Tuesday 7 April 2009

Michel de Montaigne: the first blogger

Did you know that the 16th-century French writer Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) was the first blogger? He describes the experience of blogging very accurately:

“When the soul is without a definite aim she gets lost; for, as they say, if you are everywhere you are nowhere…. Recently I retired to my estate, determined to devote myself as far as I could to spending what little life I have left quietly and privately; it seemed to me then that the greatest favour I could do for my mind was to leave it in total idleness, caring for itself, concerned only with itself….

“But I find … that on the contrary [my mind] bolted off like a runaway horse, taking far more trouble over itself than it ever did over anyone else; it gives birth to so many chimeras and fantastic monstrosities, one after another, without order or fitness, that, so as to contemplate at my ease their oddness and their strangeness, I began to keep a record of them, hoping in time to make my mind ashamed of itself.”

—Michel de Montaigne, “On Idleness,” in On Friendship (Penguin 2004), 69-70.


kim fabricius said...

Pierre Bayard has a chapter on Montaigne in his très arch How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read (2007). He describes the great blogger - I mean essayist - as "an eminently forgetful reader". Montaigne himself writes:

"I leaf through books, I do not study them. What I retain ... is only material from which my judgment has profited, and the thoughts and ideas with which it has become imbued; the author, the place, the words, and other circumstances, I immediately forget."

Indeed, Montaigne forgets his own blogs - or rather books - even when cited to him: "It is no great wonder if my [blog] follows the fate of other [blogs], and if my memory lets go of what I write as of what I read."

Bayard concludes:

"In every consideration of reading [blogs], we should remain mindful that [blogs] are linked not only to knowledge, but also to loss of memory and even identity. To read [blogs] is not only to inform ourselves, but also, and perhaps above all, to forget, and thus to confront our capacity for oblivion."

Blogo, ergo non sum? So is blogging a form of dispossession? No, just a damned effective electronic opiate for the vain, loquacious, and self-indulgent.

Jeff Olsen Biebighauser said...

Does this make Pascal the first Twitter-er?

Anonymous said...

haha...that's pretty good! Learn something new everyday!! It does feel like your mind "bolts off" on some adventure when you get your fingers on the keyboard. :) :) Very nice blog btw. :)

God bless,

Taylor J. Beisler

roger flyer said...

What's his blog nom de plume? I'm there. French, you say?

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