- I vincoli del disinganno. Per una nuova interpretazione di Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne (1533–92) is the French Renaissance author of the Essays, the most famous of which is probably the Apologie de Raymond Sebond. A first version of the Essays appeared in 1580, and a revised version in 1588; modern editions follow the so-called Bordeaux exemplar with subsequent annotations by Montaigne—who is labelled as a "skeptic" because of his method of philosophical enquiry (see Richard Popkin's History of Skepticism). A great deal of secondary literature on Montaigne appeared in the twentieth century, and additional studies have been published in the past few years (the latest work being The Cambridge Companion to Montaigne [New York, 2005]).
This new book by Prof. Panichi (The Bounds of Disillusionment: Towards a New Interpretation of Montaigne) is the fruit of a ten year research on Montaigne's thought, and carries all the richness and complexity of the course of this long research—the results of which have, in part, also been presented in a series of Conferences held throughout Italy and France. The author is a member of the Editorial Board of Montaigne Studies (http://humanities.uchicago.edu/orgs/montaigne) and correspondent from Italy for the Bulletin de la Société des Amis de Montaigne (www.amisdemontaigne.net/sommbulletins.htm) and she is well known to Montaigne scholars for the many articles and book chapters produced, and for contributing fifteen entries to the Dictionnaire de Michel de Montaigne (Paris, 2004).
The book is divided into five parts, following a twenty-five page introduction, and the many footnotes provide an impressive number of bibliographical references and critical discussions. It offers many careful and detailed analyses of all the main aspects of Montaigne's thought, and considers some important connections with other thinkers who influenced the philosopher—i.e., Giordano Bruno, and above all Stefano Guazzo, the author of La Civil Conversazione—which were previously neglected or not taken into due account. An emphasis is placed on Montaigne's various "uses" of the Imagination, which is in the first place an intermediate faculty between Sensibility and Understanding, and also a powerful faculty, even able to make things happen (fortis imaginatio generat casum). Imagination plays a key role in the historical process—which is considered as "open," and not ruled by providence of any kind, rational or divine (the author speaks of Antiprovvidenzialismo storico)—in the sense that it functions as a means to access new political views, and is sometimes even able to bring liberty where there was tyranny (Montaigne especially liked the form of State in Venice).
The author emphasizes the strong influence on the Essays of the anti-tyranny pamphlet La Servitude Volontaire, written by Montaigne's friend La Boétie. This fully recognized influence contributes to shape—as the book's sub-title indicates—an image of Montaigne, which is somewhat different from the classical portrait. Montaigne's skepticism in particular (not to be confused with relativism: it is instead the necessary condition for a true search for truth) is reinterpreted from an ethical viewpoint and "skeptical reason" is seen as a figure of ethics, with important consequences also at a political level. As explained in the first chapter of the fourth part, Being (as well as the knowledge of it) is linked to the practice of dialogue/conversation (conférence), where the central notion is that of the relation towards otherness (relation à autrui), made possible by practical reason through imagination—here intended as the ability to take the other's place, of 'sensing' what the other is feeling and [End Page 487] thinking (that ability which Adam Smith was to call "sympathy" and Howard Gardner—in more recent times—"interpersonal intelligence"). The relation à autrui process is above all a feature of friendship and for Montaigne, La Boétie was the friend, and also the thinker who indicated the (nonviolent) way to replace a bad government with a good one. How? Simply saying "No!" to the tyrant and, through this refusal to...