The Essays Of Montaigne Quotidiana
But I do think that because the Montaignan essay allows itself qualities like digression and anecdote, in addition to its conversations with other writers, it encourages aspiring essayists to follow his lead, and to consider the ways he synthesized the many elements of essay writing all at once. He writes to us as friends, the dear in “dear reader” always hanging overhead, and the reason it might be easy for us to listen is because it's easy for him to speak.In Terence Cave's book How to Read Montaigne, for instance, Cave writes (about Montaigne's “To the Reader”) that “[a]s in letter writing, it presupposes a reader who is not some distant, impersonal figure, but something like a friend. And just as with the epistolary form, Montaigne frees himself via an avoidance of forethought: He essays (the verb form never forgotten) in fluid motion, the pen held close and inhibition held at bay.
To read Montaigne “in order to live,” and to watch him “the way he watched himself,” we initially approach him not as philosopher, essayist, or former politician, but as someone who allowed the totality of the meaning of his life experiences to flow through his pen—as a confrère in the duty of living.He tells us how he's saved—by nearby family and friends who rush to his aid after believing he might've been killed by the fall—before returning to Montaigne-as-essayist in his eighth paragraph with “this recollection, which is strongly implanted on my soul, showing me the face and idea of death so true to nature, reconciles me to it somewhat.” Montaigne's own wandering mind took him to a place of reflection in order to better make sense of the death-subject, and in many of our own essays today we can see what we've learned from Montaigne's writing moves in “Of practice”: 1) that essays, by their very own meditative nature, employ narratives without necessarily becoming them, 2) that a linear (and non-digressive) form is difficult to maintain if an essay is going to essay, and 3) that in order to write our “honest-to-God” essays we need to make meaning out of our narratives—because that's what essays are supposed to do.Otherwise, we might as well try our hands at short stories.We can begin, I think, with the qualities of the Montaignan essay, and what have since become the qualities of the personal essay.For the record, I don't believe the Montaignan essay is the best or only valid form of the essay, nor do I, for that matter, want to call Montaigne the “Father of the Essay” (a moniker I'm more likely to give to Plutarch or Cicero).Of course there are other writers whose work might find its way onto syllabi not just in creative writing classes but in courses in other disciplines—names that immediately come to my mind are Roland Barthes, Hélène Cixous, Susan Sontag, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Jacques Derrida—and these are writers who've adopted modes of writing often examined through kaleidoscopic lenses, looked at as if they take on different shapes and colors every time we readers make a turn.In the light of the kaleidoscope, Montaigne's own work is no less colorful.Or again, it may be expressed as a form of improvisation: 'essaying' can only be authentic when it avoids all premeditation and registers the random flow of thought.” Viewing Montaigne as a great letter-writer, as a belletrist at heart, might help us understand the position from which he essays, and, furthermore, how to essay ourselves. Conversely, Jane Kramer tells us in “Me, Myself, and I” that “[t]he best way to read Montaigne is to keep watching him, the way he watched himself, because the retired, reclusive, and pointedly cranky Michel de Montaigne is in many ways a fiction—a mind so absorbingly seated that by now it can easily pass for the totality of Montaigne's 'second' life.” And Sarah Bakewell, in the warmly-received How to Live, notes that “[a]s the novelist Gustave Flaubert advised a friend who was wondering how to approach Montaigne: Don't read him as children do, for amusement, nor as the ambitious do, to be instructed.No, read him in order to live.” It seems that when we read Montaigne, it isn't as if we merely read the text but that we read Montaigne himself.There were trails around the camp, littered with the waste left behind by nearby resident swans and ducks, or with manure from the horses people sometimes rode through the woods.Whenever I thought of the horses I couldn't help but also think of how close I was to Montaigne's home—how, if I'd been able to rent a car, I could drive away from camp and find the place where Montaigne himself liked to walk in fields of grass or ride his own horse on a fine summer day.