The Fabulous Imagination: On Montaigne's Essays
Lawrence D. Kritzman
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"This is one of the few books on Montaigne that fuses analytical skill with humane awareness of why Montaigne matters."& mdash;Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of Humanities, Yale University
"In this exhilarating and learned book on Montaigne's essays, Lawrence D. Kritzman contemporizes the great writer. Reading him from today's deconstructive America, Kritzman discovers Montaigne always already deep into a dialogue with Jacques Derrida and psychoanalysis. One cannot but admire this fabulous act of translation."& mdash;Hélène Cixous
"Throughout his career, Lawrence D. Kritzman has demonstrated an intimate knowledge of Montaigne's essays and an engagement with French philosophy and critical theory. The Fabulous Imagination sheds precious new light on one of the founders of modern individualism and on his crucial quest for self-knowledge."& mdash;Jean Starobinski, professor emeritus of French literature, University of Geneva
Michel de Montaigne's (1533-1592) Essais was a profound study of human subjectivity. More than three hundred years before the advent of psychoanalysis, Montaigne embarked on a remarkable quest to see and imagine the self from a variety of vantages. Through the questions How shall I live? How can I know myself? he explored the significance of monsters, nightmares, and traumatic memories; the fear of impotence; the fragility of gender; and the act of anticipating and coping with death.
In this book, Lawrence D. Kritzman traces Montaigne's development of the Western concept of the self. For Montaigne, imagination lies at the core of an internal universe that influences both the body and the mind. Imagination is essential to human experience. Although Montaigne recognized that the imagination can confuse the individual, "the fabulous imagination" can be curative, enabling the mind's "I" to sustain itself in the face of hardship.
Kritzman begins with Montaigne's study of the fragility of gender and its relationship to the peripatetic movement of a fabulous imagination. He then follows with the essayist's examination of the act of mourning and the power of the imagination to overcome the fear of death. Kritzman concludes with Montaigne's views on philosophy, experience, and the connection between self-portraiture, ethics, and oblivion. His reading demonstrates that the mind's I, as Montaigne envisioned it, sees by imagining that which is not visible, thus offering an alternative to the logical positivism of our age.
which the essayist is offered a choice in the construction of the self. This chapter also explores the literary representation of the famous biographical anecdote concerning Montaigne’s kidney stone. The metaphor of the kidney stone and the pain of its passage become the subject of a “family romance” in which the imagination permits the essayist to reﬂect on his mortality. The drama of this passage in the mind’s “I” describes the body as an agent that enables the essayist to distance himself from
to see and imagine the self from a variety of vantages. He explored the significance of monsters, nightmares, and traumas; the fear of impotence; the fragility of gender; and the anticipation of death. For Montaigne, imagination lies at the core of an internal universe influencing both the body and the mind. “The fabulous imagination” can be curative, enabling the mind’s “I” to sustain itself in the face of hardship. Tracing Montaigne’s development of the Western concept of the self, Lawrence D.
governess of human beings, has made us all of the same form, and as it seems, from the same mold, so that all of us should recognize one another as companions or rather as brothers” ). C4975.indb 75 4/17/09 9:41:26 AM 76 D E AT H S E N T E N C E S Anthropomorphically conceived as a benevolent maternal force, nature is represented in La Boétie’s discourse as a collective entity in which the individual is subsumed by the socializing drive of the human species: “Puis donc que cette bonne
(“I was letting myself slip away so gently, so gradually and easily, that I hardly ever did anything with less of a feeling of effort” ). This slipping away is governed by a satisfaction that is represented between an imagined perception and what was to have been its beyond. The phantom subject establishes the desire of being not only as it is perceived but also, both on this side and the beyond, as it traverses the mental space dramatized by the portrayal of his demise. The fear of death is
où j’escris, j’emprunteray presentement s’il me plaist d’une douzaine de tels ravaudeurs, gens que je ne feuillette guiere, de quoy esmailler le traicté de la phisionomie. Il ne faut que l’espitre liminaire d’un alemand pour me farcir d’allegations. (III, 12, 1056) Without trouble and without competence, having a library of a thousand volumes around me in this place where I write, I will presently borrow, if I please, from a dozen such patch-makers, people whom I do not often leaf through, enough