When I play with my cat: Montaigne’s Essays

The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, admirably introduced here by Guest Professor Sufjan Stevens, are some of my favorite reading, too.

A love that bites and scratches… — apt words for Sufjan’s own, who meant at first to write stories

Because they are about Montaigne and his attempts (essais) to know himself, holding nothing back of all he has ever thought or wondered about, they end up being about everything. The Essays, addressed to a “goal… private and domestic” and “dedicated to the private convenience of my relatives and friends,” speak to everyone and to every possible topic (To the Reader). Usually they wander far afield from what their titles purport to discuss. Prof Suf, understandably, thinks there is one called “On Socrates,” because he often makes an appearance, though he is never the actual topic. Frequently they contradict themselves and end inconclusively, brimming with ideas in tension with one another, much in the fashion of a Platonic dialogue and in line, indeed, with the time of wars of religion in which Montaigne lived and wrote. Individual sentences branch organically, in the same way striving to embrace more and more with each subsequent revision. Paragraphs are blocked off and marbled with quotations from the extensive library that kept Montaigne company in his retirement, including from those books he had inherited from his friend La Boetie, and from those mottos he had inscribed in the rafters of his tower room, overlooking the seignorial estate.

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