Monday, May 17, 2010

Bakewell, Sarah. "Montaigne, Philosopher of Life, Part 2: Learning Not to be Afraid." GUARDIAN May 17, 2010.

Montaigne, as a young man, had an excessive fear of death, and it made it almost impossible for him to enjoy living. This was partly the result of a fashion of the time, which stated – following some of the ancient philosophers – that the best way to be at ease about your own mortality was to think about it constantly. Dwell on your death every day, went the theory, and you will become so used to it as an idea that it cannot scare you when it arrives in reality. Not surprisingly, the results could be quite the opposite. Brooding on death could make the fear worse, not better. That was certainly what Montaigne found when he tried it. It did not help that, as he entered his 30s, he suffered a series of bereavements. His best friend Etienne de La Boétie died of the plague in 1563. Next, his father died of a kidney-stone attack; then a younger brother suffered a fatal haemorrhage after being hit on the head by a tennis ball. This last freak accident particularly horrified Montaigne. "With such frequent and ordinary examples passing before our eyes," he wrote, "how can we possibly rid ourselves of the thought of death and of the idea that at every moment it is gripping us by the throat?" Fortunately, at around the same time, he had a near-death experience of his own, and it was just what he needed to release him from his fear. . . . Read the rest here:

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