A place of knowledge re-created: The library of michel de montaigne

Adi Ophir*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Montaigne's Essays were an exercise in self-knowledge carried out for more than twenty years in Montaigne's private library located in his mansion near Bordeaux. The library was a place of solitude as well as a place of knowledge, a kind of heterotopia in which two sets of spatial relations coexisted and interacted: the social and the epistemic. The spatial demarcation and arrangement of the site-in both the physical and the symbolic sense-were necessary elements of the constitution of Montaigne's self as an object of knowledge and as a subject of discourse. The spatial setting of the library made possible and constrained certain discursive patterns through which words were systematically linked to things, authority was correlated with access and visibility, and the epistemological was coordinated with the social. In this sense, Montaigne's library resembled other places of empirical knowledge of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (e.g., early laboratories or observatories) in which subjects of knowledge were constituted, objects were posited in their proper phenomenal fields and the entire structure of intellectual activity was reproduced through various cultural mechanisms. But the initial similarity is only apparent. The private library never became a culturally recognized place for knowledge of the self; its heterotopic structure could not have been reproduced without the concrete presence of an author and of a self, while Montaigne's skepticism systematically undermined the possibility of the author's position and of the identity of the self.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-190
Number of pages28
JournalScience in Context
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1991


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