Fall 2019

Trial and Error: An Interdisciplinary Experiment with Montaigne's Essais

Listed in: French, as FREN-328


Sanam Nader-Esfahani (Section 01)


"If my mind could gain a firm footing, I would not make essays, I would make decisions; but it is always in apprenticeship and on trial" (III, 2 "Of Repentance"). A Renaissance jurist and thinker, Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) is widely recognized as one of the key figures in the history of self-writing and of the essay as genre. This course, however, situates Montaigne beyond these two frames. In the spirit of Montaigne himself, it proposes to attempt, to sample, to taste—in sum, to essay—the Essais (1580-1595). From confessions of impotence to love affairs with books; from rebuttals of human reason to reflections on solitude and age; from networks of exchange to disease and contagion, the uncategorizable content of the Essais, combined with a dynamic form replete with detours and deviations, is an invitation to err among and try a variety of subjects. Similarly, our objective is not to gain expertise, but to experiment and to experience. Our trials will combine a close reading of a selection of Montaigne’s Essais alongside critical, historical, or theoretical texts from a diverse range of methodologies and fields, such as medicine, sound studies, cultural gerontology and more. In addition to engaging with the writings of Montaigne, this course therefore serves as a more general opportunity to consider the place of literature among and within other disciplines. Conducted in French.

Requisite: FREN 207, 208 or the equivalent. Fall Semester. Professor Nader-Esfahani.


Attention to Research, Attention to Writing, Languages Other Than English


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Spring 2022