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A Sceptical Style: Montaigne's Impressionism

Lecturer: Valery Vinogradovs

Originally Taught: Evening School Semester 1 2020

To claim an objective voice, many philosophers choose to leave their personalities on the margins of their work. This scholarly approach to doing philosophy does not imply, however, that placing a philosophical pesona at the centre of a work necessarily inhibits philosophical understanding, and the work's universal significance. On the contrary, the history of philosophy suggests that both approaches are valid. We just happen to live in an age where a more intimate approach to philosophising is left on the margins of the academy, and of the standard philosophy curriculum. What a shame!

This extensive course engages with Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), a grandiose Renaissance philosophical and literary phenomenon who is hard to classify. Montaigne's  Essays (1580-1595) is a revolt against the domineering pretensions of the Western culture, a revolt against the scholastic, lifeless manner of philosophising. Montaigne erects no philosophical system, while interrogating major and marginalised topics in philosophy and culture. His artistic and delicate manner of thinking and writing (known as "impressionism") has no precedent, and has inspired thinkers and artists across the world.

In the Essays, Montaigne draws from a plethora of authors as he questions the most fundamental beliefs about humanity. Thanks to his intellect, wit and imagination, Montaigne exposes all kinds of erroneous and harmful judgements, playfully entertains alternative views and curious observations, humbles and invites the reader to exercise the judgement of their own. In this way, Montaigne indeed deserves to be called "the first modern man", one who inculcates the significance of individuality as an integral part of the world. However, as we shall see, Montaigne is also a contemporary author: the world and the problems we discover in the Essays are those which we have to confront, too.

The course's structure is loose enough to accommodate Montaigne's impressionistic style: the freedom and wide scope of his reflections nonetheless reveal a rich individual, who deploys critical and creative writing to exercise his humanity. What is Montaigne's vision of humanity, as it is situated in the world? To respond to this overarching problem, three central ideas are explored during the course: scepticism, education, and culture wars. Each lecture will draw from Montaigne's Essays and the secondary literature:

Week 1: Cultural Context: the Renaissance

  • Durant, W (1953). The Renaissance. New York: Simon and Shuster

Week 2: Montaigne: the Modern Man

  • Desan, P (2017). Montaigne: a Life. Princeton: PUP
  • Zweig, S (1960). Montaigne. Frankfurt: Fischer

Week 3: Scepticism is Humanism: on Curiosity and Diversity

  • Hartle, A (2006). 'Montaigne and Scepticism'. In Cambridge Companion to Montaigne, ed. Ullrich Langer. Cambridge: CUP
  • Zalloa, Z (2016). 'Montaigne on Curiosity'.  In the Oxford Handbook of Montaigne, ed. Philippe Desan. Oxford: OUP

Week 4: Doing Philosophy: Reading, Writing, Teaching, Thinking, Imagining

  • Knop, D (2016). 'Montaigne on Rhetoric'. In the Oxford Handbook of Montaigne, ed. Philippe Desan. Oxford: OUP
  • Williams, W (2016). 'Montaigne on Imagination'.  In the Oxford Handbook of Montaigne, ed. Philippe Desan. Oxford: OUP
  • Mack, P (2016). 'Montaigne on Reading'.  In the Oxford Handbook of Montaigne, ed. Philippe Desan. Oxford: OUP

Week 5: Politics and Miracles

  • Thompson, D (2018). Montaigne and the Tolerance of Politics. Oxford: OUP
  • Fontana, B (2016). 'The political Thought of Montaigne'. In the Oxford Handbook of Montaigne, ed. Philippe Desan. Oxford: OUP
  • Langer, U (2006). 'Montaigne Political and Religious Context'. Cambridge Companion to Montaigne, ed. Ullrich Langer. Cambridge: CUP

Week 6: Friendship, Sexuality, Gender, Love

  • MacPhail, E (2016). 'Montaigne on Friendship'. In the Oxford Handbook of Montaigne, ed. Philippe Desan. Oxford: OUP
  • Zalloua, Z (2009). 'Theaorizing Sex and Gender in Montaigne'. In Montaigne After Theory/Theory After Montaigne. Washington: UWP
  • Guild, E (2016). 'Montaigne on Love'. In the Oxford Handbook of Montaigne, ed. Philippe Desan. Oxford: OUP

Week 7: Melancholy and Dying

  • Screech, M (1983). Montaigne & Melancholy - The Wisdom of the Essays. London: Duckworth
  • Skenazi, C (2016). 'Montaigne on Aging'. In the Oxford Handbook of Montaigne, ed. Philippe Desan. Oxford: OUP
  • Heitsch, D (2016). 'Montaigne on Health and Death'.  In the Oxford Handbook of Montaigne, ed. Philippe Desan. Oxford: OUP

Week 8: Violence, Monstrosity, and Savagery

  • Shklar, J (1984). Ordinary Vices. Cambridge: HUP
  • Nazarian, C (2016). 'Montaigne on Violence'.  In the Oxford Handbook of Montaigne, ed. Philippe Desan. Oxford: OUP
  • Long, K (2016). 'Montaigne on Mosters and Monstrosity'. In the Oxford Handbook of Montaigne, ed. Philippe Desan. Oxford: OUP

Week 9: Santient Creation and Compassion

  • Gontier, T (2016). 'Montaigne on Animals'.  In the Oxford Handbook of Montaigne, ed. Philippe Desan. Oxford: OUP
  • Gauna, M (2000). Montaigne and the Ethics of Compassion. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press.

Week 10: A Life Worth Living

  • Goyet, F (2006). 'Montaigne and the Notion of Prudence'. Cambridge Companion to Montaigne, ed. Ullrich Langer. Cambridge: CUP
  • Darryl, M (2012). 'The Pedagogy of Self-Fashioning'. Studies in Philosophy & Education vol 31: 387-405

Week 11: A New World: Nietzsche and Foucault

  • Miner, R (2017). Nietzsche and Montaigne. London: Palgrave Mcmillan
  • Zalloua, Z (2009). 'Confession or Parrhesia? Foucault after Montaigne'. In Montaigne After Theory/Theory After Montaigne. Washington: UWP

Week 12: Montaigne: the Contemporary Man

  • Hartle, A (2003). Michel de Montaigne: Accidental Philosopher. Cambridge: CUP
  • Schiffman, ZS (2016). 'Montaigne: Early Modern, Modern, Postmodern'. In the Oxford Handbook of Montaigne, ed. Philippe Desan. Oxford: OUP

 

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Evening School Semester 1 2020