The Fabulous Imagination: On Montaignes Essays

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They have every one of them passions of their own, that rouse and awaken, stupefy and benumb them, without our leave or consent. How often do the involuntary motions of the countenance discover our inward thoughts, and betray our most private secrets to the bystanders. The same cause that animates this member, does also, without our knowledge, animate the lungs, pulse, and heart, the sight of a pleasing object imperceptibly diffusing a flame through all our parts, with a feverish motion.

Is there nothing but these veins and muscles that swell and flag without the consent, not only of the will, but even of our knowledge also? We do not command our hairs to stand on end, nor our skin to shiver either with fear or desire; the hands often convey themselves to parts to which we do not direct them; the tongue will be interdict, and the voice congealed, when we know not how to help it.

When we have nothing to eat, and would willingly forbid it, the appetite does not, for all that, forbear to stir up the parts that are subject to it, no more nor less than the other appetite we were speaking of, and in like manner, as unseasonably leaves us, when it thinks fit. The vessels that serve to discharge the belly have their own proper dilatations and compressions, without and beyond our concurrence, as well as those which are destined to purge the reins; and that which, to justify the prerogative of the will, St.

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Augustine urges, of having seen a man who could command his rear to discharge as often together as he pleased, Vives, his commentator, yet further fortifies with another example in his time — of one that could break wind in tune; but these cases do not suppose any more pure obedience in that part; for is anything commonly more tumultuary or indiscreet? But for our will, in whose behalf we prefer this accusation, with how much greater probability may we reproach herself with mutiny and sedition, for her irregularity and disobedience? Does she always will what we would have her to do?

Does she not often will what we forbid her to will, and that to our manifest prejudice? Does she suffer herself, more than any of the rest, to be governed and directed by the results of our reason?

The Fabulous Imagination

To conclude, I should move, in the behalf of the gentleman, my client, it might be considered, that in this fact, his cause being inseparably and indistinctly conjoined with an accessory, yet he only is called in question, and that by arguments and accusations, which cannot be charged upon the other; whose business, indeed, it is sometimes inopportunely to invite, but never to refuse, and invite, moreover, after a tacit and quiet manner; and therefore is the malice and injustice of his accusers most manifestly apparent.

But be it how it will, protesting against the proceedings of the advocates and judges, nature will, in the meantime, proceed after her own way, who had done but well, had she endowed this member with some particular privilege; the author of the sole immortal work of mortals; a divine work, according to Socrates; and love, the desire of immortality, and himself an immortal demon.

Some one, perhaps, by such an effect of imagination may have had the good luck to leave behind him here, the scrofula, which his companion who has come after, has carried with him into Spain. They know very well, that a great master of their trade has given it under his hand, that he has known some with whom the very sight of physic would work. A woman fancying she had swallowed a pin in a piece of bread, cried and lamented as though she had an intolerable pain in her throat, where she thought she felt it stick; but an ingenious fellow that was brought to her, seeing no outward tumour nor alteration, supposing it to be only a conceit taken at some crust of bread that had hurt her as it went down, caused her to vomit, and, unseen, threw a crooked pin into the basin, which the woman no sooner saw, but believing she had cast it up, she presently found herself eased of her pain.

I myself knew a gentleman, who having treated a large company at his house, three or four days after bragged in jest for there was no such thing , that he had made them eat of a baked cat; at which, a young gentlewoman, who had been at the feast, took such a horror, that falling into a violent vomiting and fever, there was no possible means to save her. Even brute beasts are subject to the force of imagination as well as we; witness dogs, who die of grief for the loss of their masters; and bark and tremble and start in their sleep; so horses will kick and whinny in their sleep.

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And as an infected body communicates its malady to those that approach or live near it, as we see in the plague, the smallpox, and sore eyes, that run through whole families and cities:—. Multaque corporibus transitione nocent. The ancients had an opinion of certain women of Scythia, that being animated and enraged against any one, they killed him only with their looks. Tortoises and ostriches hatch their eggs with only looking on them, which infers that their eyes have in them some ejaculative virtue. And the eyes of witches are said to be assailant and hurtful:—.

Montaigne (In Our Time)

Magicians are no very good authority with me. But we experimentally see that women impart the marks of their fancy to the children they carry in the womb; witness her that was brought to bed of a Moor; and there was presented to Charles the Emperor and King of Bohemia, a girl from about Pisa, all over rough and covered with hair, whom her mother said to be so conceived by reason of a picture of St.

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John the Baptist, that hung within the curtains of her bed. Such as are addicted to the pleasures of the field, have, I make no question, heard the story of the falconer, who having earnestly fixed his eyes upon a kite in the air; laid a wager that he would bring her down with the sole power of his sight, and did so, as it was said; for the tales I borrow I charge upon the consciences of those from whom I have them. The discourses are my own, and found themselves upon the proofs of reason, not of experience; to which every one has liberty to add his own examples; and who has none, let him not forbear, the number and varieties of accidents considered, to believe that there are plenty of them; if I do not apply them well, let some other do it for me.

I see, and make my advantage of it, as well in shadow as in substance; and amongst the various readings thereof in history, I cull out the most rare and memorable to fit my own turn. We believe we know, in spite of the evidence of the instability of knowledge, and thus block the more pleasurable and creative aspects of the imagination in favor of a belief in the possibility of "absolute knowledge" Kritzman By questioning our understanding of gender identity, and of identity tout court , Montaigne counters our belief in the possibility of absolute, unchanging knowledge.

As Kritzman's study progresses, it becomes apparent that the imagination not only misleads us, but diverts us from that which we cannot understand as well as that which we cannot withstand. The imagination becomes not only a way of working through, but of working around, and thus a survival strategy for harsh times.


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This valorization of difference, and of the imagination as the space of difference, allows Marie de Gournay to imagine herself as a writer—and thus to become one—because Montaigne has imagined her thus. Kritzman returns to the visual nature of difference, first evoked in the reading of the monstrous child, in his chapter on "On Physiognomy" "De la phisionomie" : "For Montaigne, the appearance of a thing always already constitutes its otherness, since our perception constrains us and allows what is seen to be viewed equivocally" Kritzman — Here, the process of reading liberates the self from an "imaginary superego" Kritzman The essay "multiplies physiognomies and therefore refuses to eradicate difference.

Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.

Forged from a partnership between a university press and a library, Project MUSE is a trusted part of the academic and scholarly community it serves. Built on the Johns Hopkins University Campus. He reasoned that while man is finite, truth is infinite; thus, human capacity is naturally inhibited in grasping reality in its fullness or with certainty.

According to the scholar Paul Oskar Kristeller , "the writers of the period were keenly aware of the miseries and ills of our earthly existence". A representative quote is "I have never seen a greater monster or miracle than myself. He opposed European colonization of the Americas , deploring the suffering it brought upon the natives. Citing the case of Martin Guerre as an example, Montaigne believes that humans cannot attain certainty.

His skepticism is best expressed in the long essay "An Apology for Raymond Sebond " Book 2, Chapter 12 which has frequently been published separately. Montaigne posits that we cannot trust our reasoning because thoughts just occur to us: we don't truly control them. Further, he says we do not have good reasons to consider ourselves superior to the animals.

The essay on Sebond defended Christianity. Montaigne also eloquently employed many references and quotes from classical Greek and Roman, i. Montaigne considered marriage necessary for the raising of children, but disliked the strong feelings of romantic love as being detrimental to freedom.

One of his quotations is "Marriage is like a cage; one sees the birds outside desperate to get in, and those inside desperate to get out. In education, he favored concrete examples and experience over the teaching of abstract knowledge that is expected to be accepted uncritically. English journalist and politician J. Robertson argued that Montaigne's essays had a profound influence on the plays of William Shakespeare , citing their similarities in language, themes and structures.

The remarkable modernity of thought apparent in Montaigne's essays, coupled with their sustained popularity, made them arguably the most prominent work in French philosophy until the Enlightenment. Their influence over French education and culture is still strong.

Essays of Michel de Montaigne

Montaigne heavily edited Essays at various points in his life. Sometimes he would insert just one word, while at other times he would insert whole passages. Many editions mark this with letters as follows:.