‘J’ayme ces mots. . .’: expressions linguistiques de doute dans les ‘Essais’ de Montaigne
This book offers some detailed and dense linguistic analyses of selected expressions of doubt in Montaigne's Essais, taking its cue from a passage in 'Des boyteux': 'J'ayme ces mots qui moderent et amolissent la temerité de nos propositions: A l'avanture, Aucunement, On dict, Quelque, Je pense et semblables'. Seeking to exploit a linguistic method for a literary audience, the book is interdisciplinary in scope, and draws on the concept of polyphony to explore how a phrase may include and indicate different points of view. The linguistic concepts are used as tools to read certain key passages in the Essais that incorporate expressions of doubt in order to inscribe a distance between the writing subject and his writing. The book provides some rigorous linguistic analysis of the chosen expressions (à l'avanture, il semble que, il me semble que, je trouve que and je pense que), and explores furthermore how this approach can illuminate some long-standing and perennially fascinating questions in interpreting the Essais: the position of the writing subject in relation to his material, the status of quotation and imitation, problems of epistemology and the question of Montaigne's scepticism. Indeed, it is Kirsti Sellevold's claim that a linguistic analysis of these expressions [End Page 384] of doubt provides a fresh way of reading the emergence of a concept of personal identity that has been identified in the Essais, and in particular the presence of the writing subject in his text. The book consists of an analysis of the frequency and significance of these expressions of doubt in Montaigne's time, a theoretical chapter on the linguistic concepts that interest the author, and a series of detailed analyses from selected chapters of the Essais, of which the sections on 'De l'utile et de l'honneste' are perhaps the most ambitious and successful. In this choice of key passages, Sellevold is able to discuss the implications of some of the larger religious, political and ethical questions that loom in the Essais. The book is well situated in terms of the literary critical debate that precedes it, with particular reference to the work of André Tournon, Terence Cave and Antoine Compagnon. Although it is useful and illuminating to set the author's readings alongside those of literary critics, the freshness and novelty of the linguistic approach may perhaps have been enhanced if these critics' conclusions were incorporated towards the end of the analysis, rather than framing it from the introductory sections. Despite this, this remains a book that offers an original and thought-provoking approach to Montaigne's text and its inscription of doubt, scepticism and revision.