Michel de Montaigne | Quotidiana
Embellishment plays such an enormous role in narration, especially with regard to “true accounts” of “real” discovery. There is so much emphasis on the “SELF” in these kind of accounts told by Europeans. It’s as if to discover some new object or part of the world were actually tantamount to creating it.
We tell narrations, and add bombast to them — to insure that we will personally receive credit for our discoveries.
In other words, we “ornament” ourselves with our discoveries, and wear them like medals of honor. This much is true, as Montaigne seems to think. And then, almost inevitably, in a bold manner we proceed to ornament our ornamentations.
But think about what Montaigne says in these essays: about the fruits of the New World, how they are better off not being embellished, that they are already ornaments, and in need of no further adornment. They are already beautiful in their irregularity, precisely because they are not the product of anyone’s craft or pre-determined efforts.
Who can take personal credit for them?
Whereas Old World fruits, though bred and cultivated to a high state of impeccability, are in fact quite devoid of any unique flavor, devoid of charm. Montaigne seems to suggest that the inventions for which most people expect to receive the highest honors are, in fact, most often the greatest instances of mediocrity and of banality.
“…there is a plague on Man, the opinion that he knows something.”
It is far better in Montaigne’s view to be eccentric and to be aberrant, than to be archetypal. I hope I’m using the word archetypal correctly. However, if all of Western culture and learning is far too overcooked, it’s no wonder we, who approach all these things as students, so frequently spit out learning before we have fully savored it.
Montaigne’s Humanist views is fascinating to me because it seems to focus NOT on the beauty of humanity elevated above the world. Rather, he focuses on the beauty of unique and particular objects within the world, tiny marvels which arise spontaneously, “as if” by magic. Yes, magic. Or magick, lulz.
Montaigne finds himself charmed, seduced and enchanted, by these natural “wonders”.
And the recognition of the wonder of the world, this feeling of ongoing curiosity, in turn places emphasis not on the marvel of human ingenuity and productivity, but rather on the amazing powers of human passion, sensitivity and receptivity.