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Order in Disorder

Intratextual Symmetry in Montaigne’s “Essais”

Randolph Paul Runyon

Publication Year: 2013

Montaigne’s Essays are treasured for their philosophical and moral insights and the fascinating portrait they give us of the man who wrote them, but another of their undoubted delights is that they tantalize the reader, offering beneath an apparent disorder some hints of a hidden plan. After all, though the essayist kept adding new pages, except when he added the third and final book he never added a new chapter, but worked within the structure already in place. Order in Disorder: Intratextual Symmetry in Montaigne’s “Essais,” by Randolph Paul Runyon, offers a new answer to the question of how ordered the Essays may be. Following up on Montaigne’s likening them to a painter’s “grotesques” surrounding a central image, and seeing in this an allusion to the ancient Roman decorative style, rediscovered in the Renaissance, of symmetrical motifs on either side of a central image, Runyon uncovers an extensive network of symmetrical verbal echoes linking every chapter with another. Often two chapters of greatly different length and apparent importance (one on thumbs, for instance, balanced against one on the limits of human understanding) will in this way be brought together—not without, Runyon finds, an intended irony. The Essays emerge as even more self-reflexive than we thought, an amazingly intratextual work.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-viii


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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: Marginal Sympathy

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pp. 1-25

Montaigne begins “De l’amitié” [Of friendship] (I: 28), the chapter1 that comes just before the middle of the first book of the Essays, by talking about a middle that corresponds to that one and hinting at the way his book may be arranged: ...

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1. Book One

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pp. 26-118

The time has long passed since Pierre Villey’s disparagement of Book One’s early chapters—”All one can say about most of these chapters is that there is nothing to say”—held sway.1 There has recently been more and more to say, especially about the first. Celso Martins Azar Filho reports that the first chapter “is today considered a kind of introduction” to the...

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2. Book Two

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pp. 119-189

“De la ressemblance des enfans aux peres” was the Essays’ concluding chapter in the original 1580 edition. So it was appropriate that it should begin with a reflection, though brief, on the Essais themselves: “Ce fagotage de tant de diverses pieces se fait en céte condition, que je n’y metz la main que lors qu’une trop láche oysiveté me presse, & non ailleurs que chez moi” [This...

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3. Book Three

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pp. 190-224

It is to be expected that in “De l’utile et de l’honneste” Montaigne should talk about the useful and the honorable: “Je suy le langage commun, qui faict difference, entre les choses utiles, & les honnestes: si que d’aucunes actions naturelles, non seulement utiles, mais necessaires, il les nomme deshonnestes & sales” [I follow the common language, which distinguishes between things...

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4. Journey to the Center of the Book

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pp. 225-252

We recall that “De l’amitié” (I: 28), which immediately precedes the central chapter of Book One and serves to introduce it, begins with an account of how an artist decorated the walls of Montaigne’s chateau with a noble example of his best work in the middle of each one, and filled the surrounding space with grotesques. We recall as well that he likens...

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Epilogue: The Playful Text

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pp. 253-256

“Every commentary,” writes Yves Delègue in Montaigne et la mauvaise foi, adding that his own is no exception, “is in the final analysis only a montage of quotations reassembled in a certain order. It takes apart the work under the pretext of making the ‘truth’ come out at last. The commentator’s...


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pp. 257-264

Works Cited

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pp. 265-272

Index of Names

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pp. 273-274

Index to the Essays

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pp. 275-276

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780814271131
E-ISBN-10: 0814271138
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814212400
Print-ISBN-10: 0814212409

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2013