Though I don’t know
A Reading Note
Much of Montaigne’s essays deal with the form of the essay itself, and, in particular, with the way his essays—his attempts—are always tentative:
If my mind could gain firm footing, I would not make essays, I would make decisions; but it is always in apprenticeship and on trial.Bakewell, How to Live, page 36
If others examined themselves attentively, as I do, they would find themselves, as I do, full of inanity and nonsense. Get rid of it I cannot without getting rid of myself. We are all steeped in it, one as much as another; but those who are aware of it are a little better off—though I don’t know.Bakewell, How to Live, page 43
Bakewell comments, “That final coda—‘though I don’t know’—is pure Montaigne. One must imagine it appended, in spirit, to almost everything he ever wrote.” We might now identify that kind of writing as a hedge and feel inclined to strike it. But perhaps we should resist that urge: maybe instead of presenting confidence even when we don’t feel it we should welcome honesty. Let’s reward those who can admit their ignorance rather than those who can convincingly bluff.