Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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April 09, 2008
don't bother scrubbing your archives . . .

. . . they may contain your only intelligent stuff.

Here's Montaigne:
Often we correct ourselves as stupidly as we correct others.

That's maybe the most killer line of his quoted in a recent review of a new edition of his essays.

(In the original:
Nous nous corrigeons aussi sottement souvent, comme nous corrigeons les autres.)

The essayist continued, according to the review (in an excerpt quoted also here):
After a long stretch of time, I have become older, but certainly not an inch wiser.

Me now and me then are two, but which is better I could not say at all. It would be great to be old if we always progressed toward improvement. It is like a drunken movement, tottering, vertiginous, shapeless, like reeds moved fortuitously by the wind.

Montaigne understood that human intelligence over the course of a lifetime or a historical epoch can in fact go backwards.

He was approximately four centuries ahead of his time in this discovery. The same findings later were presented in more rigorous and irrefutable form, of course, here.

The above-linked review did not disclose which particular essay by Montaigne contained the above-quoted bit.    A little digging finds it to be Book III, Chapter IX, "Of Vanity."

The various on-line translations of the passage show it to sound richer and wiser, the earlier and more antiquated is the language.
(Or, to qualify the preceding statement in way that increases its generalized accuracy at the cost of making it less punchy and clear-cut and therefore less entertaining:

How the translation "sounds" in one's internal ear at any given moment probably shifts, depending on which direction the wind is blowing in the meteorological system of one's mental and emotional weather. For more on the vagaries of these winds, see below.)

[W]e often correct ourselves as foolishly as we do others. . . .

I very much doubt whether I am grown an inch the wiser. I now, and I anon, are two several persons; but whether better, I cannot determine. It were a fine thing to be old, if we only travelled towards improvement; but 'tis a drunken, stumbling, reeling, infirm motion: like that of reeds, which the air casually waves to and fro at pleasure.


We many times correct our selves as foolishly as we taxe others unadvisedly.

I doubt whether I be encreased one inch in wisedome. My selfe now and my selfe anon are indeede two; but when better, in good sooth I cannot tell. It were a goodly thing to bee old if wee did onely march towards amendment. It is the motion of a drunkard, stumbling, reeling, giddie-brain'd, formeles, or of reedes, which the ayre dooth casually wave to and fro what way it bloweth.

Which sort of supports the guy's point.