home | changes | index | login
KennethRexroth: Classics Revisited on Montaigne:
We think of Montaigne as the begetter of the English secular sensibility at its most acute, and we trace his influence on Shakespeare and Bacon and Locke; but we must not forget that his great popularity in seventeenth-century England also helped to form the peculiarly English tradition of sweet-tempered spirituality. Hooker, Browne, Jeremy Taylor, even William Law and the Quaker Barclay learned from Montaigne to respond with an amiability new to the Christian Church to the old questions that burned men alive — the older, and newer, answer that turns away wrath. When Barclay says when questioned about the sacrament of Holy Communion, “I do not think that I ever broke bread or drank wine without being conscious of Christ’s body broken and his blood shed for me,” he is returning an answer Montaignian in temper. It is this temper, forged in the most troubled period in European history before the twentieth century, that is Montaigne’s specific contribution to civilization, and it is the essence of civilization itself. In its own day it seemed utterly without influence, yet it made its way. Weariness stopped the Wars of Religion, but skeptical magnanimity healed their wounds. Who can be sure that it is, as it seems to be, ultimately failing in our own time?
There's an interesting textual convention applied to modern editions of the Essais, where passages are marked A, B, or C, according to the dates of their composition. It's something like a diff, except generally additive in nature - Montaigne appears primarily to have appended or inserted marginal text without making much in the way of deletions. Given that it was the late 1500s, I imagine this has a lot to do with the available methods of composing text and editing existing work, but it's surprisingly interesting element of the reading - a text with its own layered, time-shifted self-commentary. Granted that the added material wasn't necessarily intended to be presented as commentary, but then this also makes things interesting.
This has got me thinking a bit about the design of wikis and the presentation of an edited text. Could you design a similarly minimal convention for displaying the strata of any given electronic document, or would it quickly become noise?
In this connection, it might be interesting to look at the tools and methods of BiblicalCriticism and similar fields, where the display and analysis of variant & layered text has a fairly long history. EdwardTufte might have interesting things to say as well.
With reference to the Donald Frame translation.
If I can, I shall try to keep my death from saying anything that my life has not already said. (I:7, p. 20)
I put my trust easily in another man's word. But I should do so reluctantly whenever I would give the impression of acting from despair and want of courage rather than freely and through trust in his honesty. (I:5, p. 17)
I would rather be sorry for my fortune than ashamed of my victory (QuintusCurtius).
But the reverse of truth has a hundred thousand shapes and a limitless field... (I:9, p. 24)
This also happens to me: that I do not find myself in the place where I look; and I find myself more by chance encounter than by searching my judgment. (I:11, p. 27)
pick a name (required to comment or edit a page)
last edited March 18, 2008