“Of a Monstrous Child” by Michel de Montaigne

08Mar05

I chose to read this very brief essay of Montaigne’s before I went to bed last night because the title amused me. I was expecting a rant against the bratty behaviour of young children, not a thoughtful observation of conjoined twins that precipitates Montaigne suggesting universal acceptance of things we consider strange.

My favorite bit:

What we call monsters are not so to God, who sees in the immensity of his work the infinity of forms that has comprised in it; and it is for us to believe that this figure that astonishes us is as related and linked to some other figure of the same kind unknown to man. From his infinite wisdom there proceeds nothing but that is good and ordinary and regular; but we do not see its arrangement and relationship….We call contrary to nature what happens contrary to custom; nothing is anything but according to nature.

Most likely Montaigne’s comments are limited to those visibly strange, not socially or sexually strange. But maybe I’m wrong. He did write an essai about sexuality in Virgil, which was taboo for his time.

This essay fits with Montaigne’s thoughts about the purpose of personal introspection through essay (according to the introduction provided in my mighty book of essays): that the activity is not vain nor narcissistic, rather by writing about ourselves we can discern the common aspects of all human experience. The notion that the experience of this young boy whose brother is partially attached to him has universality might be a difficult idea for some people to grasp.

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