, Volume 94, Issue 1, pp 33-41
Date: 03 Jul 2009

Defective Memories, Deception, and the Writing Process: Montaigne’s Attempt at Truth in Essay I: 9

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Abstract

Montaigne expresses strong doubt in the Essais about intrusions of memory. For Montaigne scholars, essay I: 9, “Des Menteurs,” provides a particularly fascinating study, as the essayist ties the act of lying with that of remembering and proposes a solution to the problem of his own defective memory in the dialectical nature of the writing process. While deviating from the initial subject of his essay, “Of Liars,” Montaigne joins the Renaissance debate concerning natural vs. artificial memory, inviting us to consider the wisdom of his ancient predecessors Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian. A consideration of the elaborate visual systems and mnemonic devices of his contemporaries Giulio Camillo and Giordano Bruno sheds yet another perspective on the value of memory in the search for truth. The historical anecdotes Montaigne chooses to include in essay I: 9 underscore the modernity of his writing, as they describe memory defects not unlike those identified by contemporary neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists. Finally, through his own writing process in essay I: 9, Montaigne displays a preference for the power of human judgment and the exercise of our intellects over that of our memories as a more certain way of getting at the truth.