Merry Wanderer of the Night + TIME

Montaigne Readalong: Week One

The Montaigne Readalong is a year long project in which I try to read over 1,000 pages of Montaigne's essays. Every Monday I write about the essays I read for the week. You can share your thoughts or join the readalong if you'd like, just check the Montaigne Readalong schedule. You can read several of these essays for free on Google Books

Essays Read this Week:
1. We reach the same the same end by discrepant means
2. On sadness
3. Our emotions get carried away beyond us
4. How the soul discharges its emotions against false objects when lacking real ones
5. Whether the governor of a besieged fortress should go out and parley
6. The hour of parleying is dangerous

I read quite a few short essays this week so instead of talking about all of them I'm just going to talk about the three that interested me the most, which were On sadness, Our emotions get carried away beyond us, and How the soul discharges its emotions against false objects when lacking real ones. Throughout these three essay the main subject is obviously emotions. In On sadness he refers to sadness as the Italian tristezza, which I always thought meant more melancholy than sad, but I could be wrong about that. Montaigne talks about the danger of sadness and he seems to think it is a bit of a showy emotion. One thing the essay made me think of is that age old question of "Can you be happy and be a writer or artist?" I think Montaigne would argue that you can-- and should.

He also discusses different types of sadness, talking about a story (which he often does) in which a man sees his daughter working as a servant and his son led to execution with no reaction on his face, but when a friend of his is brought in a negative situation he becomes very sorrowful. When asked about his emotions the man said the first two could basically not be expressed properly so it was better to not express any emotion at all. Montaigne also suggests that it was the build-up over time that made the man express sorrow during the last incident rather than the first two. Later he says, "We cannot display our grief or our convictions during the living searing heat of the attack; the soul is then burdened by deep thought and the body is cast down, languishing for love" (9-10). He ends On sadness saying that he is not controlled by violent emotions, but that he controls them by arguments, which I thought might mean he believes analyzing or essaying the world allows him to control his feelings, which is something I definitely feel as someone who writes essays. However, my essays are often drawn by emotions, which forces me to ask if Montaigne is bluffing?

He carries on these ideas in Our emotions get carried away beyond us, but focuses more on the relationship between body and soul. In this essay he wonders by humans worry so much about what will happen to them after death, citing many humorous stories about human burials, when their body is really not "them" it is their soul that is them and their soul will not be in the ground. At least that is how I understand it. While his main argument is about death, I took away more of a "Don't worry about the future, focus on the now," message from the essay.

In the final essay I want to talk about, How the soul discharges its emotions against false objects when lacking real ones, he talks about people placing their emotions on a physical manifestation rather than dealing with whatever emotion they have (perhaps through essaying or observing the world around them). He says, "it seems that the soul too, in the same way, loses itself in itself when shaken and disturbed unless it is given something to grasp on to; and so we must always provide it with an object to butt up against and to act upon" (19).

Questions from This Week:
1. What do you think is the best way to deal with strong emotions? Do you react to small upsets more violently than big ones because you don't know how to react?
2. Do you displace your emotions just so you have something to make you feel better? Do you think this works?
3. If you read any of these essays, which one stuck out the most to you and why?

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Montaigne Readalong: Week One + TIME