MORNING COFFEE 9 - l’explosion

by Susan Weber

After she read my Allure post, my friend pointed me to Montaigne’s essay, Of the Custom of Wearing Clothes. I found a collection of the essays and flipped to the introduction. Since Michel Eyquem de Montaigne was born in 1533 to a life of gentlemanly comforts, I confess to having doubts about his relevance to my life and writing. It soon became clear that the French aristocrat saw himself as an observer on the sidelines sharing his impressions of customs and assumptions peculiar to his strife-riven times. I liked that he did not presume to greatness, while landing there nonetheless.

Montaigne’s conversational essays influenced a roster of notables who succeeded him. “It is in this living utterance and this unlimited interest in everything human," we’re told in the introduction, "that gives him his hold on all generations since his time.” The list includes Shakespeare, Descartes, Emerson, Nietzsche, and Asimov.

As I sit at my writing desk soaking this in, I remember the library cubbyhole I happily inhabited my first year of college. Ideas contained in stacks of books on every side felt like an extension of my own brain, preposterous as that may sound. The sheer volume was a comfort; this ocean would never run dry. A generation later, my niece fresh off to college said she was discovering facets of thinking she’d never imagined were possible. “I love my brain,” is how she put it.

In all my years of working in education, I never once heard the love of learning described as this pure burst of excitement about the hidden passageways and undiscovered wilderness of one’s own mind. At one point Montaigne was censured by the Pope for crediting animals with reason. It’s our luck he ascribed to human animals the unabashed ability to think for themselves.

I’ve just ordered my own copy of Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays from Amazon, along with a pair of socks to keep my toes in wool this winter. Who can survive the wild places, plagued by cold feet? As I've said before, wardrobe tends to bias our capacity. Michel Eyquem, Lord of Montaigne, might not disagree.

Photo by Stefan Krause CC BY-NC-ND 3.0