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  • Rencontre et reconnaissance: les 'Essais' ou le jeu du hasard et de la vérité by Olivier Guerrier
  • Emma Claussen
Rencontre et reconnaissance: les 'Essais' ou le jeu du hasard et de la vérité. Par Olivier Guerrier. (Études montaignistes, 64.) Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2016. 294 pp.

In this study of Montaigne's Essais, Olivier Guerrier chooses to focus on four key terms: 'rencontre', 'reconnaissance', 'hasard', and 'vérité'. Showing considerable erudition, the author draws on Montaigne's classical sources, and on contemporary dictionaries and literary works, to contextualize these terms. In any word-oriented study, other words inevitably suggest themselves: one that might have added to this discussion is 'foiblesse', which seems of latent importance to Guerrier's account of aesthetics and intention. Guerrier sees the terms he focuses on as particularly important writing tools (an 'outillage notionnel', pp. 17 and 114) rather than as ends in themselves. The conclusion of the first section affirms that, as word histories go, this is a practical one: words are not 'concepts', or 'mots accordéons', but 'supports et vecteurs d'une pratique' (p. 115). The practice in question is one of managed inconsistency and inter-subjectivity. Guerrier's book is in four parts. The first is a study of the term 'rencontre', concluding that it figures as a way for Montaigne to negotiate between the spoken and written word (with attention to I, 10, 'Du parler prompt ou tardif '); to register contingency; and to explore both the instability of the writing subject and the possibilities offered by quotation, gloss, and paraphrase. Part Two is organized around the notion of 'errance', and describes Montaigne's seemingly spontaneous and digressive practices of reading and writing, emphasizing symbiosis between the text and Montaigne's living, thinking self. At this point Guerrier also addresses the vexed question of intention, by looking at use of the word 'dessein', with reference to Montaigne's annotations of the Bordeaux edition. In Part Three, Guerrier argues that, paradoxically, Montaigne's exposure of his inconsistencies enables him to write something like the truth, or to be 'au-dessus de tout soupçon'. The book contains much engagement with La Boétie as an important 'other'; this third section, for instance, analyses his Discours sur la servitude volontaire as performing a rhetoric of truth (p. 196). The final section, on 'reconnaissance', contains a nice exploration of the term as meaning 'recognition', 'gratitude', and 'judgement', and how Montaigne sets up a relation of recognition and encounter with his reader. Finally, Guerrier concludes that, though spontaneous, Montaigne is hardly passive, instead managing his 'fantaisies' as part of a future-oriented 'dessein'; he also makes the strong claim that the representation of truthfulness in particular (rather than the engagement with any specific philosophical mode) makes the Essais an event in the history of philosophy. Guerrier acknowledges his debt to the work of Terence Cave at various points; in an otherwise strong engagement with the critical field, perhaps the only real omission is the work of John D. Lyons on chance and randomness, although Lyons deals with a later period. Overall, this is a subtle and complex interweaving of many highly topical questions in Montaigne studies and in early modern studies that operates a careful balance between analysis of general themes and patterns, and close readings of certain chapters.

Emma Claussen
New College, Oxford


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