Sunday 7 April 2019

Montaigne in Barn Boots

Finished April 1
Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles through Philosophy by Michael Perry

In this book Perry talks about his discover of Montaigne's writings, his affinity for many of his musings, and his own take on the philosophical ideas in Montaigne's work. This is an intensely personal book, as he talks about his own moments of doubt and his worries.
I've always enjoyed Perry's books, and this was no exception.
Perry has read Montaigne in translation, but also read many of the critical works about both Montaigne himself and his writings. He cites some of these ideas in his nine essays, as he delves deeper into the ideas of Montaigne.
His essay titles here illustrate the way he brings his own life into the ideas. In the first Reading Like a Chicken, where he talks about pecking his way around Montaigne gives us a glimpse into his approach to his philosophical reading. In Roughneck Intersectionality, he talks about the differences in background between himself and the philosopher and the things they have in common. In Confound the Fool, he talks about the unending quest for understanding human nature. In Shame, he reveals his own angst and failures around expectations and outcomes. In Marriage, he talks about Montaigne's unusual relationship with his wife, and his own marital dynamics. In Amateur Aesthetics he talks about his own cultural influences, the subjective nature of beauty, and about the importance of context. He says
I am free to savor six kale chips and an episode of It's Okay to Be Smart then dive into a tub of Costco Cheese Balls and a four-hour Reno 911 binge-watch. "I now, and I anon, are two several persons," Montaigne once said, the upshot being, the "other people" necessary to achieve the cosmopolitan state of generative tension required for aesthetic fruition sometimes reside within the same body.
something I can definitely relate to. In Kidney Stone Wisdom, he compares Montaigne's experiences with the plague of kidney stones, and his own. While Montaigne talks about his ongoing experiences as a chance to strengthen his character before witnesses, Perry summarizes his less dignified response to the experience and expands it to include other bodily frailties more evident with age, and how some of these have provided edifying lessons.
In Meditating on Faith, Perry discusses his own experiences with religion, meditation and yoga. From his fundamentalist Christian upbringing to his introduction, via his wife, to yoga and meditation, he shows his questioning nature. He talks about the struggles with monkey mind, yet how
Whether it is due to having been raised in a large family or just general wiring, I am able to withdraw deep into my head in nearly all circumstances. As a shy person I sometimes go into public to write, which may seem counterintuitive but in fact self-consciousness is a catalyst for withdrawal. The presence of strangers compels me to lower the louvers and focus directly in on the task at hand.
He ends with What to Do, a summary of what he takes away from reading Montaigne. He says,
It seems that somewhere around my current life stage, people make one of two moves: Some stiffen, dig in their heels, and attempt to block the future; others reinvigorate life by blending it with the spirit of youth. I hope I will -- and I am working to -- bend toward the second. I am not talking here about the embarrassment of an oldster trying to vibe with the kids. Nor am I talking about abdicating principles. I am talking about offering a hand, opening new doors, and sometimes -- when new blood is best -- stepping aside and standing down. 
An edifying and satisfying read.

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