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ENGL 100 Lecture Notes - Cannibalism, Michel De Montaigne, Aestheticism

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ENGL 100
Laura Murray

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“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
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
“In their culture, the very words that signify lying, treachery, dissimulation, avarice,
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