Spring 2022

Trial and Error: An Interdisciplinary Experiment with Montaigne's <em>Essais</em>

Listed in: European Studies, as EUST-328  |  French, as FREN-328


Sanam Nader-Esfahani (Section 01)


(Offered as FREN 328 and EUST 328) "If my mind could gain a firm footing, I would not make essays, I would make decisions; but it is always in apprenticeship and on trial" (III, 2 "Of Repentance"). A Renaissance jurist and thinker, Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) is widely recognized as one of the key figures in the history of self-writing and of the essay as genre. This course, however, situates Montaigne beyond these two frames. In the spirit of Montaigne himself, it proposes to attempt, to sample, to taste—in sum, to essay—the Essais (1580-1595). From confessions of impotence to love affairs with books; from rebuttals of human reason to reflections on solitude and age; from networks of exchange to disease and contagion, the uncategorizable content of the Essais, combined with a dynamic form replete with detours and deviations, is an invitation to err among and try a variety of subjects. Similarly, our objective is not to gain expertise, but to experiment and to experience. Our trials will combine a close reading of a selection of Montaigne’s Essais alongside critical, historical, or theoretical texts from a diverse range of methodologies and fields, such as medicine, sound studies, cultural gerontology and more. In addition to engaging with the writings of Montaigne, this course therefore serves as a more general opportunity to consider the place of literature among and within other disciplines. Conducted in English.

Spring semester. Professor Nader-Esfahani.

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Emphasis on written work, readings, textual analysis, independent research and oral presentations. Students with documented disabilities who will require accommodations in this course should be in consultation with Accessibility Services and reach out to the faculty member as soon as possible to ensure that accommodations can be made in a timely manner.

This is preliminary information about books for this course. Please contact your instructor or the Academic Coordinator for the department, before attempting to purchase these books.

ISBN Title Publisher Author(s) Comment Book Store Price
The Complete Works Everyman's Library, 2003 Michel de Montaigne trans. Donald Frame Amherst Books TBD

These books are available locally at Amherst Books.


2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Spring 2022