In the time it takes to make tea, specifically this one, I had a conversation with Michel de Montaigne.
Although the mustachioed Michel has never once invited me to his tower retreat, I am drawn to the way Michel effortlessly slips words of wisdom about impotence in between puns about derrieres.
I sat down with the very deceased author of the essay “That to Study Philosophy Is to Learn to Die” and the man who said “upon the highest throne in the world, we are seated, still, upon our arses”.
M: Please, call me Michel.
M: Please, call me de Montaigne,
A pause, but not necessarily an awkward one.
Y: Thank you for taking these 3 minutes to talk to me. To kick off our interview…
M: Who’s kicking whom?
Y: Forget it. Let’s talk about your style.
M: Ah oui. I desire therein to be viewed as I appear in mine own genuine, simple, and ordinary manner, without study and artifice . . . I seldom wear other than black or white.
Y: I dig it, but I meant your writing style. You are considered the inventor of the essay.
M: History is more my quarry, or poetry, which I love with particular affection… it seems to me that a thought, when compressed into the numbered feet of poetry, springs forth much more violently and strikes me a much stiffer jolt. But, to follow the road you’re trying to lead me down, I write so that I do not speak the minds of others except to speak my own mind better.
Y: You have said before that one should look to oneself for answers just as much – if not more – than one looks to “experts”.
M: If we allow existing thinkers to define the boundaries of our curiosity, we will needlessly hold back the development of our minds. We are richer than we think, each one of us.
Y: So through thinking we are richer than we think? Thus the truth lies close to us, not far from us?
M: Oui. Do you ever have the suspicion that our tutors never stop bawling into our ears, as though they were pouring water into a funnel; and our task is only to repeat what has been told us?
Y: Only to repeat what has been told us. That’s very wise.
M: If man were wise, he would gauge the true worth of anything by its usefulness and appropriateness to his life. The wisest man that ever was, when asked what he knew, replied that the one thing he did know was that he knew nothing.
Y: Isn’t there the promise of some deep well of inner tranquility that comes with knowing a lot about a lot?
M: Put a philosopher into a cage of small thin set bars of iron, hang him on the top of the high tower of Notre Dame at Paris. He will see, by manifest reason, that he cannot possibly fall. And yet he will find (unless he has been trained as a plumber) that the sight of the excessive height will frighten and astound him…
Y: If not wisdom, what should we value?
M: Friendship. In the friendship which I am talking about, souls are mingled and confounded in so universal a blending that they efface the seam which joins them together so that it cannot be found.
Y: On a slightly different tangent, what is your perfect date?
M: It may be when I wrote Essays on the first day of March, fifteen hundred and eighty.
Y: Oh Michel, I meant a romantic date.
M: Every strange woman appears charming. The pleasure I give tickles my imagination more sweetly than that which I feel. But as for marriage, being continually together is not so pleasing as to part for a time and meet again.
Women, all alone, produce mere shapeless masses and lumps of flesh, but that to create a good and natural offspring they must be made fertile with a different kind of seed; so it is with minds.
Y: Ok…Michel, yes, let’s return to the mind. Actually, we’re running out of time so if you could just sum up…
M: Where are we running to? What are we running from?
Y: We’re running from fear?
M: The thing I fear most is fear.
Y: I fear it’ll take too long for us to go into that, Michel. I’m afraid we have only 30 seconds to finish up this conversation.
M: More than enough time! 30 seconds! Why, a man must design nothing that will require so much time to the finishing, or, at least, with no such passionate desire to see it brought to perfection. We are born to action:
I would always have a man to be doing, and, as much as in him lies, to extend and spin out the offices of life; and then let death take me planting my cabbages, indifferent to him, and still less of my gardens not being finished.