Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Because It Was He...

I learn something about myself every day, unfortunately, much of it is merely relearning what I had learned before and forgotten. This is a habit of all thoughtful people but is always more productive when shared with friends. We discuss with them so often the highlights of our lives that our patterns of thought and our little idiosyncrasies echo our identities back to us, so in an almost selfish fashion we find our common humanity mirrored in them, and feel through them as though we are truly part of the world instead of merely passing along its margin on our way to the grave.

Lacking this connection is one of the sharpest stings that life can inflict. It is not just the mere loneliness that is painful, but the absence of one who understands us to our very core. An equal in both temperament and tendency. The great humanist Michel de Montaigne invented an entirely new genre of literature, the personal essay, just out of this need to communicate with like souls.

“Besides this profit I make of writing of myself,” He wrote “I have also hoped for this other advantage, that if it should fall out that my humour should please or jump with those of some honest man before I die, he would then desire and seek to be acquainted with me…..many things that I would not confess to any one in particular, I deliver to the public, and send my best friends to a bookseller’s shop, there to inform themselves concerning my most secret thoughts.” And again: “Did I, by good direction, know where to seek any one proper for my conversation, I should certainly go a great way to find him out.”

Montaigne found such a friend just once in his life; his name was √Čtienne de La Bo√©tie. He was a young man of exceptional abilities and, as is so common of the irony of this world, was dead by his early thirties. To explain what it was that drew each to the other he replied simply: “Because it was he, because it was I.” What further explanation is required? Montaigne never recovered from the loss of such a conversationalist, and so, put to paper the thoughts that might otherwise have been lost on the air. Perhaps no greater monument to friendship might exist.

In a similar fashion, Henry David Thoreau, who has been popularized as a hermit that shunned the world of men, idealized friendship to such a degree that it is unsurprising he never found it. Like Montaigne he had no recourse but the pen and unloaded his heart and mind to his Journals. These were no school girl exercise books in gossip however, but a great storehouse of ideas that in many cases would reappear more properly as books and essays for publication. Not an uncommon practice with any working writer even today.

It has been said before that such efforts share much with the world of blogging, at least in spirit. The main difference being the lack of authority we take for granted from print, and the quality from it which we demand, but that is beside the point. The object is the same now as it was for Montaigne and Thoreau, to reach out to those who might otherwise never hear our voice, and in doing so perhaps make that noble connection which is the greatest desire of the human heart.

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