EXC 2060 B3-1 - Language and Censorship. Inventing Spaces of Thought and Action in Sixteenth Century Literature

in Process
Funding Source
DFG - Cluster of Excellence
Project Number
EXC 2060/1
  • Description

    Authors such as François Rabelais, Pierre de Ronsard and Michel de Montaigne contribute to the development of modern concepts of plurality and tolerance in the religious and political spheres in a unique way. Writing against the background of the wars of religion, steeped in the literary dynamics of humanism and the Renaissance, i. e. of classical reception, Michel de Montaigne invents the novel genre of the essay. Apart from the Essais (1580, 1588, 1595), his work also comprises a French translation of the Theologica naturalis (1569) by the late-scholastic theologian Raimundus Sabundus and letters, including a remonstrance (letter of complaint), which Montaigne addressed to the King of Navarra in his function as mayor of Bordeaux. In addition, he edited some of the unpublished works of his jurist friend Étienne de La Boétie, who had criticzed the “diversité des religions” and the edict of 1562 (a “pari risqué de tolérance”). Montaigne’s invention of the genre of the essay is a major contribution to the formation of a social space of tolerant, pluralistic and free speech. The three books of the Essais open a critical, skeptical perspective from which Montaigne discusses phenomena such as violence, freedom of conscience and witchcraft. However, the innovation of thought is by no means restricted to the thematic and philosophical treatment of the subject matter. Most crucially, on the linguistic level style and rhetoric as well as the modes of dialogue and narration present a view of the self and the world, which calls norms, constraints, prohibitions, censorship and power into question by means of subjective judgment. What is more, Montaigne restricts his essayistic speech to the seemingly inconsequential space of privacy and to the interior realm of reverie and phantasy. The explosive force of the Essais was perceived by few of Montaigne’s contemporaries, but it became manifest in the book’s prohibition (1676) and worldwide reception.
  • Persons