Montaigne and Distance in "Of Cannibals"

Michael Talis English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

de Montaigne and Distance in "Of Cannibals"

Michel de Montaigne makes a difficult and risky argument in his comparison of Renaissance and cannibal cultures in "Of Cannibals." His argument seems to be a delicate balance between recognizing the value in cannibal cultures and actually suggesting his people adopt practices such as hanging the head of the vanquished above the door. This small paragraph exemplifies the fine line that de Montaigne walks:

So we may well call these people barbarians, in respect to the rules of reason, but not in respect to ourselves, who surpass them in every kind of barbarity.

1. What are "the rules of reason"? What does this suggest about how de Montaigne perceives the operating forces in Renaissance culture?

2. How does de Montaigne manage to critique his own culture using cannibal culture but still maintain a distance from the cannibals? Where in the text does he do this? How important is this distance?

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Last modified 13 February 2002