How to Live: Lessons from Montaigne, Godfather of Blogging

Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, January 7, 2014

Don’t worry about death, pay attention, read a lot, give up control, embrace imperfection.

“Living has yet to be generally recognized as one of the arts,” Karl De Schweinitz wrote in his 1924 guide to the art of living. But this is an art best understood not as a set of prescriptive techniques but, per Susan Sontag’s definition of art, a form of consciousness — which means an understanding that is constantly evolving.

In How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (public library), British biographer and philosophy scholar Sarah Bakewell traces “how Montaigne has flowed through time via a sort of canal system of minds” and argues that some of the most prevalent hallmarks of our era — our compulsive immersion in various forms of lifestreaming, our incessant social sharing, our constant oscillation between introspection and extraversion as we observe our private experiences more closely than ever so we can record and frame them more perfectly in public — can be traced down to this one proto-blogger, the godfather of the essay as a genre:

This idea — writing about oneself to create a mirror in which other people recognize their own humanity — has not existed forever. It had to be invented. And, unlike many cultural inventions, it can be traced to a single person: Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, a nobleman, government official, and winegrower who lived in the Périgord area of southwestern France from 1533 to 1592.

Montaigne portait by Dali

Portait of Michel de Montaigne by Salvador Dali, 1947

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