Michel de Montaigne is serious litera– Ha! Farts!

Fart War
Out of place and out of time, but I imagine farting is about as universal to human experience as anything can be. (Waseda University Library)

I’ve been busy with work travel this week and I haven’t had much time to write. However, I want to keep up the habit of this weekly media diary, so I thought I’d share a funny quote from the Screech translation of The Complete Essays of Michel de Montaigne (a work of serious literature and philosophy):

“To show the limitless authority of our wills, Saint Augustine cites the example of a man who could make his behind produce farts whenever he would: Vives in his glosses goes one better with a contemporary example of a man who could arrange to fart in tune with verses recited to him; but that does not prove the pure obedience of that member, since it is normally most indiscreet and disorderly. In addition I know one Behind so stormy and churlish that it has obliged its master to fart forth wind constantly and unremittingly for forty years and is thus bringing him to his death.”

Yay! Serious literature and philosophy! He cites Augustine, after all!

For context, in this chapter Montaigne presents his understanding of the placebo effect. He describes how the “will” can overpower the body and make it act against its nature. He spends most of the chapter exploring erectile dysfunction (seriously serious literature!) with stories about how most men suffer from it as a simple matter of self-confidence. He even recounts how he once helped a friend who struggled to consummate his marriage by giving him a magical medallion that worked like medieval Viagra. Of course, Montaigne confides in the reader that it was all a ruse: the medallion was a “piece of lunacy” with no real power beyond ~imagination~. Montaigne makes a show of regretting the deceit, but hey, results is results.

In the fart passage, Montaigne is defending “disobedient” body parts (Screech gives the helpful euphemism “that sphincter” for butts) that act against the will, with a sort of humanistic “don’t judge” message. He is also describing how some rare few people can control their farts ~with their minds~.

… yeah, that’s it. Lovely book by the way. Churlish is a fun word.

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