On judgment, skin, and bones: Montaigne’s anatomy of conscience (a Stirling Maxwell Centre Seminar)

On judgment, skin, and bones: Montaigne’s anatomy of conscience (a Stirling Maxwell Centre Seminar)

College of Arts School of Modern Languages and Cultures Stirling Maxwell Centre
Date: Thursday 26 May 2022
Time: 17:00 - 18:00
Venue: Humanity Lecture Theatre, University of Glasgow (Room 255, Main Building) AND online
Category: Public lectures
Speaker: Corinne Noirot (Virginia Tech)
Website: uofglasgow.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJUpdeCppzssGNFRrCxIAHhKbjrtpnO3do5n

Montaigne reflects in largely secular ways about religious doctrine.

He is a catholic who rarely uses terms such as sin or salvation in his famous Essays (1588), in the context of the French Wars of Religion.

He does, however, extensively reflect about judgment in all its forms, death, how to pursue virtue and to assess individual or collective worth. In doing so, he brushes up with Christian moral teachings and eschatology, as well as definitions of the body and soul. How may we judge our own humanity, the worth of our soul here and now, beyond the way it is supposed to be judged after death, through the Last Judgement? Such is the central question to be tackled in a textual analysis (e.g., chap. II, 6 and its skeletos) engaging visual representations of the not-quite-dead-skin – from the fine arts (e.g., Ligier Richier’s Transi de René de Châlon sculpture and Michelangelo’s Last Judgment fresco) to anatomic plates or engravings featuring New World ‘savage’ practices. Why the skin, and the horror of the flayed figure? It most often appears in relation with human integrity and conscience, an inner sensor or judge that makes our moral mind or soul most perceptible, but only to the sentient body. Acts of conscience and unconscionable acts preserve or violate the skin, as many examples in the Essays show. We may ultimately contend that Montaigne invents a sort of iconography of conscience – an anatomy of conscience, even, paradoxically only paradoxically only detectable in a living man and involving the skin, a multivalent metaphor in the Essays (from bookmaking to torture or moral integrity). Montaigne’s musings on conscience enveloped by skin explore how to judge our own humanity in ways both compatible with catholic orthodoxy and much farther reaching, leaving him unafraid of the Last Judgment or any other after-life for the soul.

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