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Title: Liberty, self-possession and carelessness in Montaigne's Essais
Author: Green, F. M.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2010
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This thesis explores the relationship between self-examination, self-regulation and human freedom in Montaigne’s Essais (c. 1571-1592). Montaigne’s text has overwhelmingly been characterized as the expression of a distinctively modern subjectivity, positing an authentic, individual self incommensurable with the artifices of language and social performance. To this interpretation I oppose a new reading centred on one of Montaigne’s deepest and most pressing preoccupations: the need to secure for himself a sphere of liberty and independence he can properly call his own, or himself. Chapter 1 focuses on the language Montaigne uses to articulate what we would now call ‘the self’: a rhetoric of inwardness urging us to look or withdraw into ourselves, and a rhetoric of self-possession calling for us to own or belong to ourselves. These expressions are shown to reflect patterns of discourse inherited from ancient texts, in particular Plutarch and Seneca. To belong to oneself, in Montaigne’s view, is not to be true to oneself, but to be one’s own man and master. Chapter 2 examines the role of these notions of freedom and self-ownership in Montaigne’s account of public engagement. Public life should be shunned because it removes us from ourselves – not in the sense that it exposes us to the distorting gaze of others, but because it turns us into slaves by rendering us dependent on the favour of others and encouraging us to live for the sake of that which lies beyond our powers. In Chapter 3, this robust language of independence is shown to intersect with a contrasting understanding of liberty as carelessness, a conception that unites idleness (oysiveté) with negligence (nonchalance). The thesis concludes by examining the consequences of this composite account of liberty for Montaigne’s understanding of self-discipline and its limits and for the status of the essai as a mode of writing that is peculiarly free.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available