1. Darkwater

    September 13, 2020 by Chris Motley

    We are experiencing a period of necessary upheaval, where we are scrutinizing the details of our public discourse, the structures that appear in public spaces, the names that we give to institutions, the history that we continue to memorialize, the injustices from which we continue to benefit. The images of Black men and women murdered by police and vigilantes should cause us to lose sleep, should cause us to pause everything until the reckoning is worthy of the outrage. 

    In that regard we can find some new heroes. W.E.B. Du Bois is one of them. Though we can perhaps join Ibram Kendi and others in challenging Du Bois for certain of his assimilationist views, we can still find formidable fire and truth in his writings from over a century ago. He was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard, but rather than retreat quietly into a successful career as an educator and scholar, he asserted himself at the vanguard of a burgeoning movement for civil and human rights. Toward that end his writing is at times scholarly, at others lyrical, at others haunting in the stories it tells. Frederick Douglass famously announced, “At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed.” Du Bois takes this dictum to heart, and his stylistic virtuosity in the service of scorching irony should rouse us. 

    Questions for Discussion:

    1. Many white people are turning to books such as Peggy Irving’s Waking Up White and Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility to help them understand whiteness, white privilege, white supremacy, etc. What do you make of Du Bois’ characterization of whiteness and white people in “The Souls of White Folk”? If you identify as white, how does the essay speak to your life? If you are a member of a BIPOC community, how does Du Bois’ assessment resonate with you?

    2. The second excerpt from Darkwater is called “Of Beauty and Death,” in which Du Bois wishes to account for the conflict at the heart of life, between beauty, truth, goodness, etc., and all the violence we encounter day by day. Where do you see this conflict playing out in your experience? What is a sentence or passage from this section that particularly resonates?

    3. The text makes occasional use of the n-word. We invite conversation about the history and harm of this word. As you read, notice the contexts in which the word is used, and imagine Du Bois’ intention in doing so. While we don’t use that word in civil and public discourse today, what are some words and concepts that “legitimately” serve as substitutes, serving a similar purpose? 


  2. An Inquiry Into Existence

    October 20, 2019 by Chris Motley

    A German artist I met at a feminist arts conference in Montreal came to visit me in Chicago once. She wanted me to show her Afrofuturism. This was a few years before the film Black Panther took Afrofuturism to blockbuster status. She was hoping that I could take her to an exhibit, a building, some physical construct that symbolized this art aesthetic and philosophy of which I spoke. 

    This particular week there were no art exhibits to attend, no seminars, no lectures. There was no gleaming piece of architecture I could think of to point to either.  I thought it would’ve been cool to take her to a deep house music party or creative jazz event. Both events would’ve been nice but they were slices of a broader perspective. She wanted to see Afrofuturism. Outside of performers like funk pioneer George Clinton or Janelle Monae known for their sci fi fashion, Afrofuturism doesn’t always show up as fandom and spectacle. I’m not saying that as an aesthetic, there isn’t a heavy fashion component, but Afrofuturism in everyday life is less likely to look like the Emerald City in The Wiz or Funkadelic’s Mothership, and more likely to feel that way.

    After that moment, I’ve been preoccupied with how one creates this experience of Afrofuturism. How does one create the feeling of being in both the conscious and subconscious as one reality for those unfamiliar with black cultural lenses? How does one create the feeling of being in a space that shifts dimensions? How does one create surrealness that permeates African diasporic and continental places? How does one articulate the feelings of bridging times, both past and future in a present moment? As a filmmaker I work with images. As a writer, I paint pictures with words. Can I write in a way that feels like the soulful base and heavy Malian strings of a Ras G song? Can I keep one grounded while simulating flight with language? 

    We are often at the intersections of times. The more I travel, the more I see the ongoing dialogue. As an Afrofuturist, I’m always seeking to uncover the intersections of African continental and diasporic culture. In light of population dispersion, forced and otherwise, this quest for intersecting points is a lifeline. Thinking of the past, future, and present as one, I see a multi-pronged conversation where the future speaks to the present and vice versa.

    I’m inherently interdisciplinary because my evolution into Afrofuturism and beyond was tapped by a seemingly random assemblage of moments and mediums. A discussion about metaphysics on the quad at my historically black campus, a Childcraft book referencing African explorers before Columbus, an epiphany on an Atlanta dance floor listening to the Brides of Funkenstein, a late night talk with a Chicago pianist rhumba clave counts and time, a tango lesson. My evolution wasn’t purely based on solitary contemplation with an artifact, although I did a great deal of reading and grew up in metaphysics. My quest has an ongoing soundtrack. I was being pulled toward greater understanding and the alternative press, late night dialogue, rhythms in world music, copious reading fueled the inquiry. However, community gave these insights context. My message to writers and readers of the world: If you want to understand an aesthetic or philosophy you must engage with the people who gave rise to it in communal dynamics. How does one create the dynamism of community in a book? 

    A Place Called Birth of an Afrofuturist

    If A Spaceship in Bronzeville were a play it would be an ensemble. I could reframe it as performance art. I think my childhood felt that way. My extended family celebrated all holidays and nonholidays in major fashion. My aunts, uncles, and cousins were a bevy of jovial and unique personalities that reveled in music, dance, board games, and debate. They debated into the wee hours of the morning. Everyone’s home had the requisite basement, as I would learn later, designed on par with Chicago lounges. They were decorated with holiday lights, autographs from famous people, and swirling with an assemblage of soul, doo-wop, and blues. 

    My foundational experience in dance is with tap. We tapped mostly to a lot of Afro Cuban jazz, a pretty rhythmic genre. Tap is all rhythm. In one sense, I was a body percussionist wired to hear rhythm in every way imaginable. Although I studied an array of dance styles, from contemporary to salsa, from ages 6 to 18, I took tap dance consistently. Somewhere between these tap lessons, listening to aunts and uncles debating for hours about history, reading biographies, and contemplating next year’s science fair project, I became sensitive to patterns and story. It wasn’t until I took salsa and rumba lessons in Cuba that I realized that dance was a language on par with learning Spanish or Wolof. When I went to Senegal recently and prepped by doing reading on poet/philosopher and president Leopold Sengor, I learned that his Negritude work articulated rhythm as a core aesthetic of African visual art and philosophy. A thread, one I’d contemplated for years, came alive with my discovery of his explorations and came to explain the theories I expressed in my Afrofuturism Dance Therapy courses.

    A Beginning to Infinity

    I can’t separate community and this cornucopia of interdisciplinary strain of inspirations from Afrofuturism. I was always cognizant of my life being at the intersection of ideas, histories, and futures.  As a result, my fiction always involves community, small groups, and worlds. Bonnie, the protagonist in A Spaceship in Bronzeville, is a journalist who writes for a paper that covers a community – one lens into a larger Diaspora. Her dealings with the association of speculative seekers she finds is a world within a world. Yet, the community is a bottleneck of global issues and aspirations. The group she affiliates with is as informed by the community practices beyond its’ circle as it molds the world around it. Bonnie’s epiphanies take her elsewhere. However, as she travels, she and the community she joins is informed by the past, a past she knows intimately, and yet its shaped by a future yet to be seen. 

    My dad liked reading the daily newspaper, Jet Magazine, and all things black cowboys, Native American history, and boxing. It also was a devoted reader of The Chicago Defender; the paper Bonnie writes for and the one I wrote for in high school and after college. My mom read historical fiction, liked all things Queen Elizabeth, American presidents, and enjoyed mysteries. Both were shaped by the civil rights movement, they came of age during the black power movement, and as parents they immersed my siblings and I in history and the arts.  My dad crafted a Wall of Respect, inspired by Africobra, the Chicago based art collectives’ famous mural in Bronzeville in our modest attic. The wall featured posters, autographs, and news articles from black icons, African art, and posters from the miniseries Roots to encourage cultural pride.

    We went on road trips to family reunions in Galveston, Texas and Gulfport, Mississippi. We toured American tourist sights. We drove to see the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, and Niagara Falls. My sister and I took dance lessons, stacking up trophies for dance competitions. My brother was a martial arts champion. Our parents had us all take piano lessons at Mayfair Academy founded by tap dancer Tommy and Sutton. We learned to swim at the YMCA in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood.

    The church I grew up in was a nondenominational, headed by Johnnie Colemon, a black woman, who in retrospect was very Afrofuturist (she once won an award for ‘preparing people for the 21st Century’) with Broadway fashion, a voice that spoke truth to power. The New Thought philosophy she taught was a precursor to the book The Secret. Think positive or bust was the through line to universal oneness. Despite building a mega church and dozens of sister churches around the world, she was criticized for being a bold woman with eternal optimism and the grit to see her visions through.

    I attended Clark Atlanta University in undergrad. CAU was one of six schools in the Atlanta University Center including the all-boys school Morehouse College best known for its alumni, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Clark Atlanta University was less steeped in tradition that the other AUC schools. A mergence of Clark College and Atlanta University (where W.E.B Dubois taught for several decades), the campus was a haven for dialogue about the future and art. My first conversations about Afrofuturism began here. 

    A Lens on Connectivity

    I spent the latter half of summer 2019 after the Kickstarter for A Spaceship in Bronzeville in Dakar, Senegal. After Part of the inaugural residents with Black Rock Senegal, a residency created by artist Kehinde Wiley, the experience was designed for art and culture immersion. Wiley is best known for painting Barack Obama’s official presidential portrait. However, much of his earlier work was a recontextualization of Neoclassical paintings with subjects of African descent from the likes of Brooklyn and Bahia. A remix of time and history, his subjects wore fashion with a heavy hip hop aesthetic, timberlands, baggy jeans, and baseball caps but were posed like the royalty and nobility of 17th century Europe.

    I was in Dakar to think about Afrofuturism from the Senegalese perspective. I did a deep dive into thinking about Leopold Sedar Senghor, the Senegalese poet and philosopher who in 1960 became Senegal’s first president. A philosopher in the Francophone Negritude Movement, he looked at rhythm as a guiding tenant in African visual art. As a dancer who leads Afrofuturism Dance Therapy workshops, I was overjoyed to see how Senghor’s perspective connected ideas of my own.

    A feeling I had instinctively about rhythm in Chicago was articulated by a poet turned president in Senegal in the 1950s. Separated by time, but more significantly, language (French/Wolof) nationality, and an educational system that teaches very little about Africa. Despite independent reading, I wouldn’t learn about the depth of his work until well into my adult years. Cuba, the place where I realized dance was a language, I was separated from too by language (Spanish) and national politics. As an avid reader, I find it appalling that an idea I felt so connected to and was immersed in, I would be inherently separated from. Add to that the media narratives about the continent of Africa and Latin America in the Western world, and the separation seems that much more intentional. How many books do I have to read to connect with myself? How many countries must I visit to get a greater perspective on my own thoughts and override these problematic divisions that separates humanity from itself. 

    Amid several hundred years of African migrations, forced migrations and otherwise, the dispersion of cultures of African descent in the U.S, Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, and throughout the continent of Africa create unique communities that emerge in spite of often dehumanizing dynamics. Media often facilitated dehumanizing narratives of people of African descent and more recently is a tool wielded to create a voice to counter these narratives on the world stage.

    Senegal, next to Cuba, has one of the most symbiotic art and dance cultures around. To see the philosophy of a culture so deeply embedded, where dance movements, the landscape, the music, the fashion, and food is a language of its own is pure magic. Deconstructing Mbalax music, Senegal’s percussion heavy national sound, and the accompanying dance, for those who look for the “one count” in music, is a treasure trove of self-discovery. 

    A Trek Through Art’s Past

    Shortly after my trip to Senegal, I was in London, presenting on Afrofuturism for Black History Month at the Wellcome Trust. The founder of this global medical research society was also an avid art collector. A man who came of age during the height of the British Empire’s imperial conquest, a significant portion of his art from the likes of Africa and Asia came were likely stolen or smuggled artifacts. The Wellcome Trust Museum, like many museums in Europe are reassessing their collections. They are exploring repatriation or means to return this treasured art to the cultures they were snatched from.

     As the museum directors gave me a tour, many of whom were descendants of nations colonized by the empire, we had exciting discussions about the museums Being Human exhibit. The exhibit is a revealing look at wellness concerns from a culture-rich and communal lens.  The exhibit includes “Remembering Henrietta Lacks.” Lacks, an African American woman’s cells were taken during a medical procedure and used in thousands of experiments without her permission. Her cells would later transform medical research and at various points were sent into space for testing. Lacks case wrestles with ethics and the dehumanization of people of color in research. Lack’s “Hela” cells, along with her photo, were featured in the exhibit. Refugee Astronaut III, a creation by Yinka Shonibare, is a commentary on environmental refugees. A fiberglass Astronaut with a space suit made with African inspired prints, the figure carries a backpack of home appliances. Discussing the new efforts with the directors and staff explore health and wellness through the lens of global culture was a thrilling one. 

    All Hail the 1s & 2s

    Remixing, a core aesthetic in deejay techniques, where samples of songs, beat patterns, machine noise, and vocals are layered and stitched like patchwork quilts, evolved from hip hop culture. Remixing is a defining aesthetic in postmodern art and it’s also a core metaphor for African continental and Diasporic life and cultural production. The practice preserves cultural pockets while simultaneously deconstructing popular narratives. In the remix, the deejay is both creator and critique; the archivist who creates the time capsule and the one who uncovers it. Perhaps, as a dancer and writer, I am a remixer at heart. I write both theory and fiction, looking to history and futures, to rewire our default paradigms around how we’re taught to perceive the world around us. 

    A few weeks ago, I shared my trip to Dakar with a few people I know. Many were incredibly curious, asking questions, and nearly as excited as I was. Others were confused. My descriptions of an African city with a thriving art scene and fashionistas didn’t align with their thought paradigms and the media overload of a depressed Africa. Rather than listen, they sought to question my impression, as if I was being fantastical. In the same week, I was in a very gentrified Bed Stuy Brooklyn. There, I overheard a tourist speaking to hotel staff, remarking that “one day Bud Stuy” would be a nice neighborhood. Bud Stuy, a multifaceted neighborhood, has created more artists than some major cities and has been culturally rich for decades. But there’s a relationship in the desire of those who don’t or can’t see the value or the culture in spaces like Brooklyn, Dakar, and South and Westsides of Chicago. Was it a default of design elements that rendered some spaces invisible? Why assert hierarchy over narratives that challenge convention? Chicago’s Southside, despite the media narratives of violence, is also a launching pad for Afrofuturism and undergoing an arts renaissance.  Must the assertion of the value of the people and lives in such spaces always be an argument? 

    My hope is that we push past our limitations to see one another. There is beauty in these thriving spaces around the world that are all too often downplayed. Life insights thrive in many locales that mainstream literature or media has either exoticized or dismissed. In many such spaces, culture as resilience is a lifestyle and we’re all the richer for connecting with it. 

     


  3. The Prophet

    July 21, 2019 by Chris Motley

    I remember growing up with Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet on my mother’s bookshelf, near other names like Thomas Merton, Mother Teresa, John Paul II, Thich Nhat Hanh, and many religious luminaries past and present. In subsequent years this book has appeared in several households I have visited, a seeming mainstay of mainstream wisdom literature. I am currently staying in a home in Vancouver. In the downstairs bathroom, the wall facing the toilet is lined floor-to-ceiling with books (I have actually never seen this). When I sat down one morning, The Prophet was one of the first titles I glimpsed.

    Indeed, The Prophet is one of the best-selling books of all time. Its subject matter and format (in addition to its popularity) made it an ideal candidate for Mouse upon its release into the public domain in January of 2019. I want to use my time here to try to explain the seeming ubiquity of this book. Scholars of course will have a detailed story from the ground up. But we can also try to understand generally why so many people deemed it necessary to own a book like this, by an author whose background and life experiences in many respects could not be more different from theirs. 

    We live in what Charles Taylor calls “A Secular Age.” For Taylor, secularism is not the mere falling away of religiosity in the public and private spheres in the face of rapid modernity. Rather, it is an even more titanic shift in human consciousness, away from a default shared belief in transcendent being or even a set of religious dogma and practices, and toward a default belief that that belief is one option among many available to us in a pluralistic world. That shift is irreversible. Taylor’s project charts this shift in terms of lived experience (rather than beliefs and practices). What is it like to live in a world where you can believe in transcendence, or not? 

    This process of secularization opened a door, for a generation of Americans and Westerners, to the general field of behaviors and practices called “spirituality.” With the religion of our ancestors thrown into question, or at least now presented as merely an option (rather than the sole explanation for the cosmos) people have a chance to navigate their existential condition on their own terms. The Prophet presents a kind of navigation of many of the aspects of existence that vex us. In this way it reminds me of Mouse itself, as we address, however briefly and incompletely, some of the main themes and questions of life by consulting the “prophets” of the past. 

    The rise of “spirituality” in the West has prompted many thinkers to suggest that we in fact live in a “post-secular” age, in which the secularism of the past 500 years has become now the default dogma that must be challenged. But “spirituality” can carry a lot of meanings. I want to leave you with one common feature, shared across traditions. I know lots of people who practice all sorts of things. But what does that practice do for them? Make them more “relaxed”? Affirm them in their life paths, however (un)ethical that life path may be? Does it perhaps supply them with a sense of superiority, more-compassionate-than-thou? I’ve seen it all, and I am concerned that spirituality has been subsumed into our consumerist milieu, another thing to get. 

    The real goal of spirituality, however, is to change your mind. In the Greek of the New Testament, this was called metanoia (a word that is sadly translated as “repentance,” but should be translated as a change of heart, mind, or worldview). But what does it mean to change our minds today? One basic change is from a dualistic worldview to a non-dualistic worldview. A dualistic worldview looks at things as separate and distinct. There is me, and there is you. There is this, and there is that. We build societies and governments around a dualistic worldview, which allows us to create hierarchies that justify inclusion and exclusion. A non-dualistic worldview seeks what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “interbeing” – the fundamental connectedness of the cosmos. The recognition of interbeing is the root of understanding and of compassion. If you can see the other in yourself and yourself in the other, you will not want to harm. I know many “spiritual” practitioners (myself included) who remain trapped in a dualistic worldview (i.e., they continue to believe in their own separate ego as the source for ultimate meaning). 

    Gibran’s prophet sees the world in a non-dual way. In each of the vignettes, this is the lens through which he attempts to answer the questions presented to him. Consider his comments on death: 

     

        You would know the secret of death.

        But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?

        The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.

        If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.

        For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one. 

     

    This is interbeing. Death is not cordoned from life, something separate that happens despite of life. There is no life without death and vice versa. Understanding this idea can release so much of our fear and neurosis surrounding this inevitable transformation we all face. 

    I invite you to read the prophet’s other statements in light of non-duality, where he collapses distinctions and seeks the presence of all in all. By doing so he touches the heart of a spiritual understanding of the universe.


  4. A Hunger Artist

    September 22, 2017 by Chris Motley

    The story of The Hunger Artist begins at the end of “A Hunger Artist.” This ending contains the punchline, the climax, the epiphany. When The Hunger Artist’s secret is revealed, the story becomes a parable. It is a parable about modernity, a modernity which aims to feed us with so much that distracts us from the true life. It is a parable of human nature, through which we learn what to want by imitating others’ desires. The Hunger Artist’s decision not to imitate, not to want what others want, is to step out of the human story, to prefer death to impurity. But to live in a community is to sacrifice, in however small a way, our sense of purity, for the sake of the other, of identification. The Hunger Artist is not interested; the feast of humanity repulses him. 

    We might be remiss, however, to ascribe to The Hunger Artist the self-righteousness of our age, rooted as it necessarily is in our comfortable distance from pain. Rather, we see in him a form of humility. He does not aim, necessarily, to become a spectacle. Only the mob, ensnared in its rivalrous desires, makes him into a freak. He does not wish that his desire be imitated; he wishes only to be left alone. But what would it mean, to announce in a small voice, that this world ultimately offers no nourishment? In our world, this is a stance of privilege. Only those with the luxury of refusal would undertake to renounce the world and so scorn the very program of creation. 

    Purity is impossible, unless you want to die. Today, we want purity and comfort – an almost impossible combination. To be comfortable means to compromise with the world, to get your hands dirty. What then does it mean to live here? To drink from the common trough of humanity? To slop from the dirty manger? And then, within that feast, what after all must be renounced in the name of a common good? 


  5. The Dead

    June 22, 2017 by Chris Motley

    I am not old enough in years to be wise. I am not young enough at heart to be wise. I must grow involuntarily in one direction and strive voluntarily in the other. Along the way, we are struck by unbidden moments that accelerate our journey, moments that precipitate dramatic internal change. Joyce knew this well. Many of the stories in Dubliners contain what scholars and teachers of Joyce call “epiphanies” – moments of insight, revelations. More than anagnorisis, where a character learns of his change of fortune (usually sometime after the audience learns of it), the epiphany goes deeper than the events and circumstances of the stories, allowing the present moment to enlighten the character to some truth about himself, the self, the world, or God. It is a turn inward, a turn that Joyce would embrace in groundbreaking fashion in Ulysses

    Many of my epiphanies take the form of remorse. Remorse is a powerful word, distinct from synonyms like regret and even shame. The etymology most fascinates me, as the word originates in the Latin remordere, meaning “to bite again.” I am old enough to have caused lasting damage; I am old enough to become a villain in someone’s life story, and, at times, to imagine myself as the villain of my own. When I think of these things, I am bitten, again and again. 

    Gabriel Conroy is bitten for the first time at the end of “The Dead,” when he realizes how thoroughly bitten is Gretta by remorse. But to be bitten by remorse is to be injected with a venom that brings us to a new life. We are taught that the unexamined life is not worth living. An old Jesuit once told me, “An unlived life is not worth examining.” Gabriel faces both realities at the end of this story. He realizes that he has not paid sufficient attention to his wife, or to the fruits of life in general. As he begins to pay attention, he realizes that he should count himself among the living dead, those who pass through life without living. 

    What new life might this remorse bring for Gabriel? 

    What bites at you?


  6. On Friendship

    by Chris Motley

    Michel de Montaigne is regarded as the father of the essay. We tend to define the essay as a deductive genre: I have my point to make, and I will take these prescribed, recognizable steps to convince you of my point. This is how students are taught to write, and it is a formula as old as Aristotle, a formula rooted in oratory. Montaigne subscribes to a radically different definition of “essay,” one especially suited for writing. The French word essayer means “to try, to attempt, to test.” An essay, in Montaigne’s conception, is a trial, a test-drive of an idea, a throwing of noodles against the wall. 

    Such is the case with the selections here, “On Friendship” and “That To Study Philosophy Is To Learn How To Die.” Rather than a systematic “argument,” we encounter a dialogue, a discussion. In the spirit of essayer, we can attempt to answer this first question: what are these essays doing together in this Mouse book? Why these choices? 

    Montaigne posits friendship as possibly the highest human good, a spiritual endeavor. “Friendship,” he says, “is enjoyed…proportionally as it is desired; and only grows up, is nourished and improved by enjoyment, as being itself spiritual, and the soul growing still more refined by practice.” Friendship is transcendent: of family relationships, social duties, and customs. Loyalty to one’s friend should cause one to defy all norms, says Montaigne. No doubt, Montaigne is describing what we might call a “bromance,” an intimacy between men only, who spend their free time sharing their deepest secrets. But it is certainly possible to update Montaigne’s spirit of friendship to account for modern life. “The sense I have,” he writes of friendship, “surpasses even the precepts of philosophy.” Friendship can not be thought into, only experienced. It is rooted in divulgence, communication, dialogue. This spiritual practice is available to everyone (an update of Montaigne’s attitude). Where, then, do you experience true friendship in your life? 

    If friendship “surpasses even the precepts of philosophy,” how can we connect the ideas in “On Friendship” to Montaigne’s propositions in “That To Study…”? Indeed, one might argue that Montaigne, in his passionate advocacy of pleasure against the terror of death, is not talking about philosophy, but about life itself. Montaigne suggests two ways to counter the sting of death: on one hand, one must pursue pleasure rooted in virtue; in doing so, on another hand, one must remain mindful of the presence of death, so as to diminish fear. Friendship dwells at the heart of this endeavor. It is the spiritual practice by which we cope with death, otherwise known as the felt sense of impermanence at the core of life’s goodness. In pursuing divulgence and sharing, we remove the sting of our aloneness in death. Montaigne echoes the wisdom traditions of the world’s religions and philosophies: death is part of life, inextricable from each moment. In the face of death every day, what higher good is there than friendship? 

    As you read these selections, here are some more questions to think on: 

    What is the nature of the universe, of God? Our current discourse on consciousness and evolution tends toward the impersonal. We still want to think of life in terms of knowable systems, within which an individual life, and even the life of our species, is a random manifestation of measurable of forces. We came about randomly; we will pass on randomly (and the world will be better off for it). Montaigne admits that he is obsessed with this idea – that the “universe” doesn’t seem to care when and how we die. But, what if we thought of the universe and God in terms of relationality, perhaps even friendship? Can God be your friend

    Aristotle posits three types of friendship: friendships of pleasure, friendships of utility, and friendships of virtue. Montaigne is interested in the latter type. Reflect on your relationships. Where do you see the three types in your life? Where do we find friends amid all our “connections”? 

    Montaigne says that true friendship is only possible in certain contexts, specifically male non-familial, non-professional relationships. Clearly, we can expand Montaigne’s definition. What does a “friendship of virtue” mean for you? Is female friendship different from male friendship? Can you be “friends” with your family members? 

    For Montaigne, friendship is a spiritual practice rooted in divulgence and sharing. Do you feel like your story is valued? Can you share your deepest secrets and desires? Do you have an outlet to divulge your spirit? Do we have to be our own “friend” sometimes? 

    Spend a week or so following Montaigne’s advice to think about death. What does that feel like? Is it possible to become so comfortable with your own death that you become less afraid of it?