Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Brave Perspectives

Our theme of “Brave New Worlds” resonates through several of the texts we’ve read. One thing I found particularly interesting was the attitude of the authors toward the new worlds. It was interesting that Montaigne decided to tell us about the ways the people tortured their enemies, but at the same time pointed out that we should not look at them as barbaric. Instead he said, 

“I am not sorry we note the barbarous horror of such an action, but grieved that, prying so narrowly into their faults, we are so blinded in ours.”

Here he points out that although the people of this new world have very violent ways of torture, we should consider how we, ourselves torture our enemies. In some ways, he implies that our methods might be just as barbaric or even more so. 

Richard Handler describes this as the “notion that people always justify, or rationalize, arbitrary cultural concepts, taking what is relative and culturally specific to be absolutes of ‘nature’ or ‘reason’” (12). In the quote from “Of Cannibals,” Montaigne is obviously criticizing his own society. I think he was brave in his exploration of the new world in seeing the people in a different light. 

Similarly, in Utopia, it says, 

“All things appear incredible to us, as they differ more or less from our own manners.” 

This again points out the exploration of new worlds and seeing how differences might seem scary to other people. Both these texts show a brave exploration and acceptance of the different people and lands they inhabit. They both could have justified and rationalized the new worlds customs as Handler describes, but instead they compare it the barbaric nature of their own culture. I think that is pretty brave of them to have such an open mind about the other worlds and see their differences in a better light. 

Works Cited
Handler, Richard. "Of Cannibals and Custom: Montaigne's Cultural Relativism." Anthropology Today 2.5 (1986): 12-14. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 08 Sept. 2015.


  1. It was very brave! And I think this process of comparison was huge in the other reformations going on. The Renaissance brought about a great self-awareness in art, in social structure, in religion, culture, etc. And though dissenting views may not have been heeded, they definitely provided the foundation for future social movements.

  2. It's interesting that you interpreted Montaigne as tolerant. In reading "Of Cannibals" I found portions of his writing that I found very intolerant. In my post, I held up Cabeza de Vaca as a model of cultural understanding the way you hold up Montaigne, but I also found intolerant portions of Cabeza de Vaca's writing as well. It's interesting that both of these writers could both identify with things in these foreign cultures, but also find other characteristics that they thought made these people alien.

  3. One way to see the brave new world is as a mirror that demonstrates all of the flaws of the old world. Perhaps this is why so many people were quick to colonize the new lands as a way to evade the troubles of the old world.