Thursday, February 21, 2019

Michel de Montaigne, my new hero

OMG could she be more boring? I apologize, dear bloggees, for the tedium of paint colours. I did get a bit obsessive there for awhile. The firstest of first world problems. Onward.

In the midst of my "wind's breath" trauma, I've been reading (skimming a bit, I confess) two library books that need to go back today: Sarah Bakewell's How to Live: or a life of Montaigne, which is wonderfully dense, and Patricia Hampl's The Art of the Wasted Day, which also deals, partially, with Montaigne. Grief-stricken after the death of her husband, Hampl wanders in the book a bit too much but ends up in France, visiting Montaigne's tower near Bordeaux, where he retired in 1571 to write his Essais - the essays that, 450 years ago, began the art of autobiographical non-fiction.

Now it's on my list, to go to Montaigne's tower. To pay homage to the man who fired up the love of essays. Here's how Sarah introduces him:

This idea – writing about oneself to create a mirror in which other people recognize their own humanity – has not existed for ever. It had to be invented. And, unlike many other cultural inventions, it can be traced to a single person: Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, a nobleman, government official and wine-grower who lived in the Perigord area of south-western France from 1533 to 1592.

He wrote 107 essays: Of Friendship; Of Cannibals: Of the Custom of Wearing Clothes; Of Names; Of Cruelty; Of Thumbs; Of Experience … They rarely offer to explain or teach anything. Montaigne presents himself as someone who jotted down whatever was going through his head when he picked up his pen, capturing encounters and states of mind as they happened. He used these experiences as the basis for asking himself questions, above all the big question that fascinated him… How to live?

How to live, indeed.

And here's Hampl: The great contract of literature consists in this: you tell me your story and somehow I get my story. If we are looking for another reason to explain the strangely powerful grip of the first-person voice on contemporary writing, perhaps we need look no further than the power of Anne Frank's equation: that to write one's life enables the world to preserve and, more, to comprehend its history.

Now I need to read Montaigne's essays myself. And especially to write a few; my work has been interrupted by reno trauma. Perhaps that's what I'll write about: Of Paint Chips.


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