Monday, July 7, 2014

Selections from the Essays of Montaigne: Review

I have to say that Monsieur Montaigne doesn't do a whole lot for me.  It may be the translation, but he comes across as rather pompous, full of himself, and long-winded. I think the most irritating thing is that he spends one whole essay ("Of the Education of Children") telling us how tutors/teachers shouldn't just teach children to regurgitate facts or spout the learned words of  the great men who come before them, but should be taught to reason and understand what the great men's words meant and embrace and make the thoughts their own. Then...Montaigne spends the rest of the book (and even this essay) dropping quotations from Homer and Horace and Dante and (you name the great classic thinker) here, there, and yon like a non sequitur looking for a connection. About one out of every five or six he'll incorporate properly into his discussion (properly according to his stated "rules"), not exactly practicing what he preaches. So, apparently, when it comes to quotations it is do as I say and not as I do.

I will admit that his theory on educating children does strike home a bit when you think of America's modern tendency to "teach to the test." As Montaigne says (oooh, I'm throwing in a quote!) "They slap them into our memory with all their feathers on, like oracles in which the letters and syllables are the substance of the matter. To know by heart is not to know; it is to retain what we have given our memory to keep....Sad competence, a purely bookish competence!" But, overall, Montaigne's philosophies as presented were a slog to work my way through and they did not provoke a thoughtful engagement as I expected. 

I will refrain from giving a rating. Given the overall response on Goodreads and the references to Montaigne that I have seen repeatedly in my academic life, I'm sure I'm missing something.

1 comment:

fredamans said...

Sounds like a tough book to read. I appreciate your review.