To Michel de Montaigne (first letter)

Dear Michel,
I’m groping forward too, unsure of what lies ahead, but I’ve had your trials to fall back on.  It’s as if you wrote for the future — letters that couldn’t be read when you wrote them, letters to forever.
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve written to you.  I’m never sure of what to begin or end with.  I’m always failing, retiring and starting again.  This is one of countless letters I’ve never sent you.  I’m calling it the first one because it could be.  Any of them could be.
You should know contagion remains dangerous in the crowd – and crowds are so numerous, diverse and intersected now, competing for affirmation, privilege and control within a totalizing socio-political condition of unverifiability.  I find myself, as you once did, compelled to imitate the vicious or hate them.  I’ve also switched back and forth or done both at once, semantically denying all culpability with contradictory, self-serving rationalizations.  I’m too often not myself and it’s killing me.
You’ve written that the wise person will flee the crowd – enduring it when necessary and/or embracing solitude.  These choices have been problematized by the techno-cultural evolution of society in the years since your death.  Spatial metaphors no longer make sense in discussions of self-emancipation.  There doesn’t seem to be an outside and inside anymore.  There’s no centre or periphery.  Everything is everywhere, always at once, but we’re still not sufficiently rid of our own problems (each of us alone) to properly contend with the issues of others. And here I am, with each new sentence, with every attempt to put something down, unwittingly paraphrasing you.
This modern world (the one you were living and writing on the cusp of) has never fulfilled a promise to deliver what you once described as the aim of solitude: to live more at leisure and ease.  There I go paraphrasing again. I need to get away from this perpetual emergency, from myself, the idea(s) of self that I’ve accepted, helped to invent and then naturalize, make self-evident in mind.  Maybe what you called our gregarious instincts will be revealed to me in a singular way.  I might repossess what I really am, even if this means living with an uncanny sense of unknowing, of misrecognition.  Repossess is surely the wrong word.  I don’t think I was ever truly in possession of myself to begin with.  Encounter seems a more appropriate choice, but I’m not sure of this or anything else to do with language the more I consider it…
I’m certain this is why you wrote in the first place.  Each instance was/is an urgent experiment in resisting our suggestion, displacement and erasure in language, representation and the formation of collective cultural memory, an investigation of one’s agency in thought despite these intrinsic mediations.
I’m still trying to work it out.  Writing these Not Sent Letters helps.  I keep returning to one of your self-directives:
Borrow nothing except from yourself, arrest your mind and fix it on definite and limited thoughts, and rest content with them, without any desire to prolong life and reputation.
I’ll write again of course.
Thanks as always,
jeremy