Depositions: Montaigne answers life’s great questions

Below is my full deposition of Montaigne. I think you’ll notice I had a wonderful time with him, even when one of my questions pisses him off and he stalks out.

I trust you’ll spot the rock ‘n’ roll questions, as well as the direct quotes from Montaigne’s essays, although you’ll also notice he used some contemporary language with me. (That’s how intimate we’ve gotten.) By the way, Montaigne was, by Jewish standards, a Jew: his mother, who converted, was a Sephardic Jew, a diasporic refugee from the Inquisition in Portugal.

Q. Good afternoon. My name is Naomi Fein and I will be conducting your deposition today. Could you state your full name for the record?

A. It’s longish – Michel Eyquem de Montaigne. I can spell that –

Q. No, that won’t be necessary, Monsieur. The world knows how to spell your name.

A. Then, hey, call me Michel.

Q. Thank you. So Michel, you are being deposed as an expert witness in life’s great questions. I will ask the great questions and you will supply the great answers.

A. Gotcha.

Q. First, let me state that I’ve been reading you for years and, well, I think you’re a rock star.

A. Beautiful topics can always hold their own, no matter where you strew them. “Rock star”?

Q. Indeed, so let’s catch up with what you’ve been doing lately. What’s new, pussycat?

A. When I play with my cat, how do I know that she is not passing time with me rather than I with her?

Q. Oh, um, actually I wasn’t asking about your genuine cat, but since you brought up the category of fauna, why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?

A. It’s because marriage happens as with cages; the birds without despair to get in, and those within despair of getting out. And I am married, you know.

Q. So I have heard.

A. Have you heard?

Q. Have you heard?

A. What do I know?

Q. If I don’t ask the questions, Michel, our court reporter will get all screwed up with the “Q’s” and A’s” –

A. But that’s my answer: “What do I know?”, i.e., “Que sais-je?” Carved in stone, right above my study doorway.

A. Oh yeah, I remember that.

Q. So I could keep repeating it throughout this deposition,“What do I know?” “What do I know?” with a big shrug, like this. [Deponent shrugs, big.]

Q. You could but then it wouldn’t be much of a deposition, would it?

A. Non.

Q. So already it seems that I do all the pleasing with you it’s so hard to reason with you, oh yeah, why do you make me blue?

A. I’ll answer your question by saying – get this – there is no man so good who, were he to submit all his thoughts and actions to the laws, would not deserve hanging ten times in his life.

Q. Whoa, that’s harsh. Unless – are you there with another girl?

A. Heh heh. Unless a man feels he has a good enough memory, he should never venture to lie.

Q. Quite anxiety-provoking. I mean, I love you, but do you love me?

A. If when in love your passion is too powerful, dissipate it…Break it down into a variety of desires, one of which may rule as master if you like, but enfeeble it and delay it by subdividing it and diverting it, lest it dominate you and tyrannize over you.

Q. And that’s so depressing. So what you’re saying is, no matter how I feel about you, what’s love got to do with it?

A. Exactly, because I like natures which are temperate and moderate.

Q. My nature is not temperate. Ain’t that a shame?

A. The greater part of the world’s troubles are due to questions of grammar.

Q. I was using “ain’t” as an expression, M. Snark. Point is, will you still love me tomorrow?

A. That boiling rapture is no good at all.

Q. But is that all there is? If so, why do fools fall in love?

A. We are all blockheads.

Q. But don’t you believe in love qua magic? Do you believe in magic?

A. …it turns out that nothing is so firmly believed as whatever we know least about.

Q. Well, clearly you didn’t write it, so I wonder wonder who who who who who who who wrote the book of love?

A. I think you have one “who” too many in there.

Q. Do I?

A. You want me to answer that?

Q. No no, um – go back to the book-of-love question.

A. I no longer remember anything about that. I may be a man of fairly wide reading, but I retain nothing.

Q. Let me change the subject: Do I look all right?

A. Yes. Which is a direct quote from my essay, “On giving the lie.” But getting back to looking all right, when I was a young man, in default of other glories I gloried in fine clothes. In my case they were quite becoming; but there are folk on whom fine clothes sit down and cry.

Q. I think you still look great. Do you wanna dance?

A. Not at the moment. To be ready to appear in public, you have to brush your hair; you have to arrange things and put them in order.

Q. Let’s return to the fear of betrayal. Maybe I know that he’s been a cheating…but what can I do?

A. Whereas our fathers knew degrees of vengeance we now begin at the end and straightway talk of nothing but killing… ‘He’ll be sorry for it,’ we say. Do we really think he is sorry for it once we have shot him through the head?

Q. How did you know I was thinking about shoo– … withdrawn. Um, who put the bomp in the bomp de bomp de bomp?

A. I would very much love to grasp things with a complete understanding but I cannot bring myself to pay the high cost of doing so. Answering idiotic questions comes under “high cost,” so I’m outta here.

Q. Oh, gee – won’t you stay just a little bit longer?

A. Rejoice in the things that are present; all else is beyond you.

Q. But it’s raining outside. Who’ll stop the rain?

A. Oy, you had to ask! The stubborn nature of my stones, especially when in my prick, has sometimes forced me into prolonged suppressions of urine during three or four days …

Q. TMI!

A. “TMI,” such a passé expression. [Deponent heads for the door]

Q. Wait! Do you know where you’re going to?

A. Yeah, the men’s room. Do I need a key?

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