Course meets during the first seven weeks only, First Class: January 25; Last Class: March 8.
This class is a seven-week introduction to the thought of Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592). Nowadays, we encounter Montaigne’s work most frequently in aphoristic quotations like this one: “When I am playing with my cat, how do I know she is not playing with me?” Yet taken out of context, solitary citations conceal the complexity of Montaigne’s thought as well as that of the genre in which they appear, a genre, in f act, Montaigne is credited with having invented: the essay. This semester, we will read widely across the three volumes of Montaigne’s Essais and the diverse topics they consider, from lofty questions that grapple with the construction of the self, the question of experience, and the meaning of friendship and family to more banal topics like books, laziness, and, yes, thumbs. We will contextualize these writings by placing them in conversation with texts of other authors of the early modern period (Bacon, Browne, Burton, Castiglione, Columbus, de las Casas, Shakespeare, Sidney) as well as with more recent literary critical and critical theoretical texts.