finds, an intended irony. The Essays emerge as even more self-reflexive than we thought, an amazingly intratextual work.
In 1345, when Petrarch recovered a lost collection of letters from Cicero to his best friend Atticus, he discovered an intimate Cicero, a man very different from either the well-known orator of the Roman forum or the measured spokesman for the ancient schools of philosophy. It was Petrarch’s encounter with this previously unknown Cicero and his letters that Kathy Eden argues fundamentally changed the way Europeans from the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries were expected to read and write.
The Renaissance Rediscovery of Intimacy explores the way ancient epistolary theory and practice were understood and imitated in the European Renaissance.Eden draws chiefly upon Aristotle, Cicero, and Seneca—but also upon Plato, Demetrius, Quintilian, and many others—to show how the classical genre of the “familiar” letter emerged centuries later in the intimate styles of Petrarch, Erasmus, and Montaigne. Along the way, she reveals how the complex concept of intimacy in the Renaissance—leveraging the legal, affective, and stylistic dimensions of its prehistory in antiquity—pervades the literary production and reception of the period and sets the course for much that is modern in the literature of subsequent centuries. Eden’s important study will interest students and scholars in a number of areas, including classical, Renaissance, and early modern studies; comparative literature; and the history of reading, rhetoric, and writing.
Traditional approaches to understanding sublimity and skepticism have often asserted the primacy and importance of one concept over the other. However, in Sublimity and Skepticism in Montaigne and Milton, David L. Sedley argues that literary and philosophical notions of skepticism and sublimity simultaneously developed and influenced one another. By exposing the twin origins of skepticism and sublimity, Sedley contributes to ongoing discussions of the origins of modernity and genealogies of modern habits of criticism.
Sedley uses the juxtaposition of Montaigne and Milton to argue that two seminal early modern phenomena, the rise of the sublime as an aesthetic category and the emergence of skepticism as a philosophical problem, are interrelated. The comparison of these two Renaissance writers highlights the traditions that have canonized them and also complicates the canonical views: Sedley's perspective reveals how Montaigne cultivated his famous skepticism in order to produce sublimity, while Milton forged his renowned sublimity through his encounter with skepticism. Sedley's first argument is that sublimity motivated skepticism: the sense that a force existed outside the aesthetic categories conventional in the Renaissance drove authors into a skeptical frame of mind. His second argument is that skepticism created sublimity: the skeptical mind-set offered alternative resources of aesthetic power and enabled authors to fashion a sublime style. These claims revise standard views of skepticism and sublimity, suggesting a mandate for an enriched aesthetics behind late-Renaissance loss of belief and exposing the Renaissance impulse behind modern notions of sublimity.
"Sedley's work takes seriously our ongoing engagement with doubt. It is a brisk and brilliant guide to the disparate pathways through which early modern skepticism made its way to the sublime."
-Eileen Reeves, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature, Princeton University
"Sublimity and Skepticism in Montaigne and Milton is a powerful piece of revisionist intellectual history. By demonstrating the close links between the rise of skepticism and the power of the sublime, Sedley offers a welcome antidote to the heavily ideological tenor of much recent cultural studies. With clarity and elegance Sedley shows that two of the greatest writers of the late Renaissance, Montaigne and Milton, are haunted by a crisis of authority, which is accompanied by the irruption of the sublime, by an inchoate sense of being overwhelmed by the phenomenal world. Through deft and intelligent readings Sedley shows how key moments in the works of these two great authors are structured by the intersection of the sublime and the skeptical. This book should be of great interest to literary scholars, aestheticians, and intellectual historians working in several languages. It is a very fine piece of work."
-Tim Hampton, Professor of French, UC Berkeley
"A refreshingly modern and elegant understanding of Montaigne and Milton as inaugurating the sublime possibilities of the fragmentary and incomprehensible. Sedley reinserts these writers into a history of the transformation of admiration into awe, and makes us revisit the beginnings and the justifications of our own esthetics of the sublime."
-Ullrich Langer, Professor of French and Italian, University of Wisconsin