What We Are Reading Today: Montaigne: A Life by Philippe Desan

Updated 11 January 2019
0

What We Are Reading Today: Montaigne: A Life by Philippe Desan

  • Montaigne always considered himself a political figure

One of the most important writers and thinkers of the Renaissance, Michel de Montaigne (1533–92) helped invent a literary genre that seemed more modern than anything that had come before. But did he do it, as he suggests in his Essays, by retreating to his chateau, turning his back on the world, and stoically detaching himself from his violent times? 

In this definitive biography, Philippe Desan, one of the world’s leading authorities on Montaigne, overturns this longstanding myth by showing that Montaigne was constantly concerned with realizing his political ambitions — and that the literary and philosophical character of the Essays largely depends on them, according to a review on the Princeton University Press website. The most comprehensive and authoritative biography of Montaigne yet written, this sweeping narrative offers a fascinating new picture of his life and work. As Desan shows, Montaigne always considered himself a political figure and he conceived of each edition of the Essays as an indispensable prerequisite to the next stage of his public career. 


What We Are Reading Today: Ottoman Baroque

Updated 18 March 2019
0

What We Are Reading Today: Ottoman Baroque

Author: Ünver Rüstem

With its idiosyncratic yet unmistakable adaptation of European Baroque models, the 18th-century architecture of Istanbul has frequently been dismissed by modern observers as inauthentic and derivative, a view reflecting broader unease with notions of Western influence on Islamic cultures. In Ottoman Baroque — the first English-language book on the topic — Ünver Rüstem provides a compelling reassessment of this building style and shows how between 1740 and 1800 the Ottomans consciously coopted European forms to craft a new, politically charged, and globally resonant image for their empire’s capital.
Rüstem reclaims the label “Ottoman Baroque” as a productive framework for exploring the connectedness of Istanbul’s eighteenth-century buildings to other traditions of the period. Using a wealth of primary sources, he demonstrates that this architecture was in its own day lauded by Ottomans and foreigners alike for its fresh, cosmopolitan effect. Purposefully and creatively assimilated, the style’s cross-cultural borrowings were combined with Byzantine references that asserted the Ottomans’ entitlement to the Classical artistic heritage of Europe. Such aesthetic rebranding was part of a larger endeavor to reaffirm the empire’s power at a time of intensified East-West contact, taking its boldest shape in a series of imperial mosques built across the city as landmarks of a state-sponsored idiom.