Whenever an artist is interviewed, he or she speaks about “influencers,” those whose work not only inspired but also laid the groundwork for the artist’s own work. Bloggers may not realize or acknowledge it, but they have been influenced by Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, a noblemen, government official, and winegrower who lived in southwestern France from 1533 to 1592. Why Montaigne? He was responsible for creating a new genre- the essay. The word, essayer, in French, can mean “attempts,” “exercises,” “trials,” or “experiments.” Montaigne’s “attempts” follow a logic of their own, sometimes unsystematic and disjointed, covering a wide range of unrelated topics and provocative subjects such as sadness, idleness, liars, fear, smell, prayer, cannibals, prayers, names, sleep, cruelty, books, conscience, glory, presumption, drunkenness, affection of fathers, and thumbs.
Montaigne wrote his short texts to learn about his own proclivities and his place in his world. In his one hundred and seven “attempts,” he puzzles over his life, his world, his thoughts, and his feelings. He is clearly writing for his own pleasure and amusement, not necessarily for an audience. I think it was the process of writing, itself, that drove him, rather than then formal or polished results. Montaigne described his writing method: “I take the first subject Fortune offers: all are equally good for me. I never plan to expound them in full…I jab into it, not as wide but as deep as I can; and I often prefer to catch it from some unusual angle…”
Montaigne embodies the motivating force of this blogger: to explore and reflect upon an array of subjects through a personal lens, admitting to some occasional myopia
Recent books about Montaigne
1. How to Live: Or, A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell
2. What do I know? What Montaigne Might Have Made of the Modern World by Saul Frampton
3. 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 by Paul Kent
He is at the top of my list for one of the early insightful voyeurs of life. As you and I know writing has multiple benefits. One of those is to better dig deeper into ourselves. You’ve done a nice summation of his work, which has “influenced” many.