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ISU 2009: Montaigne and the State - Making of the Modern Self

July 1 - August 14

The theme for the 2009 ISU was "Montaigne and the Making of the Modern Self". Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) was one of the most noted and influential writers of the French Renaissance. In his famous work, Essays, Montaigne invents the essay as a modern form of individual self-reflection.
During the six week programme, students and faculty explored how a new image of the modern self emerges from Montaigne's Essays and investigate the impact of Montaigne's moral, religious, cultural and political ideals on our understanding of the modern self.

Each week, readings and discussion were organized around a general topic related to Montaigne's Essays, including the birth of the modern self in Renaissance Europe, the discovery of the New World and its consequences for the self-understanding of European cultures, Montaigne's criticism of human presumption and pride as root causes of the Wars of Religion in 16th century France, the relation between morality and politics in modern statecraft, and the place of pleasure, friendship and sexuality as well as death in the care of the self.

Along with Montaigne's Essays, students studied a variety of philosophical, literary, and historical texts, including Shakespeare's Hamlet, Machiavelli's The Prince, Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals, Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, and Mann's Death in Venice. Films and museum visits complemented the readings.