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date: 13 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This article shows how Montaigne’s Essays can clarify the problem of historical periodization by demonstrating the differences between early modern, modern, and postmodern sensibilities. These terms have arisen in the wake of disputes over Jacob Burckhardt’s interpretation of the Renaissance, offering the appearance of a more value-free alternative to his period scheme. An examination of the Essays, however, reveals that these terms are not mere chronological markers but embody crucial, normative differences. In contrast to the modern sensibility that perceives selfhood as the product of historical and cultural context, Montaigne regarded it as reflected in, rather than shaped by, his context. This early modern tendency engendered in him a form of radical relativism akin to that of postmodernism, a form of relativism that appeals to twenty-first-century readers and that can provide a new orientation in a complex world.

Keywords: Montaigne, modernity, early modern, postmodern, Renaissance, periodization, relativism, selfhood

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