Thursday, October 18, 2012

How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne...

How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer My book group read How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer in September.  That's a mouthful.  These convoluted titles seem to be a trend lately.  Don't let that stop you from checking out this book. Almost all of the book groupees loved this book, though some were hesitant to begin.

This was one of my subversive picks.  Since I am the one who tallies the votes for our year's picks, I get to target my votes.  I made sure this one made the cut.  I needed to have a reason to read this book, and sometimes, no matter how much I want to read a book, I won't get around to it unless duty I made sure duty called. Several of my co-conspirators in book group facilitation do the same thing.  And as I suspected, I loved it.  And I fell in love with Montaigne.  As I said in the book group, I am so jealous that I never get to meet Montaigne, that I can't travel back to his time.

This book also made me feel like I could begin blogging again.  How to live?  That is indeed the question of my life, right next to 'What does this mean, to be alive?'  Along with getting a taste of Montaigne and a peek at his life, we get the view of Montaigne down through history.  Individuals brought him forward into their age and found their own reflections in his essays.  There are the Stoics and the Romantics...everybody finds something in Montaigne. Pascal and Descartes hated him (as he anticipated and decimated their arguments).  Regarding thes two, some of what Sarah Bakewell says is this:

Descartes cannot truly exchange a glance with an animal. Montaigne can, and does. In one famous passage, he mused: “When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me?” And he added in another version of the text: “We entertain each other with reciprocal monkey tricks. If I have my time to begin or to refuse, so has she hers.” He borrows his cat’s point of view in relation to him just as readily as he occupies his own in relation to her.
This comfortable acceptance of life as it is, and of one’s own self as it is, drove Pascal to a greater fury than Pyrrhonian Skepticism itself. The two go together. Montaigne places everything in doubt, but then he deliberately reaffirms everything that is familiar, uncertain, and ordinary—for that is all we have. His Skepticism makes him celebrate imperfection: the very thing Pascal, as much as Descartes, wanted to escape but never could.

Montaigne was the first to write the essay, and now, in this world of personal blogs, we live his legacy.  He wrote like we do, in stream of consciousness, about anything he encountered and pondered in his life.  Unlike blogging, where we may never revisit our blatherings, Montaigne goes back, and inserts new thoughts into old essays, often, according to Bakewell, not bothering to make his difference in age make sense.  Some editions of Montaigne indicate different timelines with A, B, and C.  Of course, we do link back to our past lives in essays.

Montaigne is a man of my own heart.  He resolved to pay attention, and did so in his essays.  Of all the vows I have made through the years, this is my top pick.  I trust in paying attention.  All the while I was not blogging, at least I was paying attention.  Whatever I noticed may have slipped through the sieve of my brain...sometimes if writing is anything it is to catch the sand of thoughts before the grains slip through the holes...but I was waiting with my attention for something to give me a reason for my frozen state.

I hoped this book could inspire people to read Montaigne.  It certainly did me, and I hope to read Montaigne and find my reflection in him, as so many others have before me.  I've tried a slow read of hefty non-fiction tomes before.  I fizzled out with A People's History.  So, I only say, "I hope."  I only know my way in to blogging feels kinda broken, and perhaps I need a mentor of sorts, like Montaigne.  It won't just be a reading of a text, but it will be the query, "How to live?"  As I've mentioned, I don't seem to be able to stick to a plan unless I have an externally imposed deadline, so I'm making no plan.  Maybe I'll visit Montaigne once a week and reflect...maybe once a month, but I do know I look forward to meeting his mind.

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