Would Montaigne, were he be alive today, also be a prolific blogger? Some say, well, no:
The superficial similarities are certainly striking. His avowed interest in every aspect of his own life and character and their frank revelation in prose of sometimes improvisatory immediacy have (to Bakewell and others) suggested affinities with the world of blogs and social media today. It would be wrong, however, to push this too far. Montaigne’s literal self-centeredness has more in common with the self-portraits of the Renaissance painters who created the form (one element in an evolving complex of ideas about Man and his place in the universe), than with the compulsive exhibitionism of today’s Facebook or Twitter users. For Montaigne it’s a matter not of self-display to the world, but of self-discovery in the world and through engagement with it. Writing in the way he does is essential to that process, as he quietly contemplates the workings of his own mind. He has none of the blogger’s fear of silence or the desperate modern need to connect and communicate.
He enjoyed his own company, it is true. As a civil and civilized man, he hoped his readers might enjoy it too. But he wouldn’t depend on that or on them. After the early loss of a dear friend, and the deaths of most of his children in infancy, dependency of any kind held little appeal. If only by way of self-preservation, he thought, every man should create for himself une arrière-boutique, a little room all his own behind the shop. That’s what he did.
I don’t know. I had written briefly about the original and great essayist a few years back musing upon the idea that he would have been one hell of a blogger. While I agree that Montaigne would have done plenty more than simply update his Facebook status with clever insights and witty repartee, there’s a lot more variety in the social media world than can be found within genre staples such as cat-blogs or Twitter.
The millions of bloggers and billions of social media users in the world cannot possibly have the exact same motivation — the “fear of silence or the desperate modern need to connect and communicate” — to self-publish posts. I know my own motivation stems from my need to break down issues in order to understand them and develop my own opinion. Others, well, like cats. Surely, there must exist in the blogosphere some distinct talent that simply pines for une arrière-boutique of his own.
Why couldn’t it be on a blog? After all, Montaigne’s genius lies, pace McLuhan, not within his medium but in his message.