Wednesday, January 30

Montaigne, Death, and Passions

I found a passage in my reading for English 677R that I wanted to share. Yeah, I’m sort of a writing nerd. Whatever.

The culprit at hand was Of Practice – Montaigne’s work on how to die. I don’t remember the exact context of the assignment to read, but I vaguely get the feeling that my creative writing teacher thinks that he, along with Philip Lopate and some Englishman whose name I can’t remember (and whose writing I abstained from commenting on during that period… I remember that he wrote about New Year’s Eve, but, other than that and the fact that his essay ended in a long, currently archaic poem, everything else is gone), are some of the great essayists of time. Or something like that.

Either way, I read Montaigne and found a passage that made me almost want to ask him to write a guest post on (Gay) Mormon Guy. Because I assume that, being Montaigne, his philosophizing would carry weight that my experiential writing doesn’t. Except that he died a couple centuries ago, and if I’m going to talk with angels, I’ll ask for someone other than Montaigne. So I’ll just include the section and let the words speak for themselves.

Every man knows by experience that there are parts that often move, stand up, and lie down, without his leave. Now these passions which touch only the rind of us cannot be called ours. To make them ours, the whole man must be involved; and the pains which the foot or the hand feel while we are asleep are not ours. (Of Practice, Montaigne)

I’ll leave the first sentence to explain itself because I can’t think of any way to put it without feeling awkward, except that you can’t control your attractions – to men or women. But I think it’s crazy that, 500 years ago, a French philosopher and writer wrote about a concept that is core to social debates today. Who are we? What defines us? I think it’s telling that philosophers, for centuries, have taken for granted that we’re defined not by the passions which move us, but by the actions we take in that regard. Simply put, being attracted to men doesn’t mean that I – the core essence of who I am, beyond everything else in the world – am gay… because passions which simply move my mind and body, without my leave, “cannot be called [mine].” To make them mine, the whole man must be involved. And that, ultimately, is my choice.

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