Roger Célestin’s book From Cannibals to Radicals (University of Minnesota, 1996) focuses on the structure of exoticism as a trajectory from Home to Periphery (and back) as negotiated by the traveler/writer/philosopher. Rather than sticking to nineteenth century French texts (from which the term issues) he goes as far back in time as Montaigne and all the way up to V.S. Naipaul.
(Wait – can Naipaul be an exoticist? He’s not European. I haven’t gotten to that chapter yet but I believe it has something to do with reverse exoticism of a sort. Pines for palms, skyscrapers for huts, something like this…)
Though I found the introduction a little rocky for several reasons (not least of which Célestin’s tendency to play fast and loose with geometrical shapes – look, is it a triangular journey or is it circular? even if both entail coming back to the point of departure, these are different things, sir!) the chapter on Montaigne is quite enjoyable.
I find most commentary on Montaigne enjoyable. First of all, because the Essays are endlessly rich, and secondly because it is impossible to write about Montaigne without a certain amount of love and affection. You can’t do it. Montaigne is the most lovable. He is like everyone’s grandfather. Or like everyone’s kind of weird uncle who mostly keeps to himself (up in the attic where he has scrawled quotes of Seneca all over the walls) but comes around with lots of presents and funny stories at Christmas. He complains about his bowels, sure, but that’s okay because he also knows that “kings and philosophers shit; so do ladies.”