Que sais-je?


In 1576, having sought refuge from public life and taken up residence in the library of his family estate near Bordeaux, Michel de Montaigne gave instructions for an engraved medal to be placed on a wall above his writing desk: Que sais-je? This admonishment to be sceptical in the face of received knowledge was to be Montaigne’s motto during the composition of the Essais, the great record of his mind over the last two decades of his life. “Ainsi, lecteur, je suis moi-même la matière de mon livre”, cautions Montaigne; “ce n’est pas raison que tu employes ton loisir en un subject si frivole et si vain.” A finer example of what the rhetoricians call praeteritio could hardly be found, as Montaigne’s winking warning invites the reader to accompany him on a kind of holiday journey as he embarks on the thrilling endeavour of sketching the intellectual terrain of Renaissance humanism.

Four and a quarter centuries later, Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the margin of my time arrives as the record of a properly Montaignean project – the adventures of Clive James’s agile mind as it confronts the culture and history of the century just ended.

more from the TLS here.