Saturday, March 05, 2005

And Still More Montaigne Hodge Podge

Just about done with the Montaigne potpourri, then it will be back to one longer essay each week which I am looking forward to. Something Lacking in Our Civil Administrations According to the editor's note, civil administration in Montaigne's time meant both running a country and running one's own estate. In this essay Montaigne touches briefly on both. Montaigne credits his late father for an idea which basically amounts to our modern want ads in the paper. However, back then instead of being in the paper there would be a designated office in the city run by an appointed official. People could go to the office to both buy and sell. Such an office might have helped two prominent scholars who both died in poverty. If only they could have made their want known, Montaigne believes, there would have been "hundreds of people who would have invited them to their houses on very favourable terms or sent help to them where they were." On the running of the estate, Montaigne notes that his father had his secretary keep a diary for him "covering any noteworthy event and the day-to-day history of his household." Montaigne found it pleasant to read the diary from time to time and wishes that when he took over his father's estate he had continued the diary. But he did not, and declares, "I think I am a fool to have neglected it." For some reason I really liked Montaigne a lot when he said that. On Not Sharing One's Fame This sort essay is an observation. Montaigne writes, "of all the lunacies in this world the most accepted and the most universal is concern for reputation and glory, which we espouse even to the extent of abandoning wealth, rest, life and repose (which are goods of substance and consequence) in order to follow after that image of vanity that mere word which has no body, nothing to hold on to." How little things have changed, except today it is assumed that wealth goes along with fame and the more famous you are, the wealthier. Then, thanks to Andy Warhol, there is the whole "fifteen minutes of fame." Everybody wants to be famous, even people who say they don't want to be famous, "For, as Cicero says, even those who fight it still want their books against it to bear their name in the title and hope to become famous for despising fame." And when it comes to sharing fame? Well, forget about it. As Montaigne observes, "a case of sharing our fame and making someone else the gift of our reputation is hardly to be found." On Sumptuary Laws This essay begins with Montaigne saying how silly sumptuary laws are. The laws try to limit people from making large and unwise expenditures on expensive items but instead make people only want such items even more because they are made all the more dear. Montaigne thinks that if kings want to make laws in the hope to engender contempt for silks and gold and other vain and useless items, then kings should make of themselves an example. What the state should do is pass a law that forbids "purple and goldsmithery" to "all ranks of society except whores and travelling-players." If kings and those at court would stop worrying about their fashions, finery and frippery, then everyone else would too. If it is displays of rank that the laws are looking to preserve, there are other ways to show rank than by extravagant dress. But that's not all, what bothers Montaigne most are fads and the fact that they are continually changing. It is wrong, according to Montaigne who is agreeing with Plato, to allow the young to have such liberty "to change from fashion to fashion...constantly changing the basis of their ideas this way and that, running after novelties and honouring those who invent them; by such things are morals corrupted and all ancient principles brought into disdain and contempt." Montaigne would blow a gasket if he were alive today. American culture, particularly pop culture, thrives on fads and change; change has become commercialized. It is your duty to help the economy and buy, buy, buy! Must keep up with the Joneses! Montaigne believes that "change is to be feared, including changes of seasons, winds, diets and humours." Today, for thoughts like that, the poor man would no doubt be on Prozac or something. He does have a point though, not about fearing change, but about chasing after novelties. Perhaps if we could just slow down a little we'd all be a lot happier. Two weeks from now: Yep, that's right, two weeks from now. No Montaigne next weekend. I will be visiting my parents and sister in California. The weekend after that, however, will bring the final Montaigne essay mish-mash: "On the Battle of Dreux," "On the Frugality of the Ancients," and "On One of Caesar's Sayings."