Essaying Montaigne: A Study of the Renaissance Institution of Writing and Reading

By John O'Neill | Go to book overview

Preface to the revised edition

It is quite in tune with Montaigne that one should revise one's work in the light of more thought and changes in historical fortune affecting publishing itself. Twenty years ago, academic publishing began to experience those changes in production formats, costing and marketing with which we are now more familiar. Essaying Montaigne (1982) has survived its fate and happily is now ready to take on a new lease of life in the spirit of Montaigne's own perennial Essays. The original impetus for my work was Maurice Merleau-Ponty's beautiful essay, ‘Reading Montaigne’ (Signs, 1964). The subtlety of Merleau-Ponty's exploration of the ambiguous self in Montaigne and his larger phenomenology of embodied thought provided me with an early and lasting model of the carnal practice of literature. It is one I have preferred to the rival practices of literary deconstruction launched by Derrida whose Grammatology (1974) fixes upon Rousseau. The reader must choose between Montaigne and Rousseau, as I have done here and in other works of mine on literary criticism, psychoanalysis and cultural studies. I have, of course, defended my preference for Montaigne's practice of ‘essaying’ through elaborate commentary upon rival readings, which the Essays have inspired for centuries with no sign of exhaustion in our own time. Indeed, the classical status of the Essays proves itself over and over in their contemporary relevance. I have grounded the Essays in the ethical relation of friendship as a rule for personal, familial and political relationships. I have rejected the contemporary psychoanalytical bias towards the absence and lack as the driving forces in relationships unless a counterweight be given to presence and recognition in social and political life. I believe that Montaigne discovered in the practice of the essay form a technique of the self – that is both personal and civic. The reason I pay such close attention to other critics of the Essays is that I am concerned to?

-vii-

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