Reading Notebook #3: I Distrust My Thoughts

Michel de Montaigne

Snippets from “The Life and Essays of Michel de Montaigne” by Jane Kramer, in the September 7, 2009, issue of The New Yorker.

Montaigne … often warned his readers that nothing he wrote about himself was likely to apply for much longer than it took the ink he used, writing it, to dry. …

“Yes. I admit it,” he wrote in “On Vanity.” “Even in my wishes and dreams I can find nothing to which I can hold fast. The only things I find rewarding (if anything is) are variety and the enjoyment of diversity.”

It [“On Vanity”] is a meditation on dying and, at the same time, on writing—or, you could say, on writing oneself to life in the face of death, on getting lost in words and in “the gait of poetry, all jumps and tumblings” and in the kind of space where “my pen and my mind both go-a-roaming.” … “My mind does not always move straight ahead but backwards too,” he says. “I distrust my present thoughts hardly less than my past ones and my second or third thoughts hardly less than my first.”

… “If I were allowed to choose I would, I think, prefer to die in the saddle, rather than in my bed, away from home and far from my own folk. There is more heartbreak than comfort in taking leave of those we love.” …

“In a truly loving relationship—which I have experienced—rather than drawing the one I love to me I give myself to him. Not merely do I prefer to do him good than to have him do good to me, I would even prefer that he did good to himself rather than to me: it is when he does good to himself that he does most good to me. If his absence is either pleasant or useful to him, then it delights me far more than his presence.”

Posted in Reading.
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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