Michel de Montaigne's Essays inaugurate a new genre in European literature. Deeply private and playful in their exploration of diverse topics, they are as much a record of one mind as they are ... read more
Michel de Montaigne's Essays inaugurate a new genre in European literature. Deeply private and playful in their exploration of diverse topics, they are as much a record of one mind as they are reflections on life in its full diversity. So what is an essay? What makes it different from a confession, from a philosophical tract, from a diary? And what is the status of the opinions voiced in an essay? Are they snapshots of a particular mind or do they present more permanent truths? We will see how the essay's very form illustrates a preeminent concern of this early modern genre with scepticism, i.e. the belief that nothing can be known for certain. Looking at Montaigne, Francis Bacon's Essays and at Thomas Browne's Religio Medici and Urne-Buriall, we shall analyse how the religious concept of belief comes under scrutiny and how each author 'assays' to build his thoughts on shaky ground.
Participants will have to meet the usual requirements. Regular attendance and a presentation in class are obligatory; credits can be acquired by submitting a paper on a specialised topic. English is spoken in class. Your language skills should be at the C1 level or higher according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
Bacon, Francis. Essays. Ed. John Pitcher. London: Penguin, 1985.
Browne, Thomas. Religio Medici and Urne-Buriall. Ed. S. Greenblatt, R. Targoff. New York: New York Review of Books, 2012.
Montaigne, Michel de. The Complete Essays. Trans. M. A. Screech. London: Penguin, 2003.