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Michel de Montaigne is one of the most renowned French authors of his generation. He would create his own niche with his creativity in writing his Essais. Experience, society and books were the most important tools from which he would gather his ideas. Montaigne would accomplish his expertise by withdrawal from public life in 1571 to address what he called an “introspective study of himself”. With this, he would lay down his opinions on various issues and solitude was one of the themes he extensively covered in his essays.
In fact, Montaigne went on to write an essay of On Solitude which was – like most of his works – written in French but has been translated to a number of languages by other literature lovers. On Solitude is number 39 of Montaigne’s essays in which he employs his rhetoric style of writing to address issues of loneliness and solitude in one’s life. This essay – and the theme of solitude in general – has received acclaim and critic in equal measure.
This paper seeks to address the issue of solitude as explained in Montaigne’s works.
Montaigne’s definition of true solitude is that it is a “disease that lies in the mind, which cannot escape from itself; and therefore is to be called home and confined within itself” (Montaigne). At the start of the essay, Montaigne is quick to challenge his readers, and in particular “those who ae in public affairs” to confess whether they do not desire some level of privacy to have advantage on certain issues at the expense of the public.
He writes “let us boldly appeal to those who are in public affairs; let them lay their hands upon their hearts, and then say whether, on the contrary, they do not rather aspire to titles and offices and that tumult of the world to make their private advantage at the public expense” (Montaigne). This highlights the value Montaigne places on solitude and that despite “we are not born for ourselves but for the public”, solitude to Montaigne is of paramount importance to an individual’s life irrespective of the title and office they hold.
Montaigne goes further to explain that solitude helps us to “live more at leisure and at one’s ease” (Montaigne). By this Montaigne is a firm believer that loneliness is something that should aid the humans to live with satisfaction without influences from others. This seems to be pointing out that one would easily heal after they lose some social ties temporarily or permanently. He continues to explain that solitude does not only mean being in our own private space, but rather separating ourselves from “our instincts” so as to “repossess ourselves” (Montaigne). This would be an important part of any individual as there are a myriad of times we are often forced to live in loneliness and if it something we are not used to, we might have trouble readjusting and repossessing ourselves. Despite the truthfulness of this sentiment, it is costlier to live in solitude than in other people’s company. In the contemporary world, for instance, many have found company as being important during the grieving process. This is a true reflection that we were not born for ourselves but for the public as well. Therefore, it is not worthy to separate ourselves from others with the excuse that we are training ourselves or repossessing ourselves.
Montaigne also claims that the “contagion is very dangerous in the crowd” and therefore we should exercise solitude and “take good care not to be involved in life and with loved ones and our possessions] beyond the point where it begins to be mingled with pain” (Montaigne). Montaigne tries to highlight the disadvantage we might encounter if we entangle ourselves with the “public”. He claims that the crowd is contagious and if we get so attached – for instance to friends and relatives – we might have a hard time adjusting to their absence. This is especially true as humans often experience when they are bereaved. However, this is not sufficient to claim that we should disentangle ourselves from social circles and seclude ourselves in preparation for such eventualities (Heck 93-97). This clearly defeats the purpose as we are already engaging in loneliness when there are people who could offer good company and counter the anxiety one experiences in loneliness.
True solitude encompasses self-reliance and a preparation and prevention of grief (Heck 93-97). These are important aspects that loners gain. However, this is something that we need not to practice if we can always get comfort from the crowd. We can always have time for ourselves and also create room for other s and for friendship. Self-reliance and avoidance of grief are not enough reason to separate ourselves and as the old adage goes, there is always strength in unity. On the account of Aristotle, “whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god”. Clearly, humans are not gods or beast and therefore Montaigne’s opinions underscore the repossession he claims to be present in solitude. In fact, solitude is a perfect platform from which we experience heightened anxiety and apprehension. With this realization, it is evident that solitude does not helps us in being stable, it only epitomes one’s self fragmentation (Heck 93 97).
Cut to the bone, the issue of solitude is a hotly contested one among various stakeholders. Training ourselves to stay in solitude has its own pros and cons; sadly solitude is an important of humans that has to be experienced at one point or another. However, this should not be a scapegoat for us to exercise solitude when there is a chance to mingle and enjoy ourselves amidst company of others. Modifying ourselves to be resistant to grief and become self-reliant defeats the purpose for which people live in communities, interact with each other, and create social ties and even marriages and families. Having these people at heart is all part of the process and the pain that comes with their loss is an unavoidable circumstance. Therefore, Montaigne’s On Solitude is an understatement and ignorance to the insurmountable amount of benefits we accrue from interacting with others.
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