Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Sebond Essay, Part One

Not only is Montaigne's essay "An Apology for Raymond Sebond" two hundred pages long, it turns out to be of major importance. After finishing the essay I was reading a little about it and it hit me that Montaigne was like important, and I mean not important just because he came up with a literary form, which is pretty darn important, but as a thinker and philosopher. Here I am wanting to do a study of philosophy and I've been reading it all along. Doh! Of course now I'm going through paroxysms of guilt and stupidity--I should have been paying more attention, I should have been reading more closing, I shouldn't have been treating Montaigne so lightly, I should have known better. But at the same time I am glad I didn't know better because if I had, reading Montaigne thus far would have been a serious endeavor and instead of being fun it would have ended up more like school and while school was great, everything was read because it had to be and not for the sheer pleasure of the undertaking (That's what's really wrong with schools, especially the English departments, reading is done because this work or that is important and pleasure and joy have nothing to do with it. If literature was taught the other way around--for the joy of it--then I think there would be a whole lot more readers out there). So anyway, Montaigne is a major philosophical figure and I am taken aback by that because, well, he's just a regular guy (albeit a wealthy regular guy) worrying about things and asking himself some big questions about life and death and happiness and making fun of himself and his peers along the way. So the Sebond essay was a surprise though it shouldn't have been. In Montaigne's essays up to this point he has been a rambling, storytelling kind of guy. He plays with the argument like a cat playing with a mouse, he circles, he feints, circles some more, pretends he has lost interest and then pounces. The Sebond essay is completely different. It is serious, it is finely argued, it does not ramble. It is written like you would expect an essay to be written. It is a difficult essay, for me at least, because Montaigne tells fewer stories and works more in the realm of ideas and philosophy and my philosophy is weak. The Life and Death of Socrates, The Cave and pieces of the Poetics doesn't quite cut the mustard when Montaigne has a deep knowledge of Plato, Aristotle, Sextus, Plutarch, Diogenes, Virgil, St Agustine, Cicero and others. Oh, and Catholic theology, can't forget that. The good thing is I have quite a few books to add to the philosophy reading list I am putting together. Who was Raymond Sebond anyway? Raymond Sebond was a Spaniard, possibly Catalan. He was a Master of Arts in Medicine and Theology. He wrote a book in the 1420s to early 1430s called Natural Theology. The Church was fine with the book itself, it was Sebond's Prologue to the book that made it controversial. And Montaigne translated Sebond and published his translation--including the Prologue--in 1569. Do you think you see where this is going? Come back tomorrow and find out.