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Montaigne, Woolf, Lopate and Milne Essay Lecture Notes.docx

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ENGL 100
Laura Murray

“Of Cannibals” by Montaigne (1580)  Montaigne used the word “essay” (from French word „essayez‟ meaning to try)  The essay is the performance of thinking on your feet  Montaigne‟s favourite subject of essays was himself  Montaigne claims that what he knows best is the fact that he does not know anything much – self knowledge is connected with the knowledge of others  “Of Cannibals” opens with a reference on the importance of direct observation in making our own judgments by connecting reliability to unsophisticated report and simplicity: “…how cautious men ought to be of taking things upon trust from vulgar opinion, and that we to judge by eye of reason, and from common report” Montaigne urges us to let of prejudices and rely on “eye of reason” – “I am afraid our eyes are bigger than our bellies and that we have more curiosity than capacity; for we grasp at all, but catch nothing but the wind” …. But is Montaigne using the eye of reason himself? “You better-bred sort of men are much more curious in their observation and discover a great deal more; but then they gloss upon it, and give the greater weight to what they deliver, and allure your belief, they cannot forbear a little to alter the story; but they never represent things to you simply as they are, but rather as they appeared to them, or as they would have them appear to you, and to gain the reputation of men of judgment, and the better to induce your faith, are willing to help out the business with something more than is really true, of their own invention. Now in this case, we should either have a man of irreproachable veracity, or so simple that he has not wherewithal to contrive and to give a colour of truth to false relations and who can have no ends in forging an untruth” (Is Montaigne himself a reliable source?) Montaigne mentions his own source of information - “this man is a plain ignorant fellow and therefore the more likely to tell the truth”  Montaigne romanticizes the New World:  The cannibals are “noble savages”, they have their flaws but in many ways are more advanced than the European civilizations  European society lacks honesty, morality and noble nature that a cannibalistic society can attain, as Montaigne says “we may call these people barbarous, in respect to rules of reason: but not in respect to ourselves, who in all sorts of barbarity exceed them”  The “familiar vices” of Europe are the greatest assault upon humanity  Wars that occur in the “other‟s society are more civil than the wars in his society: their war is not about possessions – the people do not desire anything, it‟s about proving themselves to be more courageous than their enemy, as Montaigne says “their wars are noble and generous” “This is a nation, I should say to Plato, in which there is no sort of tragic, no knowledge of letters, no science of numbers, no name for political superiority…” “The laws of nature still rule them, very corrupted by ours; and they are in such a state of purity…” “In their culture, the very words that signify lying, treachery, dissimulation, avarice, envy…are unheard of” their culture values “valor against the enemy and love for their wives” Montaigne also romanticizes valor (heroism) as a lost quality that the Europeans once had, yet do not longer have, and which comes to Barbarians as second nature – “valor is the strength of heart and soul”  Montaigne comments on the natural tendency of humans to see the other as barbaric simply because it is different from what we know – “Everyone gives the title of barbarism to everything that is not in use in his own country” “They are savages at the same rate that we say fruits are wild, which nature produces of herself and by her own ordinary progress; whereas, in truth, we ought rather to call those wild whose natures we have changed our artifice and diverted from the common order” Art vs. Nature  Art smothers nature (paragraph 8) Science/Art is inferior to nature: “We have so surcharged her (mother nature) with the additional ornaments and graces we have added to the beauty and riches of her own works by our inventions, that we have smothered her; yet in the other places, where she shines in purity and proper luster, she marvelously baffles and disgraces all our vain and frivolous attempts” “Our utmost end
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