Philippe Desan

Montaigne A Political Biography Publication date : April 10, 2014

Philippe Desan is Howard L. Willett Professor of French and History of Culture at the University of Chicago. Originally from France, Dr. Desan is among the top Montaigne scholars alive today. He received his PhD from the University of California Davis (1984), and has published widely on several topics pertaining to the literature and culture of the French Renaissance, often in relation to their economic, political and sociological context. At the University of Chicago, he has served as Master of the Humanities Collegiate Division and as Chair of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. He is the general editor of the Montaigne Studies. He has been awarded numerous honors for his scholarly work, including being named Knight of the Ordre des Palmes Académiques (1994) and awarded the Ordre National du Mérite (2004). He has also received the Prix de l'Académie Française (for the Dictionnaire de Montaigne) in 2005.

Who was Michel de Montaigne? The author of the Essais declared his intention to describe a universal self as part of the ‘human condition’, that is, as a being dissociated from the vicissitudes of history.
Contrary to the myth to which Montaigne himself largely contributed, this political biography questions the historicity of the Essais and their inscription in the political and social practices of the late Renaissance.
A public figure, Montaigne held office in various capacities, first as counsellor to the Parliament of Bordeaux, then as mayor of Bordeaux, governor and negotiator. He was a close friend of the future Henri IV.
This book elucidates some of the contradictions between the numerous editions (1572-1592) of the Essais, corresponding to different moments in Montaigne’s life and to conflicting political strategies. Analysing Montagne’s sometimes scheming friendship with La Boétie, the exercise of his mandate as mayor (when he was accused of corruption) and his manoeuvres to get close to the king, the author reveals a different man from the one that is habitually depicted as detached and stoical. What we see instead is a man who did not separate his private life from his public life, who was engaged in the tumults of his time and who spoke out, or kept quiet, for tactical reasons.

• Instead of the clichéd image of Montaigne the detached Stoic, the author gives us the portrait of a man who shared the concerns of his time.

• A fascinating illumination of an era torn apart by its social and religious contradictions.

• A great specialist on Montaigne reveals a true portrait of the philosopher.