25 January 2011

Of Idleness

Montaigne’s essay, “On Idleness,” seems really to be about what to do with such a state, and addresses exactly the dilemma I face while reading his essays. He argues that a rich and fertile field laying fallow remains prey to all kinds of wild and useless weeds, “and that to set it to work we must subject it and sow it with certain seeds for our service.” I think what he refers to here is the idea that without care and attention nothing of value can grow. “The soul that has no fixed goal loses itself; for as they say, to be everywhere is to be nowhere.” And so I am reading Montaigne’s essays with no fixed goal and I am everywhere and nowhere. I must to the hoe and the plough.
After a busy day at the office, so to speak, Montaigne arrives home and anticipates sitting in his comfy chair and allowing his mind to engage in a little idleness. But, that mind undisciplinedunweeded and uncared forbecomes too difficult to manage, “and gives itself a hundred times more trouble than it took for others, and gives birth to so many chimeras and fantastic monsters, one after another, without order or purpose . . .” To focus himselfto prevent an unmanageable idleness from overruling himhe takes his unweeded, uncontrolled, even uncontrollable and menacing thoughts and puts them into writing. Reason will tame the beasts! Hence, the Essays. “I have begun to put [these monsters and chimeras] into writing, hoping in time to make my mind ashamed of itself.”
I wonder what he means by that last comment. Ashamed of itself for having experienced monsters and chimeras, or ashamed of itself for imposing reason on them?
So to read these essays I need some means of focus, of weeding the fallow garden that is my mind and yield some produce: I have to ask some questions of each essay and then of the Essays—some way to work the uncultivated but fertile field.
An idea? To put the thoughts concerning the essay into writing and produce essays. Though I might call them blogs. And all of them?


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