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Kritzman's study of Montaigne's essays has essentially reworked six previously published papers with additional material to produce eight chapters. He comes to Montaigne, on the one side, very much from an object-relations version of Freud as significantly mediated through the work of Derrida and others such as Lacan, and, on the other, as expected of a French professor, from the literary perspective of brethren such as Regosin, Conley, and Gray.
The book falls into three parts, the second having as many chapters as the other two: Part I on "monstrosity" more in the Latin sense of showing speaks of the range of biologic variation among anatomical genders and structural imbalance or incompleteness; Part II on approaches to death and loss, including that of the essayist himself and the possible partial mutilation of the corpus by his socially adoptive daughter, Marie le Jars de Gournay, who had her own issues of self-construction in that age of underdog feminism; Part III in many ways recapitulates issues of death and (literary) immortality, body and psychoanalysis, by revisioning substantially through both the model of Socrates' life and the familial lessons of the inheritance of a tendency to kidney stones the meaning a continually reconstructed self as bodily experience.
Chapter One shows how Montaigne uses his ever-questioning mind and capacity for imagination as a pry bar to rip away the crate boards of gender role that force an either-or of male-female we Westerners learn to impose on a serial biologic base; Chapter Two widens the epistemologic-hermeneutic wedge passing through the case of Martin Guerre into a critique of phallic lameness as deficiency of judgment; Chapter Three implies a real-life explanation of the friend, Etienne de la Boétie's, deathbed plaint to Montaigne of refusing him "a place," perhaps as ultimate esteem seen as an impossibility of relational/political equality in friendship implying our ultimate existential aloneness; Chapter Four underscores the impossibility of diverting our anxieties about death by studying escapes there from by means of re-membering what ultimately no one can experience; Chapter Five further develops this morbid theme through Montaigne's therapist-like diversion of himself and others from, as it were, the coward's thousand deaths and losses; Chapter Six broadens the immensity of complication represented by the advantage and danger to Montaigne of his adoptive literary executrix without whom we would have had less of him while with her we face the threat of loss in a different direction due both to her desire and her competence; Chapter Seven discusses Montaigne's sense of Socrates as in many ways the best kind of human from whom Montaigne, who followed his natural nature, recognized his difference both as character and self through a kind of phrenological analysis of physiognomy; in the final chapter, Eight, the essayist revisits Socrates contrastively by way of close observation of his own body, his similarities and differences from his father and ancestors, and all the social-psychological ways our parents live on in us.
In that last chapter, as well, Kritzman comes full circle to a current save-the-world-for-homophilia not so much clearly derived from the Montaignian texts as suggestively insinuated (13-15) around them. Others in the glossolalic industry on Montaigne such as Frame and Tetel keep their harpoons unhoned, presenting studies closer to the literal core of the text even if hope of a definitive Montaigne amidst his Heraclitean experience must splinter under the flukes of the beast. Or as Kritzman brings out of Montaigne (6-7): "It is more of a job to interpret the interpretations than to interpret the
things . . . we do nothing but write glosses about each other. . . ." But Kritzman well summarizes both Montaigne's serpentine purpose and his own thus (7): "This annotation of Being as it unfolds in the future anterior, through a series of differential re-markings, demystifies the very notion of identity."
Kritzman's audience is clearly scholarly. The general audience not keen on Montaigne and reconstructive modernity from a literary and psychoanalytic point of view may shrink from his complexly wrought sentences even more kaleidoscopically connotative than Montaigne's, finding the uphill sand-slippage through the text prohibitive. Oddly, minor technical problems occasionally arise that will dull the luster for some readers, such as mechanical failures of agreement within seven lines (5-6), em-dash misuse (165), hard to dismiss as editorial, some translation by others from his French instead of his own reworked, perhaps non-native, English, the possibility of better translations of key words, inconsistent translation from the French as in quotes not from the essayist. Yet, the overwhelming inclusion of the French and a translation on which Kritzman mainly serially comments gives the reader the chance to test his skill while suggesting the rest of us could make our own selections, if not monographs, even at risk of saying more about ourselves. Yet would not Montaigne applaud this?
Kritzman's endnotes are rich with attractive references. Some would find it more economical to list authors alphabetically, APA style, referring with commentary in the notes to the bibliographic names, thus reducing greatly the repetition of titles, as against the MLA style likely inescapable in this author's circle.
Aporia, paranomos, parrhesia, topos, trope: a brief glossary would have offered a touchstone for divergent interpretations of the significance of key disciplinary terms, like "topos," for example, that infrequently adds to mere "theme" more than historicist or psycho-stratigraphic complications of textual location.
In the end, Kritzman's labor challenges and edifies while unanticipatedly encouraging parallel study of Montaigne among us dedicated readers.
© 2009 Anthony P. Bober
A.P. Bober has studied a psychology spanning Skinner and a humanistic-clinical view based on existential phenomenology and had been a PhD candidate in a substantive yet philosophic European-based sociology including the "critical" view. His teaching augmented courses in group theory/"small-group developmental dynamics" (lab) while introducing "sociology of knowledge" and "issues in biological anthropology," with publications in the first two fields. Currently he is writing a book on mystical experience as metaphorically tied to neuroendocrinology.