'Pragmatics and Power: Montaigne’s Portrayal of Communication in the Essais'

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Marina Perkins (the Queens College, Oxford)

The field of Montaigne studies is deeply preoccupied with Montaigne as a communicator, the Essais as an act of communication, and the extent to which the text conveys a dynamic portrait of the author to its audience. By contrast, my research explores how Montaigne portrays communication in the world beyond the author and his readers, in settings where it influences, and is influenced by, the social and political structures of France during a period of internecine conflict. Across a range of settings that include ordinary conversation and civility, diplomacy, jurisprudence, and religion, the essayist takes a keen interest in the minutiae of intention, inference, and interpretation that constitute a communicative exchange. Relevance theory, a cognitively-inflected framework of utterance interpretation in the field of pragmatic language philosophy, provides an indispensable vocabulary for the analysis of Montaigne’s portrayal of communication as an interaction between minds, an intersubjective phenomenon of which verbal exchange is only a subset. In this talk, I will offer a selection of case studies to show how a pragmatic approach offers unique insights into Montaigne’s discussions of communication and how they set him apart from his intellectual milieu. At the same time, I will show that Montaigne’s exploration of the imbrication of communication and power pushes at the bounds of relevance theory’s largely apolitical model of human interchange.


Marina Perkins is a Career Development Fellow at The Queen’s College, Oxford. She completed her PhD, funded by a Gates Cambridge scholarship, at Jesus College, Cambridge, in 2022. She has published articles in ‘French Studies’, ‘Montaigne Studies’ and ‘Modern Language Review’, and as of mid-December her first book is under contract with the ‘Research Monographs in French Studies’ series at Legenda. This project, born from her doctoral thesis, will be the subject of her talk today.

The Early Modern French Seminar is convened by Raphaële Garrod (Magdalen College), Jess Goodman (St Catherine’s College), and Alice Roulliere (St John’s College)