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									                                                                              Montaigne abstracts, 1

Montaigne abstracts

            Un flux de caquet: excessive speech and ethical speech in Montaigne

In his chapter on textual pleasure and practice, ‘Sur des vers de Virgile’, Montaigne describes his
Essais as ‘un flux de caquet’. This paper proposes to investigate this metaphor, with its
connotations of both the scatological and the garrulous, and to explore the connections between
them in sixteenth-century medical and moral culture. Garrulousness is linked to greed in patristic
genealogies of vice; and unrestrained speech is frequently likened to the abject productions of
insects on meat, spoiling and polluting a God-given gift. Much has been written on Montaigne’s
enthusiastic adoption of the rhetorical figure of copia and the generative power of language that
this illustrates (Terence Cave’s 1979 Cornucopian Text being perhaps still the most influential);
what I hope to do in this paper is explore an explicitly social and embodied form of copia: babble
or talkativeness. For Montaigne, particularly in ‘Sur des vers de Virgile’, speech, and more
specifically conversation, is revealing because it leads the subject to betray him- (or her-) self;
indeed, the Latin quotation that follows the ‘caquet’ description transforms Montaigne into a
blushing girl, revealing the secret presents given to her by her lover. It is through this betrayal of
self that sixteenth-century discourse on babble becomes ethical (echoing another recent theme in
Montaigne criticism). What excessive and uncontrollable speech does to a sense of subjectivity
and how that subject interacts with others will be the theme of this paper; it will also, I hope,
provide a theoretical background to Montaigne’s metaphors of cackle and babble.

Emily Butterworth
King’s College London
                                                                           Montaigne abstracts, 2

Love letters?

This paper revisits the question of the place of La Boétie and his writing in Montaigne’s Essais.
Although this ‘place’ has already become a critical haunt, there remains more to say, and
psychoanalytic theories, in particular, can amplify our interpretation. Here they allow new
readings of the significance of Montaigne’s subtractions and of the importance of his sustaining
as empty the place not only of La Boétie and his writing but also of Montaigne.

Elizabeth Guild

Robinson College, Cambridge
                                                                          Montaigne abstracts, 3

Frenchness in the Essais

The question of Frenchness is a recurrent theme and a fraught issue in the Essais. When
Montaigne ponders what wrong ails the French body (III.9) or reflects, more generally, on
different nations and their costums and mores (II.7), he is also constructing a notion of
Frenchness which I will explore in my presentation. The complexity of the essayist’s
meditations on this topic derives as much from his critical thoughts about the discovery of the
New World as from his ideosyncratic reception of numerous writings about the Orient (III.6), his
experiences as a traveler and as a witness of a protracted civil war. What emerges from the
Essais is a configuration of France as a space of intermediacy and instability and a
conceptualization of Frenchness that is both charged with tensions and in flux. Finally, I will
relate Montaigne’s notion of Frenchness to a contemporary theorization of national identity
(Etienne Balibar) and investigate to which extent the essayist’s reflections on France and
concept of the nation can critically inform our own ideas of nationhood.

Marcus Keller

Department of French

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
                                                                 Montaigne abstracts, 4

Elizabeth Guild (Robinson College, Cambridge), ‘Love Letters?’

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