When I Am Playing with My Cat, How Do I Know That She Is Not Playing with Me?: Montaigne and Being in Touch with Life [NOOK Book]

Overview

“When I dance, I dance; when I sleep, I sleep. And when I
am walking alone in a beautiful orchard, if my thoughts
are sometimes preoccupied elsewhere, the rest of the time I
bring them back to the walk, to the orchard, to the sweetness
of this solitude, and to me.”
...

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When I Am Playing with My Cat, How Do I Know That She Is Not Playing with Me?: Montaigne and Being in Touch with Life

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Overview

“When I dance, I dance; when I sleep, I sleep. And when I
am walking alone in a beautiful orchard, if my thoughts
are sometimes preoccupied elsewhere, the rest of the time I
bring them back to the walk, to the orchard, to the sweetness
of this solitude, and to me.”
Montaigne
 
In the year 1570,at the age of thirty-seven, Michel de Montaigne gave up his job as a magistrate and retired to his château to brood on his own private grief—the deaths of his best friend, his father, his brother, and his firstborn child. On the ceiling of his library he inscribed a phrase from the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius: “There is no new pleasure to be gained by living longer.”
 
But finding his mind agitated rather than settled by this idleness, Montaigne began to write, giving birth to the Essays—short prose explorations of an amazingly wide range of subjects. And gradually, over the course of his writing, Montaigne rejected his stoical pessimism and turned from a philosophy of death to a philosophy of life. He erased Lucretius’s melancholy fatalism and began to embrace the exuberant vitality of living, finding an antidote to death in the most unlikely places—the touch of a hand, the smell of his doublet, the playfulness of his cat, and the flavor of his wine.
 
Saul Frampton offers a celebration of perhaps the most enjoyable and yet profound of all Renaissance writers, whose essays went on to have a huge impact on figures as diverse as Shakespeare, Emerson, and Orson Welles, and whose thoughts, even today, offer a guide and unprecedented insight into the simple matter of being alive.




From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Michael Dirda
…a series of historical and critical essays rather than a biography…Where Frampton excels is in his sharply intelligent and sharply phrased insights…
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
With deceptive casualness, Frampton, assistant editor of the London Review of Books, renders a rigorous history of ideas in this engaging account of the life and the work of Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592). After enduring in short succession the deaths of his daughter; father; best friend; and brother, "killed absurdly, tragically, by the blow from a tennis ball," Montaigne retreated to his tower library, intending to write and prepare himself for his own death. Out of this dismal exercise came Les Essais, his eccentric and invaluable essays on his milieu, philosophy, and preoccupations. Frampton tucks a good deal of biography into his tour of the evolution of the essays and the events that inspired them—but his extraordinary achievement is in conveying—and inviting the reader to commune with—Montaigne's unique sensibility and his take on death, sex, travel, friendship, kidney stones, the human thumb, and above all, "the power of the ordinary and the unremarkable, the value of the here-and-now." This scholarly romp through the Renaissance is a jewel. (Mar.)
From the Publisher

“Excellent . . . Montaigne celebrates life in all its glorious messiness, while reminding us that nothing matters more than human connectedness and kindness to people and animals. An endlessly digressive writer, Montaigne is as much raconteur as moralist, and his book offers some of the best after-dinner conversation in the world . . . You can never be sure what this French humanist will say next . . . Frampton approaches Montaigne from unexpected tangents . . . Where [he] excels is in his sharply intelligent and sharply phrased insights . . . [An] elegant work.”
—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
 
“Winning . . . Perceptive . . . Frampton tells the story of how history, culture, and personal genius conspired to create a new literary genre—and a literary master for the ages . . . Although they were first published more than four centuries ago, Montaigne’s essays can seem as topical as the morning newspaper. As more than one admirer has discovered, Montaigne’s essential gift—the art of conversation rendered on the page—is a timeless one.”
—Danny Heitman, The Christian Science Monitor
 
“Montaigne’s essays delight in human sensuality, uniqueness, even unpredictability. Though [his] early essays were about war, the later essays are playful, uninhibited, and in parts painfully intimate (sexual dysfunction; the passing of kidney stones, etc.). Frampton, in his lighthearted book, explores the shift in Montaigne’s thinking . . . [He] shows how Montaigne’s later essays are full of fascination and observation and how he approaches practical issues—his health, his political obligations, his role as a winemaker—with an enviable equanimity.”
—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
 
“Frampton offers a celebration of perhaps the most enjoyable and yet profound of all Renaissance writers, whose essays went on to have a huge impact on figures as diverse as Shakespeare, Emerson and Orson Welles, and whose thoughts, even today, offer a guide and unprecedented insight into the simple matter of being alive.”
The Washington Times
 
“[An] inventive exploration . . . [This book] attest[s] to the enduring fascination of [Montaigne’s] pieces: The sensibility behind them is at once centuries old and curiously modern.”
—Kwame Appiah, Slate
 
“Scholarly, but not pedantic, this is a book to be savored over time. As with Montaigne’s essays, it is one which can be opened and read at any point without interrupting its flow. . . . Frampton’s extensive knowledge of literary history is evident.”
—Rosemary Repeta, The Post and Courier
 
“The skeptical and humane French nobleman has always had his admirers, and Frampton’s learned, subtle, and engaging book shows why.”
—Brian Bethune, Maclean’s
 
“In Montaigne’s intense self-absorption, Frampton discerns the rich literary fruit of a stunning midlife volte-face . . . Frampton underscores the essential humaneness of Montaigne’s life . . . Recognizing the twenty-first century’s own need for advocates of life-affirming tolerance, readers will embrace this insightful portrait.”
—Bryce Christensen, Booklist (starred review)
 
“With deceptive casualness, Frampton renders a rigorous history of ideas in this engaging account of the life and the work of Michel de Montaigne . . . His extraordinary achievement is in conveying—and inviting the reader to commune with—Montaigne’s unique sensibility and his take on death, sex, travel, friendship, kidney stones, the human thumb, and above all, ‘the power of the ordinary and the unremarkable, the value of the here-and-now.’ . . . This scholarly romp through the Renaissance is a jewel.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
 
“Ingenious . . . Passionately written and full to bursting with digressions and anecdotes, Frampton’s book does an excellent job of bringing Montaigne and his historical context to life. It is this vivid evocation of the time that emerges as the book’s greatest strength. We see how the philosopher’s celebration of daily life . . . went against not only the dominant philosophical currents of the day but also the violent upheavals of 16th-century France. What comes through the strongest is an inspiring sense of the philosopher’s remarkable independence of thought and enduring relevance.”
—Edward King, The Sunday Times (London)
 
“One of the best books I have read on Montaigne . . . Frampton argues that to read Montaigne is ‘to touch base with oneself’ and to learn how to act within our capacities, to accept and even to savour them . . . He demonstrates that the more Montaigne observed ordinary life, the more remarkable he found it, and the more he felt impelled to plunge back into its mess . . . Four centuries on, Montaigne still speaks to us.”
—Nicholas Shakespeare, The Daily Telegraph (London)

“[Frampton has] written an introduction to Montaigne’s great work as well as setting it in historical context, showing how it influenced important writers, such as Shakespeare. Frampton’s book stands as a work in its own right and should encourage anyone unfamiliar with Montaigne to read the original.”
—Phil Bloomfield, The Oxford Times (UK)

Library Journal
Frampton's introduction to the life and thought of that most humane late Renaissance figure, Montaigne, suffers from unfortunate timing, with its publication five months after Sarah Bakewell's estimable How To Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. But regardless of timing, Frampton's style is ham-handed, e.g., this would have been a much shorter book if all sentences beginning with "And" or "But" had been edited. The content, while acceptable early on, deteriorates in later portions. Several of Frampton's conclusions are strained and anachronistic. Can one argue that Montaigne intuited the modern sciences of proxemics ("the anthropology of people's relations to each other in space") and kinesics? How can Montaigne's thought really "echo" the 20th-century Japanese philosopher Watsuji Tetsuro's writings on "betweenness"? Frampton writes of "empathy neurons," and he devotes more than a page to summarizing Stanley Milgram's 1970s experiments on obedience to authority, as though Montaigne had somehow anticipated modern-day ideas and concerns 400 years before they surfaced. Montaigne, for all he speaks to us still, was very much a man of his times. VERDICT There are worthwhile insights in this book, but they are buried in the dross. Try Bakewell's book instead.—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307379597
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/15/2011
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 861,286
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Saul Frampton studied English and philosophy at the University of East Anglia, wrote a doctorate on Renaissance literature at Oxford, and was a research fellow at Cambridge. He lives in Hove on the Sussex coast.




From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Sometime towards the end of the sixteenth century, Michel Eyquem, Seigneur de Montaigne, reached up to the ceiling of his library and scratched off an inscription he had placed there some years before. His library was on the third floor of a round tower standing on a corner of the noble house of Montaigne in Périgord. From his windows he could see into his garden, his courtyard, his vineyards, and into most parts of his house. The house stood on a hill a few miles north of the Dordogne, some thirty miles east of Bordeaux.
 
Circling Montaigne were his books, a thousand of them, arranged on five shelves on all sides. Through them he leafed ‘without order, without plan’, getting up from his chair to stroll around the room, sixteen paces in diameter, giving him a circular walk of about fifty paces in circumference. Above his head, classical and biblical quotations curled across the joists and beams of his ceiling, like vines round the branches of a tree.
 
The inscription Montaigne erased was a line from the Roman poet Lucretius: Nec nova vivendo procuditur ulla voluptas – There is no new pleasure to be gained by living longer. It was a sentiment he had previously held dear to. Like most thinkers of his time, Montaigne followed a Christian and a Stoic philosophy, where life was seen as preparation for the afterlife and the task of philosophy was to harden oneself against the vicissitudes of fortune. And of misfortune, Montaigne had experience at close hand. His first-born daughter had died at the age of only two months (the first of five to die in infancy). His younger brother had been killed, absurdly, tragically, by a blow from a tennis ball. His best friend, Etienne de La Boétie, had died of the plague in his early thirties. And his father, whom he adored, had recently suffered a prolonged and agonizing death from a kidney stone. Moreover, violent religious warfare was spreading across the country, setting light to Montaigne’s region, pitting Catholic against Protestant, father against son, massacre against murder.
 
And so in a Latin inscription he had made on the wall of his library after resigning from his job as a magistrate and retiring to his house, Montaigne had declared his intention to hide himself away, and crawl unburthened towards death:
 
In the year of Christ 1571, aged thirty-eight, on the eve of the beginning of March, his birthday, Michel de Montaigne, worn out with the slavery of the court and of public service, and whilst still intact, retires to the bosom of the learned Muses, where in peace and security he hopes, if fate allows him, to pass what may be left of his life already more than half spent, consecrating this ancestral dwelling and sweet retreat to his liberty, tranquillity and repose.
 
The choice of his birthday expressed a melancholy fatalism: that this was the beginning of his cessation. And so Montaigne, soon to be pained with the illness that had killed his father, had retired to this round tower, to this third-floor room, to pass away, undisturbed, the little that ‘may be left of his life’.
 
***
 
Montaigne is now renowned as the author of the Essays, perhaps, alongside the plays of Shakespeare and Don Quixote, one of the most important literary works of the Renaissance. In it he attempts to essayer or ‘test’ an amazing variety of topics, ranging from warfare to idleness, from drunkenness to thumbs. Begun a couple of years after Montaigne’s retirement, yet continually added to over the twenty years up to his death, the Essays represent an amazing compendium of Renaissance beliefs and attitudes.
 
But Montaigne’s erasing of the words of Lucretius from the ceiling of his library also marks an amazing reversal in Montaigne’s outlook over the course of his writing – a shift from a philosophy of death to a philosophy of life.
 
Deeply influenced by the death of his father and the steadfastly stoical death of his friend La Boétie, Montaigne had initially retired with death uppermost on his mind: ‘To Philosophize is to Learn to Die,’ as he declares in the title of one of his first essays. But over the course of his writing, Montaigne turns his back on this pessimism and embraces a new philosophy, in which it is ‘living happily, not . . . dying happily, that is the source of human happiness’. Like James Stewart’s character in It’s A Wonderful Life, Montaigne begins to reject despair and feel the texture of the simple fabric of existence. And, with this, his essays grow from simple distractions into a way of replaying, rewinding, and reliving his life as he lives it: ‘I want to increase it in weight; I want to arrest the speed of its flight by the speed with which I seize it . . . The shorter my possession of life, the more deeply and fully I must make use of it.’
 
And Montaigne’s writing overflows with life. In over a hundred essays and around half a million words he records every thought, every taste and sensation that crosses his mind. He writes essays on sleep and on sadness, on smells and friendship, on children and sex and death. And, as a final testament, he writes an essay on experience, in which he contemplates the wonder of human existence itself.
 
And in the text of the Essays and his Travel Journal (recounting his trip to Italy), Montaigne explores the pains, paradoxes and pleasures of being. He asks whether you should jump or duck at the bang of an arquebus, or whether to stand still or run at the enemy. He tells how Plato says you shouldn’t drink before you are eighteen, should drink moderately until forty, but after then get drunk as often as possible. He notes the beauty of the prostitutes of Florence (‘nothing special’) and the Italians’ love of large breasts. He loses his wallet; he pokes himself in the eye. He goes sledging down Mont Cenis. He goes to Pisa and meets the learned Doctor Burro, who presents him with a book on the ebb and flow of the sea.
 
Yet amidst these infinite interests there remains a heart to Montaigne’s enquiry: his own experience of himself. For Montaigne stands at the watershed of the two great intellectual movements of the past millennium: the darkened vaulting of medieval Christendom and the monstrous progeny of seventeenth-century science. In both of these, everyday life is, in a sense, relegated: in science into mechanism and matter; in religion into transitoriness and sin. Montaigne is like a man standing on a platform, waiting between these two trains. Yet during this silence, in the space of perhaps a few decades around the end of the sixteenth century, life begins to unfurl. For what Montaigne discovers is the power of the ordinary and the unremarkable, the value of the here-and-now. And central to this is the idea that each and every one of us – and he takes himself as the primary example – has a particular way of viewing the world. He says that he sees himself as ‘a very ordinary person, except in this regard, that I consider myself so’.
 
Montaigne’s writing could thus be said to be the first sustained representation of human consciousness in Western literature. This is not to say that people had been unconscious in the periods before, or that accounts of individual lives had not been written, such as by Augustine or Abelard. But no one had paid such attention to the actual experience of living, or seen life as providing a moral lesson – in justifying political and religious tolerance and providing a reason to continue to live. The Christian Stoicism of the sixteenth century saw the body and the senses as something to overcome, something which we should become indifferent to, and life as something that could be easily relinquished, provided the moral and theological price was right. But Montaigne rejects this indifference and over the course of his essays finds the reason for living in the very experience of living itself. He ponders the odour of his doublet, the itching in his ear. He savours the wine and the water of the towns he visits (‘smell of sulphur, a little saltiness’). He thinks that parasols burden the arm more than they relieve his head and notes the outcome of various enemas – ‘farted endlessly’. He tickles himself. He dreams that he dreams. He even has himself awoken from sleep, ‘so that I might gain a glimpse of it’.
 
For Montaigne, life is to be lived actively and not passively, a vitality that led even nietzsche – not one to hand out compliments – to proclaim: ‘That such a man wrote has truly augmented the joy of living on this earth . . . If I were set the task, I could endeavour to make myself at home in the world with him.’
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Table of Contents

Preface 1

1 Waking to the Sound of a Spinet 13

2 Because It Was Him, Because It Was Me 25

3 To Jump or Duck at the Bang of an Arquebus 41

4 To Philosophize Is to Learn to Die 65

5 Que sçais-je? - What Do I Know? 81

6 When I Am Playing with My Cat, How Do I Know She Is Not Playing with Me? 97

7 To Rub and Polish Our Brains with Others 123

8 The Philosopher's Stone 155

9 The Exercises of Venus 173

10 The Touch of a Familiar Hand 193

11 A Dog, a Horse, a Book, a Glass 219

12 Of Experience 245

Select Bibliography 279

Illustrations 287

Index 291

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