Montaigne's on physiognomy

Bontea, Adriana (2008) Montaigne's on physiognomy. Renaissance Studies, 22 (1). pp. 41-62. ISSN 0269-1213

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Abstract

The present essay situates Montaigne's writing practice in the context of the Renaissance natural sciences, among which physiognomy was a popular field of investigation. Aimed at establishing connective patterns between human features and natural properties, physiognomic treatises of the time provide Montaigne with a terminology and a catalogue of sensible association the Essays remove from their original framework and adapt to the purpose of a faithful representation of the self, able to incorporate the whole range of sixteenth-century experience. A close analysis of the sensible associations based on secondary qualities, which subsequent classical philosophy obliterates, allows identifying the leading thread of Montaigne's essays beyond discontinuities of subject matters. The search for meaningful connections between remote spheres of experience, results in a practice of writing devised in opposition with both Baroque vernacular poetics and Baroque painting. Montaigne's claim to paint himself naked retrieves its full meaning from extending established physiognomic connections based on bodily features to rhetoric, history, and everyday encounters. By broadening the inventory of natural properties registered by the art of physiognomy, Montaigne's essays justify nature as a basis for all human undertakings and recognize in its richness a legitimate purpose of all inquiries, which both physics and metaphysics attempt to address.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Depositing User: Adriana Bontea
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 20:09
Last Modified: 09 Jul 2012 14:14
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/24373
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