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'Une forme d'escrire douteuse et irresolue': Seneca and Plutarch in Montaigne's Essais

O'SULLIVAN, LUKE,NICHOLAS (2017) 'Une forme d'escrire douteuse et irresolue': Seneca and Plutarch in Montaigne's Essais. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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What are the relationships between doubt and truth, thinking and writing in Montaigne’s Essais? We usually see Montaigne’s doubt through the lens of ancient schools of Scepticism and yet he notes that the Pyrrhonians ‘ne peuvent exprimer leur generale conception en aucune maniere de parler’: these philosophers describe their doubtful thought in negative affirmations but these are affirmations – ‘propositions affirmatives’ – all the same. This thesis approaches Montaigne’s doubt differently: I investigate the Essais not as an attempt to indicate or describe doubtful, ‘double et divers’ thought but as a tool for thinking doubtfully in writing. Montaigne’s literary use of language is therefore central to my analysis. Irony, ambiguity, the practices of rewriting and overwriting, the ‘polyphony’ of cited authors who advocate different positions: these afford ways of thinking that sustain duality and doubt.
I focus on Montaigne’s engagement with Seneca and Plutarch, ancient authors who are, superficially, unrelated to doubt: the Essais constitute a particular form of humanistic engagement with ancient texts, concerned with practices and forms of writing as much as, if not more than, with philosophical concepts. These ‘dogmatic’ authors – they defend philosophical positions of certainty – were, counter-intuitively, seen by Montaigne to have a ‘forme d’escrire douteuse et irresolue’. This doubtful ‘forme’ shaped Montaigne’s own and it was, I argue, in working with and on these authors – reading, writing, and thinking with them – that he constructed a way of writing doubtful in both form and thought: a text that is double, unresolved, ambiguous, and yet ‘truthful’ in its capacity to perform and make legible the complex, multiple nature of his thought and his thinking.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Montaigne, Essais, Seneca, Plutarch, Doubt, Truth, Scepticism, Writing, Simultaneity, Doubleness, Classical philosophy, Renaissance, Early Modern
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Modern Languages and Cultures, School of
Thesis Date:2017
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:20 Jun 2017 14:28

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