Montaigne’s Of Cannibals is a curious, semi-factual window into life in the ‘New World’

Reflection Paper 2
Please answer one of the following questions in a concise, but clearly written essay. Note
the question has multiple parts.
1 Montaigne’s Of Cannibals is a curious, semi-factual window into life in the ‘New World.’ He
writes: “…that each man calls barbarism whatever is not his own practice.” A few pages later he
compares the indigenous peoples of Brazil to Western Europeans and says of the latter: “…we
may call these people barbarians…who surpass them in every kind of barbarity.” What is
Montaigne’s suggesting about the relationship between nature and culture? Is Of Cannibals
ahead of its time? In other words, is it an insightful, early modern treatise on cultural sensitivity,
or does it merely signify the intellectual curiosity of a French aristocrat? In what ways is this
essay reflective of the attitudes of skepticism?
2 In the prologue ‘To the Reader’ that prefaces his Essays, Montaigne writes: “Thus reader, I am
myself the matter of my book…” (2). The European Renaissance saw a rebirth of many cultural
practices and intellectual activities from Greco-Roman antiquity, but if the Renaissance gave
birth to anything new, it was the emergence of subjectivity or the concept of the self.
Subjective knowledge is one of the purported hallmarks of Western civilization and it could be
argued, the defining a characteristic of our present civilization, whether it takes the form of
consumer capitalism, social media, identity politics, or lifestyle choices. To what extent are the
skeptical essays written by Montaigne works of self-discovery? How have they influenced our
contemporary notions of selfhood?
**Your papers must be a minimum of 4 pages in length and should strive to be more than mere
exposition, by which I mean a general analysis or recycling of the themes discussed in class. You
will be expected to do a close reading that includes citing the texts, as well as demonstrating
strong argumentative and rhetorical skills. In other words, do not merely summarize the text,
engage it in a dialogue. I welcome and encourage interpretative on the part of my students. All
papers must adhere to MLA formatting standards.

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