In the frenzy of caustic political diatribe in the weeks before the vote for President in the United States, Tim Parks offers the voice of reason in his article – Should Novels Aim for the Heart or the Head? – in the Book Review section of the New York Times.
“Montaigne’s position was always that we must be extremely careful about our emotions, in particular our tendency to get emotional about ideas. He didn’t advise neutrality, but simply that ‘we should not nail ourselves so strongly to our humors and complexions.’ To foster emotions deliberately and habitually was dangerous, because once a strong emotion had kicked in it was very difficult to find a way back.”
The rhetoric of emotional intensity has spilled over from reality show television and action packed books and movies into the political arena, a place where the calm assessment of affairs has been replaced by dyspeptic rants, brutal verbal attacks on adversaries, and “horror for the future.” Montaigne notes: “No one is exempt from speaking nonsense – the only misfortune is to do it solemnly.”
Rereading Sarah Bakewell’s A Life of Montaigne has immersed me into introspection – and a new appreciation for nonfiction.
It will not stop me, however, from escaping reality and losing myself in the next book of fiction – life seems better when it’s not real all the time. Alan Bradley has my attention now in the return of Flavia de Luce.