Monday, July 11, 2011

ET Almanac

This rare combination of active strength and love of meditation made not only for balanced views but also for the kindliness of the strong, the Pantagruelist. It also guarantees the truthfulness of the self-revelations; in his circumstances, what had Montaigne to fear from "telling all"? And how conducive to sincerity for a writer not to have to sell books, worry about reviews, and keep the public favorable to his "image." [The book to read is the brief diary of Montaigne's travels, in which, among other surprises, the reader will find the account of a homosexual marriage in Rome.]

Critics in his day charged him with vanity for talking so much about himself and with triviality for paying attention to intimate and workaday details. Who cares, they said, whether when he is ill he is most comfortable on horseback? Ethecal opinion in our day, while recognizing his genius and originality, has been disconcerted to find a skeptic with strong convictions and a radical with with conservative leanings. It has failed to grasp the nature of the double mind---the ability to see both sides of the mountain at once. Thinkers of this type are few: Diderot, Walter Bagehot, William James, spring to mind as examples. They are not to be written off as undecided or vacillating. Their minsd are simply multilinear and perspectivist: when Montaigne was playing with his cat, he wondered whether the cat was not perhaps playing with him.

- Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence.

No comments:

Post a Comment