Monday Morning Montaigne: Of glory

At my college graduation, a girl with whom I’d had a fling gave me a hug and then whispered to me, “You’re the most nauseating prick I’ve ever met.” I told her, “Hey! It’s a superlative! I’ll take it!”

Which brings us to Of glory (pp. 568-81). The opening of this one has a tone much different than that of the other essays:

There is the name and the thing. The name is a sound which designates and signifies the thing; the name is not part of the thing or of the substance, it is an extraneous piece attached to the thing, and outside of it.

God, who is himself all fullness and the acme of all perfection, cannot grow and increase within; but his name may grow and increase by the blessing and praise we give to his external works.

On the strength of that, I feared we were heading back into Sebond territory, filled with condemnations of man. While M. does lambaste man’s desire for glory, he doesn’t directly, repeatedly and explicitly contrast this with the nature of God, beyond that opening passage. “Theology treats this subject amply and more pertinently, but I am hardly versed in it,” he tells us.

So what does he make of glory? Well, it’s a mug’s game, but everyone falls for it. M. points out that even Epicurus, whose maxim was, “Conceal your life,” betrayed himself in his final letter by reveling in his learning and requesting all manner of posthumous celebrations.

In his arguments, M. intertwines glory and virtue, with the goal of undercutting glory. To do this, he needs to show how virtue is greater than glory, because it’s not public. Glory is, by its definition, public opinion, so it creates the perverse incentive of not performing a worthy act if it’s not going to be witnessed/talked about by the public. Virtue, on the other hand is “the testimony of our conscience,” and connects us to God, rather than to the people.

Further, glory depends on chance and opportunity. Just as RBI leaders need runners on base ahead of them, storied figures from history need the right circumstances to achieve their renown. That doesn’t stop sportswriters from overrating RBI leaders and voting them up as MVPs.

And sometimes, M. points out, even if the right circumstances arise, there’s no one to record the honor:

The fortunes of more than half the world, for lack of a record, do not stir from their place, and vanish without duration. If I had in my possession all the unknown events, I should think I could very easily supplant those that are known, in every kind of examples.

Why, even of the Romans and the Greeks, amid so many writers and witnesses of so many rare and noble exploits, how few have come down as far as our time!

Like I said, it’s a mug’s game. At the conclusion of the essay, he admits that there’s a certain utility to public glory: inspiring the people to virtue: “Since men, because of their inadequacy, cannot be sufficiently paid with good money, let false be employed, too.”

So what to make of the fact that M. is exploring the accidents and hollowness of glory, but I’m reading his words more than 400 years later? Surely that’s a form of glory, not merely his private virtue. Near the conclusion he writes:

It might perhaps be excusable for a painter or another artisan, or even for a rhetorician or a grammarian, to toil to acquire a name by his works; but the actions of virtue are too noble in themselves to seek any other reward than from their own worth, and especially to seek it in the vanity of human judgments.

I have no answer, but it put me in mind of another of this weekend’s readings: an interview with Carol Alt about glamour, fashion and celebrity.

I found this week’s essay fascinating, in part because M. admits that he’s treading over old terrain, but his view has deepened. In Of names, he writes about the temporariness of reputation and the ways in which we invest too much in the honor of our titles. Check out my writeup of that one, and you’ll see how the essays actually do show some progression of M.’s thought. Where the earlier essay barely discusses God or heaven, this one uses them at its very foundation.

But even with this evolution toward religion, M. manages to embed a paragraph in the middle of Of glory that could have come from his earlier, more freewheeling phase:

All the glory that I aspire to in my life is to have lived it tranquilly — tranquilly not according to Metrodorus or Arcesilaus or Aristippus, but according to me. Since philosophy has not been able to find a way to tranquility that is suitable to all, let everyone seek it individually.

And on that sentiment, I may as well call it a week.

* * *

Bonus writeups!

How our mind hinders itself (pp. 562-3): No two things are equal, even if we think they are. There’s always some difference, and that’s why we choose one thing (the bottle) instead of another (ham).

That our desire is increased by difficulty (pp. 563-8): Nothing groundbreaking; we want what we can’t have. Also, M. didn’t lock up his door for decades, but no one ever tried to break in, even during a civil war. One of my neighbors has a video-camera and an electric eye set up at the top of his driveway, so I wonder what he has to hide.

Monday Morning Montaigne: Of judging the death of others

Our first post-Apology essay from Montaigne is Of judging the death of others (pp. 556-62): not exactly a pleasant change of pace after the sermonizing of the Apology, but at least it was brief, and I was in need of a break.

M. starts this one out by referring to dying as “without doubt the most noteworthy action of human life,” but almost immediately manages to undercut the notion that most people die with dignity. In fact, he points out, most people refuse to believe they must die, figuring that the heavens will part to save them and only them: “And this comes about because we set too much importance on ourselves. It seems that the universe somehow suffers by our annihilation and that it has compassion for our state.”

Correcting our belief that our death only occurs after “solemn consultation of the stars,” M. he quotes Pliny: “There is no such association between us and the heavens that at our death the splendor of the stars should also die.”

So don’t get carried away with yourself. And if you have all sorts of wisdom and learning to share, write a book. Or have kids and raise them right.

M. moves from everyman’s denial of death to examples of suicides in history. How better to explore the judgment of death than to examine people who chose it over living? He contends that it takes a strong heart to resolve on suicide.

For color, he gives us the example of Heliogabalus, a Roman emperor whom I first read about in a mini-comic by Neil Gaiman. Sez M.:

[T]he most effeminate man in the world, Heliogabalus, amid his laxest sensualities, indeed made plans to kill himself delicately when the occasion should fore him to. And so that his death should not belie the rest of his life, he expressly had a sumptuous tower built, the base and front of which were floored with planks enriched with gold and precious stones, to throw himself from; and he also had cords of gold and crimson silk made for strangling himself, and a gold sword forged for running himself through; and he kept venom in emerald and topaz vessels for poisoning himself, according as the whim should seize him to choose from all these ways of dying: “By a forced valor resolute and brave.” (Lucan) Yet as for him, the luxuriousness of his preparations makes it more likely that he would have had a nosebleed from fear if he had been put to the test.

Gaiman writes that H. ended up assassinated by his troops and dumped in a latrine.

M.’s first set of suicides are martial captors, those who chose to off themselves rather than get tortured by their enemies. Of those, he seems to have more respect for those who failed at first attempt and chose, despite their pain, to redouble their efforts and finish the job.

After these wartime suicides, he writes about the gravely ill who either choose to forego treatment or who recover but decide, having tasted death, to embrace it. M. privileges those who take the time to think about their choice of death.

His epitome of a stout death seems to be Cato’s. Unwilling to live under Caesar, he tried to stab himself, but his wounded hand made the attempt fail. His aides bandaged him up, but he went on to rip off the bandages and then disembowel himself by hand. M. writes, “If it had been up to me to portray him in his proudest posture, this would have been all bloody, tearing out his own bowels, rather than sword in hand, as did the statuaries of his time. For this second murder was much more savage than the first.”

Frankly, I’m not sure how the Christian Montaigne of the previous 180 pages jibes with this Roman celebration of self-destruction, but it does make for more entertaining reading than the Apology, that’s for sure.

At the center of the essay, M. quotes a line from Epicharmus that I think sums up the whole piece: “It is not death, but dying, that I fear.” For these non-Christian historical figures, the best they can do is choose their time and manner of death, and face it bravely.

But that quote sent me back to one of the saddest days of my life, when my next-door neighbor / “second father” passed away in 2001. He had a heart attack, wouldn’t let his wife call an ambulance or their children, and died. That morning, standing in the yard where we spent our childhoods at play, his oldest son said those same words to me about his father. He said that his dad, after watching the lingering deaths of his own father and a brother, didn’t want to go through the hospitalizations, the sufferings and, most critically, the imposition upon the lives of those around him.

He let go. The stars didn’t weep, but his goodness propagates in his children and us.

Monday Morning Montaigne: An Apology for Raymond Sebond, Take 4

As promised, it’s the final part of my writeup on the Apology for Raymond Sebond (have fun with parts 1, 2, and 3 and you’ll see why I gave up on this project for a full year)! After this, it’s back to shorter, less preachy (I hope) essays! But this week you get — as per translator Donald Frame’s section titles — Man can have no knowledge (510-539), The senses are inadequate (539-553), Changing man cannot know changing things (553), Changing man cannot know unchanging God (553-556), and Conclusion: Man is nothing without God (556).

In last week’s apology for not having a writeup on the Apology, I mentioned that Montaigne loosened up in the last portion of this 180-page work. By that, I mean that he got back — at times — to the personal aspect of the “personal essay” for which he’s famous. Rather than preach in universal tones, he explored points through his own experiences. This technique, even when describing only abstractions, manages to bring M. down to earth and give some sense of his own journey. Which, of course, I correlate to mine:

I who spy on myself more closely, who have my eyes unceasingly intent on myself, as one who has not much business elsewhere . . . I would hardly dare tell of the vanity and weakness that I find in myself. My footing is so unsteady and so insecure, that on an empty stomach I feel myself another man than after a meal. . . . Now I am ready to do anything, now to do nothing; what is a pleasure to me at this moment will some time be a trouble. A thousand unconsidered and accidental impulses arise in me.

I prefer to quote Bitter Sweet Symphony by the Verve, but we all work with the tools we have at hand.

When I pick up books, I will have perceived in such-and-such a passage surpassing charms which will have struck my soul; let me come upon it another time, in vain I turn it over and over, in vain I twist it and manipulate it, to me it is a shapeless and unrecognizable mass.

I hearya. Somewhere in The Long Goodbye, I once read a passage that captured Chandler’s lyric vision of Los Angeles for me. Re-reading it a year or two later, I was flummoxed. I’ve just now gone back to the book, 16 years later; I’ll let you know if I find it this time.

Even in my own writings I do not always find again the sense of my first thought; I do not know what I meant to say, and often I get burned by correcting and putting in a new meaning, because I have lost the first one, which was better.

No comment.

As I mentioned last week, this segment also sees the return of fart jokes and jerkoff humor. But before getting to the good stuff, I feel like I should boil down the substance of this culmination of the Apology:

  1. Man is the measure of nothing, because neither his senses nor his reason can be trusted.
  2. Man cannot know anything, in himself.
  3. We need to find the world in God and hope that God bestows a “divine and miraculous metamorphosis” upon us.

And now, the Mel Brooks Segment!

Throughout the Apology, M. attacks various schools of philosophy, focusing on the Stoics. His commentary on the relativism of customs from place to place — how one place’s law is another’s crime — leads into an assault on how these philosophers employ reason to justify virtually any action. From there, he explains how the Stoics blurred lines between virtue and vice and tossed propriety out the window:

Metrocles rather indiscreetly let a fart while debating in the presence of his school, and was staying in his house, hiding for shame, until Crates went to visit him and, adding to his consolations and reasons the example of his own freedom, started a farting contest with him, by which he rid him of this scruple, and furthermore drew him over to his own freer Stoical school from the more polite Peripatetic school of which he had hitherto been a follower.

I’m not sure if I’d gravitate to a school like that, but I still laugh over the great campfire scene from Blazing Saddles, so who am I to talk?

A page after Metrocles’ story, M. turns to the Cynics’ lack of shame about sex. He contends that Augustine was too naive when the saint remarked that the Cynics were all talk when it came to sex in public, and that surely they were

merely representing lascivious movements, in order to maintain the shamelessness that hteir school professed; and that in order to eject what shame had restrained and withheld, they still needed later on to seek cover. He had no seen far enough into their debauchery. For Diogenes, practicing masturbation in public, expressed the wish in the presence of the bystanders that he could satisfy his stomach that way by rubbing it. To those who asked him why he did not seek a more comfortable place to eat than right out in the street, he answered: “Because I am hungry right out in the street.”

Never let it be said that the classics are boring. (And ignore the fact that M. does just that four paragraphs from the conclusion of the Apology, when he describes it all as a “long and boring discourse.”)

Thanks for sticking with this one. I hope the essays take a turn back to the fun, even though the next one is called, Of judging the death of others. . .

Monday Morning Montaigne: An Apology for Raymond Sebond, Take 3

I made it through the longest portion of the Apology, dear readers! And while it was as depressing and sermonistically strident as the preceding 60 pages, some light popped up at the end of the tunnel!

This segment of the Apology — go back to previous installments of this series (1 and 2) for the background on this part of Montaigne’s essays — is titled by our translator as Man has no knowledge (pages 449-508 in this edition) and examines the failures and inconsistencies of philosophy to explain, um, anything. M. focuses on the Greeks, which makes given the state of philosophy at the time he was writing. He breaks out three schools of “wise men,” since his project is to show that the learning of man is worthless. Or, as he puts it:

To really learned men has happened what happens to ears of wheat: they rise high and lofty, heads erect and proud, as long as they are empty; but when they are full and swollen with grain in their ripeness, they begin to grow humble and lower their horns. Similarly, men who have tried everything and sounded everything, having found in that pile of knowledge and store of so many various things nothing solid and firm, and nothing but vanity, have renounced their presumption and recognized their natural condition.

Back to the three schools. We have:

  1. “Peripatetics, Epicureans and Stoics . . . [who] established the sciences we have, and treated them as certain knowledge,
  2. “the Academics . . . [who] despaired of their quest and judged that truth could not be conceived by our powers,
  3. “[Pyrrhonians and] Skeptics . . . [who] say that they are still in search of the truth . . . [and] judge that those who think they have found it are infinitely mistaken.”

M. starts out by denying skeptics their skepticism, concluding that their radical doubt is too aware of itself to truly be doubt. He also contends that their doubt is purely for argument: “They use their reason to inquire and debate, but not to conclude and choose.” To M., the doubts of the skeptics are about the branches, and not the root.

Throughout the section, the core of his argument remains that the nature of the infinite is so far beyond our senses that our reason can’t hope to grasp it. It’s only our faith that brings us close, while reason’s presumption separates us from that higher self: “All that we undertake without his assistance, all that we see without the lamp of his grace, is only vanity and folly.”

M. contends that, if forced to bestow a material body on the divine, he would have worshiped the sun, since “[besides] its grandeur and beauty, it is the part of this machine that we find farthest from us, and therefore so little known that [its ancient worshipers] were to be pardoned for regarding it with wonder and reverence.” He later remarks that it’s such folly to personify the diving that he’d prefer to worship a god patterned after a serpent, dog, or ox.

This point follows an entertaining segment where M. lists no fewer than 25 philosophers and each one’s view on God and the divine (some of which have multiple views on such). The point, of course, is that these were the greatest minds of their time, and they couldn’t settle on an idea of the divine.

From there, he lambastes them for coming no closer to an understanding of man. If anything, he opines, shouldn’t we have knowledge of ourselves?

It’s a long and exhausting chapter, especially when M. turns his attention to Aristotle. I was inclined to think he wrote that section in a particularly boring style to mimic Aristotle’s notes, but that may’ve just been my own wandering attention. By the time I reached its conclusion, I wondered why he needed to go on at such length, to dismiss so many targets, unless his commission was paying by the word.

* * *

I found myself greatly relieved at the conclusion, not only because It’s Finally Over, but also because it leads into a two-page passage that the translator titles Warning to the Princess (the Apology being written for Princess Margaret of Valois). In this brief segment, it’s as if the mask falls from M. He admits that the Apology is “so long a work contrary to my custom” and proceeds to distill his message:

People are right to give the tightest possible barriers to the human mind. In study, as in everything else, its steps must be counted and regulated for it; the limits of the chase must be artificially determined for it. They bridle and bind it with religions, laws, customs, science, precepts, mortal and immortal punishments and rewards; and still we see that by its whirling and its incohesiveness it escapes all these bonds. It is an empty body, with nothing by which it can be seized and directed; a varying and formless body, which can be neither tied nor grasped.

Indeed there are few souls so orderly, so strong and wellborn, that they can be trusted with their own guidance, and that can sail with moderation and without temerity, in the freedom of their judgments, beyond the common opinions. It is more expedient to place them in tutelage.

The mind is a dangerous blade, even to its possessor, for anyone who does not know how to wield it with order and discretion.

It’s not a sentiment I necessarily agree with, but I’m happy that M. is able to cut it down to a few paragraphs this way. Still, there are another 46 pages ahead comprising five more sections, so I’m afraid it’ll be another week before I can build up some enthusiasm for this project.

Monday Morning Montaigne: An Apology for Raymond Sebond, Take 2

Wow. This Apology for Raymond Sebond continues to flummox me. Last week, I wrote about the nature of the Apology and “covered” pages 387-435 of the Everyman’s translation of the essays. This week, I only managed to read another 50 pages, since I was busy with work and a much more entertaining book called When Genius Failed.

So this week’s Monday Morning Montaigne stays in the Apology, and covers the sections that translator Donald Frame calls Man’s knowledge cannot make him happy (435-446) and Man’s knowledge cannot make him good (446-449). I have about 20 pages left in Man has no knowledge (449-508), but it’s a rough slog. The bulk of that section consists of refutations of various schools of philosophy, particularly pre-christian ones, as a way of showing the futility of man’s pursuit of knowledge. With a tease like that, you’re sure to come back for more next Monday!

Man’s knowledge cannot make him happy:

[W]e have as our share inconstancy, irresolution, uncertainty, grief, superstition, worry over things to come, even after our life, ambition, avarice, jealousy, envy, unruly, frantic, and untamable appetites, war, falsehood, disloyalty, detraction, and curiosity. Indeed we have strangely overpaid for this fine reason that we glory in, and this capacity to judge and know, if we have bought it at the price of this infinite number of passions to which we are incessantly a prey.

See, instead of reason, M. contends that humility and obedience to God should be our highest values: “From obeying and yielding spring all other virtues, as from presumption all sin. . . . Do you want a man to be healthy, do you want him disciplined and firmly and securely poised? Wrap him in darkness, indleness, and dullness. We must become like animals in order to become wise, and be blinded in order to be guided.”

M. cavils a bit by letting us know that there’s a place for knowledge and some feeling — “he who would eradicate the knowledge of evil would at the same time extirpate the knowledge of pleasure, and in fine would annihilate man” — but he still contends that philosophy, reason, memory and the like are delusions. The good life, he says, seems to derive from ignorance-become-innocence. I’m just lost.

Man’s knowledge cannot make him good:

Christians have a particular knowledge of the extent to which curiosity is a natural and original evil in man. The urge to increase in wisdom and knowledge was the first downfall of the human race; it was the way by which man hurled himself into eternal damnation. Pride is his ruin and his corruption; it is pride that casts man aside from the common ways, that makes him embrace novelties and perfer to be the leader of an erring troop that has strayed into the path of perdition, perfer to be a teacher and tutor of error and falsehood, rather than to be a disciple in the school of truth, led and guided by another’s hand, on the straight and beaten path.

Got that? Curiosity is an evil. I’m finding it awfully difficult to reconcile these passages with the writer who so deftly explored his own character and aspects of man’s nature throughout the preceding essays. Further, wisdom — by which M. means the choice between good and evil — has no relation to God: “What has he to do with reason and intelligence, which we use to arrive at apparent things from things obscure, seeing that there is nothing obscure to God?” And since evil cannot touch God, then wisdom comes only from man, while faith is “a pure present of another’s liberality.”

More bothersome to me than M.’s message is his sheer stridency, an “Onward Christian soldiers” mode of writing. Perhaps he was writing in this style because of the nature of the piece and its publication — a long apologia, as opposed to his typical essays — but I find it utterly off-putting. I’ll struggle through the rest of the Apology, but I’m hoping he manages to regain some of his charm as he moves away from his all-encompassing topic.

What It Is: 8/25/08

What I’m reading: I finished When Genius Failed on Sunday, and am slowly continuing Montaigne’s Essays. Oh, and I picked up the third installment of Richard Sala’s comic, Delphine. Guess I better reread the first two parts.

What I’m listening to: The Cosmic Game, by the Thievery Corporation

What I’m watching: Finished up the fourth season of The Wire, and caught The Life & Times of Hank Greenberg. I think this may be my favorite season of The Wire so far, inasmuch as the storytelling really seemed to surpass its police/crime roots. Throughout the show, Baltimore has been the central character, but this was the first season where it really felt to me like the police characters just weren’t sufficient for the writers to explore the themes they were going after. That was true in the second season, to some extent, but the amount of character development that went into the four schoolkids was an even greater accomplishment than the way season two made us (me and Amy) actually care about and feel sympathy for a union boss. How this show never got nominated for an Emmy is beyond reckoning.

What I’m drinking: Plymouth gin. Man, does that have a sweet botanical edge to it.

What Rufus is up to: Meeting neighbors, trying to lead me into their garages. Also, we took him up to Rusty’s Place, our local pet store, on Sunday, so he could pick out a new toy and meet more dog-lovers.

Where I’m going: I have a coworker’s wedding to attend on Saturday, down in Cranford, NJ. More importantly, I’m seeing my accountant today! Since that’ll put me in Hackensack, I may just make a side trip to White Manna for lunch.

What I’m happy about: My niece Liat (age 8) went to her first Springsteen show! And she and my brother made it up near the stage, to the videographers’ pit, where — well, here’s my brother’s description:

Bruce jumped down into the pit, held Liat’s hand and started singing ‘Girls in Their Summer Clothes’ to her. Her face was on the video screen the entire time. Minutes earlier, Clarence gave her a maraca as a gift (she couldn’t take her eyes off him the entire show when he waved to her after the first song). Needless to say, that kid now has a better childhood than either of us. I can die in peace.

What I’m sad about: Summer’s just about over, so my typically hectic September looms (big issue of the mag, plus our annual conference on 9/25-26). Also, only 10 episodes of The Wire left.

What I’m pondering: How lucky I was to be out of the country for both parties’ national conventions in 2004, and how unlucky I am to be stuck here for both of them this time around.

Monday Morning Montaigne: An Apology for Raymond Sebond, Take 1

It’s time for the long-unawaited return of Monday Morning Montaigne!

You ask, “What is MMM?” It’s me, working my way through the Everyman’s Library edition of Montaigne’s Complete Works (only the essays, which comprise 1,045 pages; I’m on page 450 right now). Every Monday, I’ll post about some aspect of one of the essays that I read in the previous week.

You ask, “Why Montaigne?” Because I’m a sucker for the personal essay and M. is the inventor of the form. Also, I never got around to reading him when I was a grad student at St. John’s College, and I feel bad about that.

You ask, “Why do I have to suffer?” If I had a readership of appreciable size, this would feel like the “Andy Kaufman reads F. Scott Fitzgerald” segment. Fortunately, no one reads this site, and you can always skip to the next post.

* * *

This week’s post begins my rambles about Montaigne’s Apology for Raymond Sebond. In 1484, Sebond published Natural Theology. M. translated the book for his father, and wrote the Apology around 1575-1580 (his father died in 1568). I haven’t read Sebond, but Donald M. Frame, the translator of my edition of M., wrote that he “argued that man could learn all about God and religion by reading in the book of God’s work, the world.” M. disagreed with this idea, so rather than an apology/defense of Sebond’s views, he spends his time exploring the limits and faults of human reason. In particular he criticizes the primacy of knowledge.

As with the rest of his essays, M. does this with great erudition, as well as with citations from myriad sources throughout history. Employing a massive library of poetry doesn’t exactly undercut his argument against the limits of reason, but I think it creates a tension when his explanation that man is no better than an animal relies on passages from Plato, Lucretius, Tasso, Juvenal, Virgil, Dante, Homer, Tibullus, Martial, Horace and, of course, Ovid.

Just because it’s contradictory doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining. M. takes on innumerable differences between man and beast and turns them on their heads, leaving man the poorer. “When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me?” he asks, and we’re off and running. Honeybees, swallows, spiders, elephants, crabs, crocodiles, lions: over 30+ pages they all get to demonstrate aspects of human character that M.’s philosophical opponents would reserve for men alone. Even my greyhound gets in on the action:

That hare that a greyhound imagines in a dream, after which we seem him pant in his sleep, stretch out his tail, wriggle his legs, and reproduce perfectly the motions of running, is a hare without fur or bones.

M. even turns the idea of human beauty upside-down, contending that our need for clothes, makeup and the like show that humans are naturally uglier than animals. Ultimately, he shows that the wisdom that is supposed to separate us from animals is transient, that the great philosophers in history would gladly have traded it for health.

It all reminds me of a session on Aristotle’s Politics I attended during grad school. One of the students asked why we should take Aristotle seriously, since he was “anthrocentric.” The tutor (read: prof.) was puzzled by the student’s term. The student explained that A. was only exploring HUMAN relationships and society, but his view was incomplete because he wasn’t taking into account the societies of other animals. He added that we couldn’t learn too much from A. because he didn’t also write about dolphins and other primates. “What makes us so different from them?” he asked.

I held up my copy of the book and said, “Uh, THIS? Those animals may be pretty advanced, but as far as I know, they haven’t figured out how to write stuff down and pass it on to future generations. When they do, let me know; I’d love to read it.”

I have to admit that M.’s scorched-earth approach to man vs. beast — “[I]t is not by a true judgment, but by foolish pride and stubbornness, that we set ourselves before the other animals and sequester ourselves from their condition and society” — turned me off.

M. does seem to recognize that there’s a difference between man and animals, but it’s not our brains, our social structures, our dreams, or our use of clothes or artifice. Rather, it’s our belief — not faith, which is more involved and likely to lead us astray, from what I can make out of his argument — that sets us off, and I’m (presently) finding that a difficult pill to swallow.

Still, there are another 120 pages in the Apology, so let’s see where it leads. (The next segment is titled Man’s Knowledge Cannot Make Him Happy, so I don’t exactly have high hopes.)

Monday Morning Montaigne: The Reloadening!

I gave up on my Monday Morning Montaigne project a year ago for two reasons. The first one was that I reached Apology for Raymond Sebond, the central essay of the second book. This essay — the introduction to (and kindasorta defense of) Sebond’s Natural Theology, which Montaigne’s dad asked him to translate — runs almost 180 pages and, though translator Donald Frame breaks it up into several sections, I couldn’t see how I’d make it through that essay and manage to convey anything of interest to the readers of this blog.

The second reason I gave up was that I convinced myself that nothing I’d written in my Monday Morning Montaigne posts was of any interest to the readers of this blog. I don’t think I expected a rousing conversation among commenters, few of whom likely have read more than a smattering of Montaigne, and none of whom were exactly going to read along or look back into the essays to counter my points. Still, there was so little response to it, I figured no one would notice it was missing.

As it turns out, my posts were more like timed charges. In the last year, I’ve been getting hits from different colleges and universities’ IP addresses, presumably by students who are looking to cheat on their Montaigne assignments. I mean, “who are researching various critical opinions of Montaigne’s essays online (in order to cheat on their papers).”

It struck me that I put myself in a position of responsibility with this project. Without Monday Morning Montaigne, these students would have no choice but to read one of the other two million google hits for “montaigne essay opinion,” and who knows what sort of perspective they’d cobble together? Who knows when they’d get around to finding my posts, but better they rely on my flawed, rambling viewpoints than those of someone who’s actually done some research into Montaigne! With half-assed misreading comes half-assed responsibility! Excelsior!

So I decided to dive headlong into the aforementioned Apology this weekend. You can expect the first installment on Monday!

What It Is: 8/11/08

What I’m reading: Finished The Good Rat, by Jimmy Breslin, continuing Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, by Blake Bell, and getting back to reading Montaigne’s essays.

What I’m listening to: my iPod, endlessly shuffling among 13,000 or so songs.

What I’m watching: Fourth season of The Wire, and The Dark Knight, over at the Imax at the Palisades Center.

What I’m drinking: a rosé that my wife picked up on Saturday, and Stella Artois. Not at the same time.

What Rufus is up to: Around 6 hours on his own upstairs when I’m out! I’m still hesitant to leave him out of his crate for my full 9-hour workday, and I keep him upstairs so he doesn’t meander around down in the library, where he’s less familiar. But he seems to have figured out that he shouldn’t drink a lot of water when he’s alone in the house.

Where I’m going: Nowhere special

What I’m happy about: I’m not sure, but I’m generally elated at present. I feel a little bad that I’ve neglected friends I need to write to, but maybe I’ll have time and motivation to fix that this week.

What I’m sad about: The deaths of Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes.

What I’m pondering: The irony that the Yankees’ healthiest and most productive pitchers this season are 38 and 36 years old.

What It Is: 4/21/08

What I’m reading: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz, as suggested by David Gates (not the guy from Bread).

What I’m watching: NBA Playoffs, except for most of the Nuggets-Lakers game.

What I’m listening to: not much. I haven’t played a lot of music lately, partly because I can’t (work-)write when there’s music on, and partly because my mom is visiting for a week and it’d be rude to play my music as loud as I like to. But I did just fall in love with Academia, off the new album by Sia.

What I’m drinking: G&Ts with G’Vine, a fancy French gin that my associate editor bought me for the holidays.

What I’m happy about: That Rufus was impossibly well-behaved (well, sleepy) during our Seder on Saturday night, despite the presence of 5 people he’d never seen before.

What I’m sad about: All the games we could’ve played. (oh, and these, too)

What I’m pondering: Going back to Montaigne and writing more of those Monday Morning Montaigne pieces that you hated.