Saturday, June 19, 2004

Thick Skin

Perhaps if people during Montaigne's time could have sat eating strawberries fresh from the garden while listening to Cyndi Lauper sing a jazzy cha-cha they would have no reason to be sad. Who could be sad when the body feels like getting up and dancing and the mouth is noshing on yummy sweetness? Anyway, Montaigne's essay "On Sadness" made me a little mad. He relates several stories in which the people are "petrified" into a "deaf, speechless stupor which seizes us when we are overwhelmed by tragedies beyond endurance." Such extreme sadness "stuns the whole of our soul" and we cannot show any grief "during the living heat of the attack." It is only afterwards that we break down "with tears and lamentations." The "we" here doesn't include Montaigne himself: "Violent emotions like these have little hold on me. By nature my sense of feeling has a hard skin, which I daily toughen and thicken by arguments." To me this smacks of an "I'm above such baseness" kind of attitude, the kind of attitude that people who are afraid of their emotions affect. This kind of behavior gives people ulcers. I'm not sure why Montaigne's stoic philosophy makes me so mad, maybe because I think it's a bunch of hooey to say violent emotions don't affect you. But I can't help but laugh too at the thought of Montaigne daily thickening his skin with arguments. I wonder how her does this? Does he argue aloud with himself? Or does he do something a bit more extreme like wear a hair shirt or engage in self flagellation? That would certainly thicken his skin. Next week we'll see what Montaigne has to say in "On Prognostications"