From Antidote to Anecdote: Montaigne on Dissemblance


In our day a child preparing for a spelling bee might be prone to confuse an anecdote with an antidote. The two words have such a similar ring that the speller might be tempted to find a hidden truth in the difference between the –ti– and –ec– that distinguish their middle syllables. In the age of analogy, in what might be the childhood or adolescence of the printed book, interpreters of the former would somehow find within its meaning and essence the virtues of the latter. An anecdote must be an antidote for something, but for what? Or else, if an antidote is an anecdote, what would be the medical cause inspiring the telling of an offhand tale in the drift of pleasant conversation? According to the logic of association, an anecdote can be a gentle remedy to a strong proposition or, in itself, in its own wit, a reflection that needs to be countered, corrected, or tempered by an antidote. In the medical realm of the same age a good story or a lively narration inspired by the force of debate would have both social and medicinal virtue.1 Or too, it could be, in a paradoxically oblique sense, an antidote to melancholy or a means of diverting the pain of a chronic illness.

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