Starobinski Montaignes Essays

Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques

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Historical Reflections/Reflections Historiques has established a well-deserved reputation for publishing high quality articles of wide-ranging interest for nearly forty years. The journal, which publishes articles in both English and French, is committed to exploring history in an interdisciplinary framework and with a comparative focus. Historical approaches to art, literature, and the social sciences; the history of mentalities and intellectual movements; the terrain where religion and history meet: these are the subjects to which Historical Reflections/Reflexions Historiques is devoted.

Coverage: 1974-2014 (Vol. 1, No. 1 - Vol. 40, No. 3)

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ISSN: 03157997

EISSN: 19392419

Subjects: History, History

Collections: Arts & Sciences XI Collection

348Philosophy and Literature Montaigne in Motion, by Jean Starobinski; translated by Arthur Goldhammer; xi & 348 pp. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985, $30.00 clodi, $14.95 paper. Jean Starobinski alerts us in his preface that this study of Montaigne should complement his Jean-Jacques Rousseau: la transparence et l'obstacle (1971). In bodi works die Geneva School psychiatrist and literary critic focuses on the writer's struggle against die falsity of appearances, on his need to determine and defend the identity ofdie selfin a world ofhypocrisy and masks. In the Essays Starobinski finds diat Montaigne's struggle took die form of a dialectical diought process leading die writer through three stages ofattitude toward appearances and their essentiaUy deceptive character. These phases recur in Montaigne's treatment of the Essays' central diemes, but do not correspond stricdy to periods in his life — Starobinski thereby avoids die evolutionist view popularized by Pierre VUley. Radier, they represent a characteristic manner of approaching the problems mat preoccupied Montaigne in his book. First diere is an attack on appearances , a condemnation of lies and hypocrisy, and a rejection of all forms of artifice . Along with this emerges an intense desire to attain aU diat appearances are not: the essence of the self and of the other; the spontaneous and the natural in human interaction and in artistic creation; in short, die trudi. This first phase would correspond roughly to what Starobinski described in his earlier work as Rousseau's desire for transparence. The second stage moves Montaigne to die recognition that his desire for pure essence is in vain: man cannot know ontological trutii, or achieve total understanding of God or of a feUow human being. Acceptance of those restrictions aUows Montaigne to move into the third phase, awakening to die positive potential of appearances, to die rich offerings of phenomenal awareness — to what Montaigne caUed experience. In his early chapters, Starobinski explores die dialectic in action as he examines Montaigne's desire to remove die masks disguising the selfand odiers. It would seem difficult to say anydiing new at diis point about die relationship between Montaigne and his friend La Boétie; yet Starobinski's analysis of La Boétie's writings yields a new appreciation of die moral standards that shaped Montaigne's early ideals for the self. The chapters examining Montaigne's attitudes about social interaction and interdependency are particularly rich. Starobinski never tries to falsify die paradoxical, quicksUver-like quality of Montaigne's text, quoting from it abundandy and judiciously. When he does bring in odier writers, it is always — as in the passages from La Boétie — in an effort to yield new insights into die Essays. One such excursus, an enlightening digression into contemporary medical treatises on die diagnosis of illness, helps us to situate Montaigne's comments about his own body in die context of sixteenth-century medical practice. Starobinski ends his book with a considera- Reviews349 tion of Montaigne's attitudes toward public affairs, looking forward to those fashioners of philosophical movements and political ideologies who also grappled with die problem of appearances and continued die dialectic generated in the Essays. Prominent among them, aldiough the connection is not made explicit , are the phenomenologists who helped shape the approach to literature characteristic of the Geneva critics. Readers ofthis sensitively written and carefully translated study wiU find little reference to current Montaigne scholarship and virtuaUy no mention of die names mat dominate recent literary dieory in France. These silences may be due to the fact that this book has been long in the making. Several of its chapters rework articles tiiat first appeared in journals as long ago as 1960. Nevertheless the specialist may find it unsettling, for example, to read about the tension between emptiness and plentitude in die Essays without finding a reference to Terence Cave's 77ie Comucopian Text (1979). In general, however, Starobinski's book is an enviable achievement, one diat invites all readers ofMontaigne to admire the courageous inteUectual journey diat produced die Essays. University of VirginiaMary B. McKinley Homer the Theologian: Neoplatonist Allegorical Readings and the Growth ofthe Epic Tradition, by Robert Lamberton ; xvi & 363 pp. Berkeley: University ofCalifornia Press, 1986, $40.00...



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