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

By John O'Neill | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Writing and Embodiment

Montaigne's consciousness of being a writer develops as the deepest finding within his self-inquiry. 1 He is not concerned with any conventional introspection of his motives for writing. Such an address, as we have seen in To the Reader, is never more than a pretext that waits for its fulfilment in those sudden moments of comparison, of metaphor, and in asides dispersed throughout the Essays. As an essayist, Montaigne experienced what Barthes claims to be a modern literary experience:

But in our literature, it seems to me, the verb is changing status, if not form, and the verb to write is becoming a middle verb with an intégrant past. This is true inasmuch as the modern verb to write is becoming a sort of indivisible semantic entity. So that if language followed literature – which, for once perhaps, has the lead – I would say that we should no longer say today ‘ j'ai écrit,’ but, rather, ‘ je suis écrit,’ just as we say ‘ je suis né, il est mort, elle est éclose.’ There is no passive idea in these expressions, in spite of the verb to be, for it is impossible to transform ‘ je suis écrit’ (without forcing things, and supposing that I dare to use this expression at all) into ‘ on m'a écrit’ [‘I have been written’ or ‘somebody wrote me’]. It is my opinion that in the middle verb to write the distance between the writer and the language diminishes asymptotically. We could even say that it is subjective writings, like romantic writing, which are active, because in them the agent is not interior but anterior to the process of writing. The one who writes here does not write for himself, but, as if by proxy, for a person who is exterior and antecedent (even if they both have the same name). In the modern verb of middle voice to write, however, the subject is immediately contemporary with the writing, being effected and affected by it. 2

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