French 220: Montaigne and the Arts of Reading

Instructor: Professor Timothy Hampton

In this seminar, we will study Montaigne’s Essais in the context of early modern practices of reading and interpretation. Montaigne’s moment, like our own, was a moment of great anxiety over the authority of texts, over the nature of education, and over the role of knowledge for life. How to read? How to read the Bible? How to read the body? How to read events? How to read sexuality? How to read the weather? We will study Montaigne against writings by his models and near contemporaries (Seneca, Lipsius, Bacon, Bodin, Las Casas, Pascal), and in conversation with modern accounts of the problematics of reading texts and bodies. In recent years, the Essais have re-emerged as important texts for our own cultural moment—both as sites for reflection on current problems, and as models of a post-humanist, post-narrative writing practice. This seminar will offer an opportunity to read them closely. Class discussion will be in English. Reading knowledge of French is recommended.

Books on Order:
Montaigne, Essais, 3 volumes (Garnier-Flammarion).

  • Elective Requirement: This course fulfills the Critical Approaches and Methodology requirement or an elective requirement for the DE in REMS.