On Tenderness and Tickling: Body, Emotion, Thought

20 Feb 2019

Montaigne is tender: “je suis trop tendre, et par nature et par usage” (III, 10, 1003);1 but being tender-skinned and tender-minded2 does not deter him from stretching exploration of all he can know about what he feels, both physically and emotionally. In his experiments in what it means to be embodied, plurivalent touch is a site of particular interest: as both a somatic sense and a metaphorical register of emotion, the term holds body, affect and thought, sensation and feeling together. Take, for example, occurrences of manier in the Essais. An arquebus bullet is handled (II, 12, 592) to test the reliability of the sensation of touch; he handles horses, subject matter (I, 9, 35), what he reads (II, 12, 566), intimations of death (I, 20, 88), and life itself (III, 13, 1108). Moreover, figures of touch convey Montaigne’s love of truth and learning (III, 8, 924), the transmission and development of ideas (III, 5, 560), the emotional and imaginative force of poetry (I, 37, 232), and the power of love (I, 28, 188).