Des Cannibales - Montaigne

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  • Created by: Phoebe
  • Created on: 03-06-16 11:08


  • Meandering text – full of digressions and surprises
  • Reader in mind – modern European colonial who believes in European supremacy over New World barbarism
  • Montaigne empties the term “barbare” when it’s applied to the Brazilians of its moral charge
  • Barbarous – ways of being and doing that our unfamiliar to us (M’s definition)
  • “Or, je trouve, pour revenir à mon propos, qu’il n’y a rien de barbare et de sauvage en cette nation, à ce qu’on m’en a rapporté, sinon que chacun appelle barbarie ce qui n’est pas de son usage” – moral relativism
  •  Goes on to judge the practice of cannibalism to be cruel, but less cruel than the atrocities of the Europeans who condemn them and who are blind to their our faults. Not relativistic but contrary.
  • Suggests that the very people we unthinkingly despise may actually be living better than we are
  • Contrarian perspective never very far away from the chapter – acidly apparent in the chapter’s closing sentence – what? But they wear no trousers! – staging the reaction of the modern colonial reader and mocking it – final and supreme reversal of perspective in Des Cannibales – the fool is not the savage but the one who wears the trousers.
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  • Mirroring structure to the sentence as a whole which supports this redefinition of barbare

“à ce qu’on m’en a rapporté” – as far as I have been told (modest tone)

  • Topographical knowledge and cosmological knowledge

“je trouve” – underlies that this is a personal/subjective view which is not forced upon the reader

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Commentary writing

  • Analysing a short passage at close quarters in order to identify what the text means and how it offers that meaning to the reader
  • Patient, rigorous exercise
  • Offering ways of understanding the text by offering some critical difference
  • marry – old French for sorry
  • geneés – torture
  • Charoigne – carcass
  • Eu ecart a – in view of
  • Pis est – worse is
  • What/How – key questions
  • Offering a comparative judgement
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Renaissance Europe

Classical backing in age of the Renaissance

Antithesis – clarifying

Crescendo effect decisively places the European as more barbarous

Disanalogy between European Cannibalism and Brazilian cannibalism – it’s part of their ethical practice, but for the European’s it’s a necessity

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13 ways of looking at a passage

Golden rule: never merely “spot” a feature – always comment on how the feature you have identified carries or creates a particular meaning

  • Sentence structure – simple or complex? Does it alter in the course of a passage? How does it operate at the level of the sentence
  • Words and phrases – repetitions of key words or types of words? e.g. barbare
  • Figurative language – metaphor, simile, personification, allegory, hyperbole, irony etc – Dictionary of literary terms
  • Devices for forcing attention – exclamation, rhetorical questions, apostrophe
  • Implied reader
  • Strategies for argument an persuasion
  • Verbs
  • Adjectives and adverbs
  • Sounds e.g. assonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhyme
  • Punctuation
  • Intertextual material e.g. quotations, allusions, anecdotes, examples
  • Versification
  • Performance (for drama) e.g. stage directions, stance, gesture, movement
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Structure (2)

  • Comment on how language and style work to carry meaning
  • Means of achieving that aim
  • Pragmatic – unfolding drama of the thought
  • Dividing: commentary in 3 parts
  • Intro: places the passage in its context and offers an overview – where it fits into the unfolding drama – new line of argument? or continuation? or end? turning point?
  • Main body – stand back from passage – how many parts does this passage fall into? main features/developments
  • Part 1 – first pg, setting out argument implying greater barbarism in European atrocity
  • Part 2 – anticipate the reaction – treachery, disloyalty, tyranny etc
  • Emphatically summed up in the final sentence – donq
  • Tone? A different tone from the beginning of the chapter, and of the end
  • Emphatic assertion which sets out his case and the argument he is making – the attempt to overturn the opinion of his reader
  • Conclusion: assess what’s been achieved as a result of the commentary
  • Moment of standing back from the detailed description of cannibal culture to an assessment of what that means for the essai as a whole


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