Distribution Automatique

Wednesday, November 12

Excellent article in the London Review of Books
this week (6 November 2003 issue) by
Colin Burrow: "Montaigne's Tower."
Burrow is reviewing a book on
Montaigne by Anne Hartle titled:
*Michel de Montaigne: Accidental
Philospher*. Burrow tells us that
Montaigne retired, due to depression,
at the age of 38 and began what was
essentially a journal. He surrounded himself
with Greek and Latin aphorisms and kept
on writing. Burrow's main point is that
philosophers could learn a lot from
literary writers, including Montaigne.
Though he agrees that there are
basically two kinds of philsophers:
"stove people think that you
can strip everything away and rebuild
reality from precepts; tower people
reckon that writing about and exploring
or refining beliefs is the best you can
do." Burrow tells us that Hartle sees
Montaigne as an "Oakshottian sceptic,
who believes philosophy should be
conducted as a conversation that
clarifies what is already known..."

In discussing Hartle's book, Colin
Burrow makes a point I liked very
much. In saying that he feels that
Montaigne is definitely not a
philosopher, he makes the point that
"...This does not mean, however that
the *Essays* should be regarded simply
as autobiographical writing. They
are much more than either philosophy
or autobiography, and should be thought
of as belonging to a form of discourse
which is more or less unnameable
(unless one names it the essay), in
which what is said is much less
significant than the process by which
it is said, and in which the movement
of the mind matters more than the
propositions that are advanced. Montaigne's
thought processes and his shifting
attitudes to his sources...are what the
*Essays* are...you build as you read a sense
of the habits of mind underlying the
associative trails..." Then Burrow quotes
Montaigne: "Every day I spend time reading
my authors, not caring about their learning,
looking not for their subject matter, but how
they handle it."

Burrow says of Montaigne:
"He is interested not in
precepts but in what he calls the representation
of *passage*, which might be rather brutally
translated as the exploration of writerly
consciousness as it unfolds, minute by
minute, hour by hour."

Burrow's point in this article about Montaigne
could be seen as identifying Montaigne as
one of the Ur-bloggers.