De limpuissance (ESSAI ET DOC) (French Edition)

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At Athens they learned to speak well, here to do well; there to disentangle themselves from a sophistical argument and to overthrow the imposture of words captiously interlaced, here to disentangle themselves from the lures of sensual pleasure, and with great courage to overthrow the threats of fortune and death; those men busied themselves with words, these with things; there it was a continual exercise of the tongue, here a continual exercise of the soul. The comparison operates a series of displacements by which "dire," "mots," "paroles," and "langue" are purged from education.

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In the parallel structure of the crafted period Montaigne transmutes verbal action into moral action; the predicates that enclose the student in the vacuousness of language in Athens are transformed by the substantial complements of virtue in Lacedaemon. Language, I would say, paradoxically turns against itself, brings the force of both grammar and rhetoric to silence itself. Education is no longer a question of weaning the child in any simple way from its inability to speak, of untying its tongue and giving it voice.

The child does not learn how to speak but how to do. In the binary opposition that structures the. The paradoxical gesture of using the very medium, agent, or faculty one seeks to destroy to destroy itself, of forcing a kind of suicidal self-reflexivity, is a familiar Montaignian move in the Essais. Not only does he turn language against language and use rhetoric to undermine rhetoric, he reasons to challenge reason and quotes to criticize what he calls borrowing flowers from others.

What are the implications of such a strategy, and what can its effects possibly be? Can it escape its tautological enclosure and achieve its ends? What are the consequences for the one who challenges or attacks from "within," who provokes the suicidal reversal?

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I will have to return to these questions. For now let us explore some of the ramifications in the Essais of this language that apparently seeks to transcend its own limitations, to be other than what it is. It is a supreme irony of the Essais that the imperative of faire requires the practice of dire , that what the essayist does must also be taken literally as "une continuelle exercitation de la langue.

Montaigne himself often claims, as in the closing pages of "De la ressemblance des enfans aux peres" II, 37 , that his writing is not just writing but a form of virtuous action, or at least an action that seeks to reflect and shape virtuous judgment. Here he appears to reverse the widely accepted Renaissance practice that applied criteria drawn from rhetorical discourse—gravity, decorum, harmony—to the judgment of moral action so that his writing and its inevitable and inadmissible rhetoric can acquire moral substance. In terms that evoke the educational program of "Du pedantisme" and "De l'institution.

Je suis moins faiseur de livres que de nulle autre besoigne" a "in teaching me to do, not to write. I have put all my efforts into forming my life. That is my trade and my work.

I am less a maker of books than of anything else" []. But the substitution by which the work of life "ouvrage," "besoigne" —both the writing and the book—becomes life itself "ma vie," "mon mestier" reveals itself in the syntax of his discourse as a metonymic structure, a contingent and relational association rather than a necessary identification. And while the rhetorical figure is intended to distinguish Montaigne from those "faiseurs de livres," as he pejoratively calls them, those who write for personal gain, to seek renown or material reward, and who produce only a book, it also implicates him in making a book.

Literally speaking, and in the presence of the powerful metonymy, we are reminded that the literal cannot simply be dispensed with or ignored, that no writing is possible without dire and escrire. All writers are contaminated by this literal truth, all writers are always and in some sense also faiseurs de livres. Repeatedly the essayist attempts to differentiate his book from all others, stressing its originality "C'est [c] le seul livre au monde de son espece" [II, 8, ] primarily in terms of the novelty, or the stupidity "cette sotte entreprise," "un dessein farouche et extravagant" [a] , of the project of making himself the primary matter of his book and also, perhaps, in terms of its nontraditional, apparently unfinished form as "essays.

Words, he implies again and again, must become things choses , they must be transformed from the inherently airy medium that he evokes in "De l'exercitation" II, 6, and made substantial. The ephemeral word, projected as it were into the air to fly off in the very instance it is articulated verba volant , the vain word, semantically as empty as wind flatus , this common,. But what does Montaigne mean by "things"? The primary "things" for Montaigne are ideas, concepts in the mind; these are always referred to as "choses" in his text, as "res" in the Latin he quotes.

Words, he insists, can become secondary "things," they can follow and can gain substance as they express substantial matter of the mind. This appears to run counter to what I posited earlier as the transparency of "proper" language, the selfeffacing quality of a language that was most natural when it was nothing in itself, when it let the light shine through.

Here language must be capable of literally embodying thought.

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In a literal sense Montaigne would be "fleshing out" his writing, making the Essais a kind of secular and parodic incarnation. When language is semantically and morally impoverished, when it fails to embody thought, it is nothing but words, and he speaks about it as if it were bloodless, fleshless, what I might call death itself. My discussion has revealed that these are not consistent strategies, related systematically to each other; rather they are the diverse and conflicting expressions of Montaigne's desire for unmediated and stable truth.

But we have seen that postlapsarian language resists such stabilizing gestures; it shifts and turns semantically, disturbing its signifying habits and straining its referential links. The limitations of language cannot be transcended from within language itself, as language itself constantly reminds us. For my purposes, the unsettled name of the child as "enfant" can serve as an emblem of linguistic instability, of the restless displacement of signs and meaning, a sign itself at once lexical and semantic, developmental and social.

Rather than a prelinguistic state, "infancy" designated a condition of dependency. In a formal or legal sense the offspring were "enfants" as long as they were under the authority of the father, although I might want to say that as long as they depended on that authority and were not authorized to speak for themselves, in their own names, they did exist, in a certain sense, in a "prelinguistic" state.

That authority could also be exercised by a metaphorical father, as in the extended, and popular, usage of enfant to refer to members of the lower social class, those in household service, and those in the military cf.

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It is apparently not enough for him simply to show himself; nor is it enough simply to be acknowledged, once and for all, as if that were possible. Her book has important things to tell us about the links between politics, society, and economy, and the history of un sustainable resource management at the dawn of the modern age. The authenticity of the single passage in which she is named and praised has been questioned by numerous scholars, some even suggesting that its author might be Marie de Gournay herself. I owe a special debt to Patricia Donahue and David Carroll whose thoughtful comments and difficult questions helped me to gain a better understanding both of Montaigne's textual engendering and of my own. I am also particularly grateful to Steven Rendall for his generous support and helpful assistance. Does the text remain silent in the face of questioning or foolishly repeat the same thing, as Socrates indicated, or can it react like the spoken word, responding either in its author's name or for itself?

Montaigne may found his pedagogical project on the premise that proper language learning provides the child the stable foundation for a moral life, but language itself, as the very example of the child shows,. One might argue that the Essais' preoccupation with the child betrays its own concern with learning how to speak, that the writing situates itself anxiously between the initial unloosening of the tongue language and the mature moral expression action toward which it strives.

What talking about the child has uncovered so far is precisely the presence of elements that disturb, displace, unsettle, and destabilize from within comfortable, conventional notions of speaking, writing, and language itself. What disturbs is not that Montaigne attacks accepted rhetorical practice or upsets a traditional curriculum in which it plays a part but that even in his attack he himself is always implicated in its use, in its excess and artifice.

What destabilizes is not that he seeks a direct, immediate moral expression but that in this effort he forces language into paradoxical postures it cannot sustain: silence, invisibility, substantiality.


Essai sur la problématique aristotélicienne (Bibliothèque de philosophie Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, ; in-8°, p. Ou encore: «La négativité de l'ontologie ne traduit pas seulement l'impuissance du discours humain, , , ; signalons aussi la date suspecte de l'édition d' Andronicos, p. grand effort pour revenir du scepticisme de l'Essai à la certitude du Génie du . mœurs à l'institution de la démocratie, alors que la France de la Révolution ne pouvait . Conclusion poétique, mais poésie gratuite que corrigeront les versions ait souhaité vaincre, sans tarder, l'impuissance spirituelle et littéraire à laquelle.

And what is unsettling about silence and invisibility is not that they are intended as the guarantees of truth and the authenticity of being but that they can also be emptiness, vacuity, as I suggested, nonbeing that proclaims itself as loudly as if it spoke for itself. The word made flesh? Montaigne's attempt to transcend language through language itself can only parody incarnation as the impossible and scandalous object of his desire, can only temporarily muzzle the irrepressible voice of the trope that pushes forth to speak in the name of its own factitiousness.

If Montaigne could have realized the intentions of his writing project, it would have signaled the end of writing, the end of language, for being would have been wholly present in all its plenitude and no longer needed to be spoken. But what the complex status of the child reveals, as it strives to be. Que doit produire le babil, puisque le begaiement et desnouement de la langue estouffa le monde d'une si horrible charge de volumes?

Tant de paroles pour les paroles seules! III, 9, And when shall I make an end of describing the continual agitation and changes of my thoughts, whatever subject they light on, since Didymus filled six thousand books with the sole subject of grammar? What must prattle produce, when the stammering and loosening of the tongue smothered the world with such a horrible load of volumes?

So many words for the sake of words alone! The Essais are always in some sense "babil," "begaiement," the not yet fully formed speech of the child of the mind. They also bear in some sense the trace of Babel, that originary "desnouement de la langue" that indeed threatened to suffocate the world with words. When the tongues of both essayist and child are loosened, when the language of the essayist as child is unleashed, only empty speech is produced unless proper instruction intervenes. But the formation of the child and the development of substantial speech can only represent an ideal toward which the child, like the essayist, endlessly strives and whose conclusion remains endlessly beyond reach.

Given this inevitable situation, one might ask not only, "Why the compulsion to write? Or to put it better, I am hungry for nothing, but I have a mortal fear of being taken to be other than I am by those who come to know my name" [].

Creative Reading, or the New Life of Literary Wor… – Mémoires du livre – Érudit

With striking intensity Montaigne reaches out; the Essais , the child of his mind, are conceived to allow him to be known and to guarantee that he will not be taken amiss. Eminent people, Montaigne says as he begins his discussion of presumptuousness II, 17 , those whom fortune has made famous, are known by the public actions that bear witness to what they are: "ils peuvent par leurs actions publiques tesmoigner quels ils sont" a.

But those others, like himself, who have been relegated by fortune to anonymity, those people will only be known for what they are if they speak of for themselves. Montaigne thus speaks out about himself, he writes as a public act by publishing his discourse, so that his actions too will speak for him and bear witness to what he is.

Justifying his project, he defends himself and others who talk about themselves and seeks to deflect the charge of presumptuousness: "ils sont excusables s'ils prennent la hardiesse de parler d'eux mesmes envers ceux qui ont interest de les connoistre" ibid. What does it mean to be known by speaking of oneself, to bear witness to what one is? Claiming not to be a famous person, Montaigne considers that his private action, by itself, would not or could not have borne witness to what he was, although he did indeed act on the public stage as he reminds us periodically in the Essais. The figure of the modest unknown is thus a pose, a rhetorical persona that ironically serves the writer in two ways: it allows him or it requires him to talk about himself and so be a writer, an author , and it obliges him to excuse.

What would have been the consequence had he not written of himself? The figure of the writer bearing public witness to himself provides yet another perspective on the need to speak.


No one, including Montaigne himself, would have said what he is "quel il est" , and that is another way of saying that no one would have said that he is. He would have remained "private" in its several senses: withdrawn from the public body, not holding public office, removed from public knowledge, and, most striking, deprived Latin privare , to deprive , deprived of self-knowledge, and in a profound sense deprived of life. Earlier we saw that a certain silent and invisible language is required if the essential and authentic self is to be known.

In the context of the private person who does not speak about himself, however, we see another face of silence. Not to speak and not to be spoken of: silence, nonbeing, death.