Savaging Montaigne

The assignment was to translate a paragraph of Montaigne into today’s language and then free write. I particularly liked the outcome, as did others who read it. So, here it is.

CHAPTER X——OF BOOKS

“I make no doubt but that I often happen to speak of things that are much better and more truly handled by those who are masters of the trade. You have here purely an essay of my natural parts, and not of those acquired: and whoever shall catch me tripping in ignorance, will not in any sort get the better of me; for I should be very unwilling to become responsible to another for my writings, who am not so to myself, nor satisfied with them. Whoever goes in quest of knowledge, let him fish for it where it is to be found; there is nothing I so little profess. These are fancies of my own, by which I do not pretend to discover things but to lay open myself; they may, peradventure, one day be known to me, or have formerly been, according as fortune has been able to bring me in place where they have been explained; but I have utterly forgotten it; and if I am a man of some reading, I am a man of no retention; so that I can promise no certainty, more than to make known to what point the knowledge I now have has risen.”

The Complete Essays of Montaigne—Michel De Montaigne, translation- Charles Cotton pg 303

There is absolutely no doubt that the things I speak of are best left to the experts who know what they’re talking about. My essay that you see before you, is purely that of a laymen’s mind at best. I write for myself and nobody else, nor do I wish to be responsible to you the reader. I don’t want to be held accountable to you for getting it wrong, or for things such as facts or more so, things being left out. If you want knowledge on a grander scale go read a book on whatever subject you seek. Again I am writing for myself. I’m quite satisfied with what I know, I don’’t seek more. It’s not about gaining more knowledge but to know myself a bit more. And besides, if I at one point I read something and learned it, I certainly wouldn’t remember it now.

Reading Montaigne, I enjoyed his approach. He employs/enjoys a rather Socratic (gadfly)? approach to his dispensing of knowledge. World weary? A false humility, possibly? “Oh go on, I’m not that spectacular or bright, just more so than you.” << on that order. From the few essays I’ve read, he seems clearly pleased with himself. I’m quite pleased as well, despite the fact I found Montaigne pretty hard to decipher. Also, while this chapter/essay is presumably about books, I find it’s primarily focused on him and his lingering (and perhaps, dwindling) relationship with books. A metaphor for his life? Further on in the essay, he says, “I seek, in the reading of books, only to please myself by an honest diversion; or, if I study, ’tis for no other science than what treats the knowledge of myself, and instructs me how to die and how to live well.”

I’d written the above paragraph, before I understood the assignment. So, now that I do understand, welcome to my free fall. In keeping with the theme, on books, I decided to keep my first paragraph, it’s about ego as much as it is laziness. 148 well placed words, don’t write themselves, people! I sat and thought about my books and more so my relationship with books and can one know a person through what they choose to read, or how they read, or the roll that books and reading play in a person’s life? I’m not sure, but I think it gives a clue or two or five, perhaps…

What if I told you that, I don’t want jewelry, cut flowers or a trip to Maui. What if I told you, if you know me, get me some interesting book from Barnes and Noble or preferably some independent bookstore, if it’s not too far out of the way—something that touches on some subject, you’ve heard me speak on. One of my latest and greatest and many must know about subjects. Hand me a book, and I take it as meaning you’ve thought of me. Hand me a book on something I’ve been ranting about, and I take that as love—real love. I’m 52, and I’m quite likely, weather permitting to walk out or go driving, anywhere, having forgotten my shoes. They are inessential, like my car keys I lost a month ago. Copastetic, man—they’ll show up. Books are both my only material possessions and my link to my soul. A necessary luxury. Right now, I’m sitting mani-pedi-less, without decent clothes, I need a hairstyle. I’ve come to the conclusion, that ripped jeans, going shoeless and having disgraceful (to others) nails, is something that is unacceptable for a woman of my age, who doesn’t live in a cardboard box.

The idea is you can get away with not spending an insane amount on a suitable wardrobe. The essentials are the exteriors. A good $100-300 haircut. If you’re gray, excruciatingly necessary. If you’re dying—I’m not—neither me nor my hair—even more so. No roots—ever! Nails—kempt at all times. You can get a way with a couple of dark pairs of pants—black and navy. A few good 3/4 length sleeve shirts. A good fitted bra or two and impeccable shoes—sensible but not less than $100. A good jacket or two or more any color—dark to bright. And fresh makeup—a good rose glow or bronzer.

And why should I lie? I could not care less. In my 20s I wouldn’t go out of the house without makeup. I would step outside with a mirror, my back to the street, to check my makeup. I was on it. And ridiculous. And I didn’t read nary a line of anything. Not Quindlen nor Dowd of the New York Times, not e. e. cummings nor Ginsberg, or E.L— Doctorow—not James. Or any of the hundreds, thousands, millions? millions, of books that if I lived a millennium, I couldn’t hope to get to.

The other day I was talking with friends about, of course—books. I felt like a schmuck, my friends were talking about how they’d lost first editions of one book or another, how they collected them. How they were worth something. And it’s lost on me. I suppose it’s as fine a hobby as any to collect books, like one collects beanie babies or pens—without stealing. I guess if it’s books, it’s considered an intellectual pursuit, even if they go unread. I just don’t understand having something and not utilizing it fully. Nor do I want what I haven’t got.

I have a friend, who works for a spa doing massage—entirely legal. No funny business. She was telling me how she loved her work. How her clientele feels after a session with her. How happy they are. And that makes her happy. I told her, there is nothing I would possibly hate worse than having to massage people I wouldn’t sleep with. The idea of touching someone that intimately and leaving it at that. Either not wanting to or wanting to and not being able to due to ethics. Laughing, she told me to seek help. I did. In a book.

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