- I vincoli del disinganno: Per una nuova interpretazione di Montaigne
Nicola Panichi is a professor of philosophy whose many publications include a comparative study of Montaigne and Nietzsche (Urbino, 1995), an interpretation of Etienne de La Boétie's Discours de la servitude volontaire (Naples, 1999), and a selection of Montaigne's essays in Italian translation (Florence, 2000). Building on and often borrowing from those previous works, she has now authored an imposing yet disappointing study of the Essays that would have been much better had it been much shorter. The term vincoli from the title derives from Giordano Bruno's magical treatise De vinculis in genere and refers to the bonds, ties, or connections which constitute what Montaigne himself calls "la relation à autruy." Montaigne criticism is always eager to discern a connection between the disparate themes of the Essays, and so the theme of connection itself, in the forms of friendship, conversation, and political association, seems to be an ingenious solution to the challenge of achieving a comprehensive interpretation of Montaigne's thought. The metaphor of the vinculum is also, as it turns out, a handy pretext for binding a stack of conference papers into a book, which may be standard scholarly procedure but here results in relentless repetition and requotation throughout the lengthy course of this tiresome work.
The work is divided into five parts, the first of which deals broadly with history understood as "the true intertext of all the essays" (67), a thesis later expanded into the claim that "the trilogy space/time/history is the true intertext of all the essays" (426). Montaigne is rightly understood to reject the exemplar theory [End Page 618] of history and most other humanist efforts to impose meaning on historical process, but wrongly understood to subscribe to the ideology of progress, on the basis of his admiration for Venice, which is supposed to represent the progress of human freedom. It is in this section that the author invokes Hans Blumenberg's thesis of Montaigne's anticipation of a new temporal paradigm, from Lebenszeit und Weltzeit, in order to read the New World essays as the expression of a strange temporal idealism. For Panichi, Montaigne portrays the New World natives as the new ancients, who, by reviving ancient virtue, represent the inversion of historical time. This inversion in turn is supposed to hold out hope for the regeneration of the Old World on the model of the New. In general, the author seems determined to annex Montaigne to a utopian tradition and to abstract him from his own time and place.
Part 2 discusses the political morality of the essays, focusing first on the issues raised by the essay "De l'utile et de l'honneste" and secondly on the role of friendship as a political ideal both in La Boétie's Discours and in Montaigne's essay "De l'amitié." Since friendship is a form of association requiring absolute equality, it can be understood as a model of political organization for some future society, which will in turn resemble the society described in "Des cannibales." This is a plausible abstraction, but what becomes of monarchy in this model? Moreover, what becomes of Michel de Montaigne as the subject of monarchy in late sixteenth-century France? These are questions which the author does not pause to consider.
Part 3, on the imagination, is the best and most effective section of the work. Whereas elsewhere, the author, as befits a philosophy professor, ignores the integrity of the essay form and quotes randomly from four or five different essays in the same sentence, here she focuses very patiently on two essays dealing with the imagination. First, she looks at "De la force de l'imagination," where Montaigne famously observes that while some writers talk about events, his own purpose is to talk about what is possible, "ce qui peut advenir." Imagination expands our notion of what is possible...