Date of publication: 2017-07-08 16:28
As many scholars have noted, the style of the Essays makes them amenable to a wide range of interpretations, which explains the fact that many thinkers with diverse worldviews have found the Essays to be a mirror in which they see their own reflection, albeit perhaps clarified to some degree by Montaigne’s penetrating insights into human nature. This would not be inconsistent with Montaigne’s purposes. In essaying himself publicly, he essays his readers as well, and in demonstrating a method of achieving self-knowledge, he undoubtedly intends to offer readers opportunities for self-discovery.
SELECT THE APPROPRIATE “SELF.”
The concept of persona is crucially important for writers of creative nonfiction to understand. Although the personal essay is a form of nonfiction, and thus the self you bring to your essay should be an honest representation of who you are, we are in fact made of many selves: our happy self, our sad self, our indignant self, our skeptical self, our optimistic self, our worried self, our demanding self, our rascally self and on and on and on. But in truth, if we attempt to bring all of these selves to every essay that we write, we run the risk of seeming so uncertain, so indecisive, that we merely confuse the reader.
In Philosophie morale de Stoïques Du Vair treads a very careful path indeed in his attempt to combine Christianity with his admiration for Epictetus. He suggests that, although it would be improper for anyone to prefer the profane and puddle water of the pagan philosophers to the clear and sacred fountain of God's word, nevertheless the Stoics must be acknowledged as the greatest reproach to Christianity, insofar as they managed to live the noblest and most virtuous lives without the true light of the Christian God to guide them.
A century later, Montaigne would become a favorite of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Friedrich Nietzsche. In Emerson’s essay “Montaigne or, the Skeptic,” he extols the virtues of Montaigne’s brand of skepticism and remarks Montaigne’s capacity to present himself in the fullness of his being on the written page: “The sincerity and marrow of the man reaches into his sentences. I know not anywhere the book that seems less written. Cut these words, and they would bleed they are vascular and alive.” Nietzsche, for his part, admired Montaigne’s clear-sighted honesty and his ability to both appreciate and communicate the joy of existence. In Schopenhauer as Educator , he writes of Montaigne: “the fact that such a man has written truly adds to the joy of living on this earth.”
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The study of Dürer’s works requires more imaginative effort than the works of the Italian Renaissance artists. In a typical German fashion, his art sometimes disregards the outward beauty of form, with the main intent of revealing the inner life. The art is subordinated to the revelation of the real, the inward, which latter was the subject of investigation for German philosophers like Kant and Schopenhauer. And, like in the case of early German painters, the expression of the inner, emotional life, remained the ideal of Dürer.
Hemley is being witty here, poking fun at himself and at his overuse of the rhetorical question. He is also signaling the reader that this essay will focus on that part of him that can be called “mean,” or critical.