R. Gapper Postgraduate Essay Prize 2016
Vittoria Fallanca (1st-year DPhil, Pembroke College) has been announced as the runner-up for the 2016 R. Gapper Postgraduate Essay Prize with her work ‘The Design of the Essais: Montaigne and the language of ‘dessein’’.
Her essay argues that the self-portrait that Montaigne claims he is constructing from the ‘Au lecteur’, which many have argued fails as a metaphor to capture the malleability and open-endedness of Montaigne’s writing, should be read in light of his uses of the word ‘dessein’. This word, which means both a private aim or intention and the material execution of a plan, shares its polysemy and multivalence with the Italian concept of ‘disegno’ as theorised in Italian art treatises of the Renaissance. Like a ‘disegno’, Montaigne’s ‘dessein’ is revealed to be at once the guiding thoughts behind the Essais and their physical manifestation on the page — blurring or otherwise problematizing the distinction between form and content. By reading Montaigne’s language of ‘dessein’ against the background of the concept of ‘disegno’ a very different self-portrait emerges — one that is dynamic rather than static, and that is able to capture the Essais’s essential restlessness.