Wednesday, 19 May 2010

How to live

In Sarah Bakewell’s recent book, How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, she introduces him as the father of the blogosphere:

The twenty-first century is full of people who are full of themselves. A half-hour’s trawl through the online ocean of blogs, tweets, tubes, spaces, faces, pages and pods brings up thousands of individuals, fascinated by their own personalities and shouting for attention. They go on about themselves; they write diaries, and chat, and upload photographs of everything they do. Uninhibitedly extrovert, they also look inward as never before. Even as bloggers and networkers delve into their private experience, they communicate with their fellow humans in a shared festival of the self … This idea – writing about oneself to create a mirror in which other people recognise their own humanity – has not existed for ever. It had to be invented. And, unlike, many cultural inventions, it can be traced to a single person: Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, a nobleman, government official and wine-grower who lived in the Perigord area of south-western France from 1533 to 1592.

People who write only about themselves can of course be self-dramatising and detached from the world. But they can also be more finely attuned to mundane realities. ‘There is no escaping our perspective,’ as Montaigne wrote, winningly. ‘We can walk only on our own legs, and sit only on our own bum.’

Mundane quote for the day: ‘Britain is the greatest nation in Europe for handymen and potterers-about; it has the highest proportion of people who do their own wallpapering, painting, drilling, and plumbing, and the highest proportion who buy second-hand cars. A broad picture unfolds of the British living a withdrawn and inarticulate life, rather like Harold Pinter’s people, mowing lawns and painting walls, pampering pets, listening to music, knitting and watching television. If one wanted a symbol of what distinguishes contemporary British life from that of other countries it might well be a potting shed.’ – Anthony Sampson, The Anatomy of Britain (1971)


  1. surely a potting shed is the very zenith of civilzation? The greeks don't have potting sheds, and look where that's got them.

  2. made me smile today, thank you.