Friday, August 18, 2006
The Anxiety of the Influence of Medieval Identity Machines
My favorite book of Prof. Cohen's is Medieval Identity Machines [2nd favorite--Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages]. When I had my students at Southern Illinois University [enrolled in my Masculinity, Violence, and the Medieval Romance course] read the chapters "Chevalrie" and "Masoch/Lancelotism," let's just say they were, um . . . kind of blown away. Those who weren't blown away were really, really discomfited [which I always think is a good thing]; i.e., they were "disturbed." I guess I always assumed that it has been broadly read [and taught?], and when JJC mentioned in a blog posting not very long ago that it was his least reviewed [and by implication, least understood?] book, I thought . . . whaaaaaa? But then again, why am I surprised? In any case, I thought I would share here a short paper I delivered last fall at Notre Dame that was greatly influenced by MIM [and to a certain extent, also, by Of Giants], to show how JJC's thought impacted my teaching of Chretien de Troyes and also helped me connect that [reading/thinking/teaching] experience with current events in the war in Iraq.
honour desires the body's pain: The Posthuman Circuits of Chivalric Desire in Chretien's Yvain and the Iraq War
In the famous medieval story of the renowned knight and doomed lover Tristan, retold by Gottfried von Strassburg in the early thirteenth century, when Tristan is seventeen his uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, asks him how he would feel about being knighted. Tristan responds that he “would love to be a knight, to train my idle youth and wean it to worldly honours,” but he also reproaches himself bitterly for not having yet exercised his “untried youth”—by which he means, he has never engaged in combat—and he tells Mark and the rest of Mark’s court that he has “read that honour desires the body’s pain, and comfort is death to honour.” Indeed, it could be argued that, although the term “chivalry,” in the Middle Ages, denoted a whole set of fluctuating and highly-localized yet also transcultural social practices and quasi-religious beliefs, that physical violence—most often in the form of battlefield or single combat—represented the primary experience through which aristocratic men, fictional or otherwise, proved and shaped their knightliness, and also their masculinity. In his book, Medieval Identity Machines, Jeffrey Cohen has written that medieval chivalry represented a “rigorous training of subjectivity and body,” and further, the word “chivalry” itself
“denotes both a powerful cultural fantasy and a catalyst to the formation of a specific kind of European Christian aristocratic male subject. Chivalry aroused and then shaped the desires of an elite fighting class, delineating the contours of socially acceptable expressions of force and passion. Intimately connected in its genesis to the necessity of producing a sufficient supply of men capable of keeping the nation safe from attack and of furthering imperial interests abroad, chivalry aimed to create a body at once deadly in its sanctioned violence and docile in its comportment at home.”
One result of all this was the creation of a tension between acceptable social conduct and sexual and violent excesses that “formed chivalry’s conflicted heart,” and to make matters worse, the “impossible perfection of knighthood was [always] limned by nightmares of its own self-dissolution.”
Nothing was more instrumental for the maintenance of chivalric identity, I would argue, than medieval romance, a genre well-suited to solicit the passions of its young, male readers with its tales of lone adventuring, jousting with the boys, killing giants, rescuing virgins, and fighting in large-scale wars. As Tristan, a character in a romance, states in his own story, he has read that “honour desires the body’s pain.” This point is worth re-emphasizing: Tristan, himself a fictional character in a fictional romance, is familiar with the very literature through which he has been created as a heroic figure. As Johan Huizinga once wrote of medieval knights, “They wear the mask of Lancelot and Tristan. It is an amazing self-deception.” But it is a self-deception absolutely necessary in martial culture, for, as Cohen has also written, “in order for battles to be fought and won, young men must be made willing to sacrifice their own bodies to ensure the endurance of the structure of power that their activity undergirds.” Perhaps ironically, the knight is made to believe, through the genre of romance and other politico-ideological means, that his assumption of a chivalric identity—at the moment, let’s say, he decides to take up arms—is a freely-willed form of self-fashioning, whereas in reality, he lives his life exactly the way he has been socially conditioned to live it. Chivalry appears, on the surface, to offer a type of freedom—the freedom to leave home, for example, and the freedom to create one’s self through various acts of personal techne, while in actuality, the community of chivalry is the very antithesis of freedom. The function of medieval romances, such as Strassburg’s Tristan, Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, and Chretien de Troyes’ Arthurian Romances, according to Cohen, is to provide the “hypnotic glimmer” and “cannibal poetics” of the chivalric, heroic self, and to offer men “in mythic form everything that they [actually] cannot have: freedom of movement, freedom of desire, freedom from the constraints of history and time.” And what each potential knight-soldier is finally drawn into is not a literary romance or heroic life, but the defining, Freudian romance of history itself, a romance, according to Cohen, “written by a father, with a father’s wished-for ending. The possibility of rebellion is itself sentenced to death, and the good son[, once sacrificed] joins the body of patriarchs. The story is [always] set to repeat.” And I would add that chivalry is ultimately a form of ghost-writing upon the skin and body of the knight: the instrument of his legibility is the sword of his enemy. And the knight’s blood, spilled on the ground, is the sum of his parts and meaning.
If we were to number all the leaves of all the medieval manuscripts that contained romance stories, they would fill Chartres Cathedral to the rafters and then some, and I can not even begin to do justice here to the barest description of the entire corpus or even to the most spare description of the shared features of the generic plots, but what I would like to do is briefly focus on one particular romance by the twelfth-century French author Chretien de Troyes, “The Knight with the Lion” (typically referred to as the story of Yvain), and even more particularly, on a portion of that story that involves Yvain’s association and friendship with a lion, whom he rescues from the clutches of a dragon after determining that “he would take the lion’s part, since a venomous and wicked creature deserves only harm: the dragon was venomous and fire leapt from its mouth because it was so full of wickedness.” And further, “Pity summoned and urged him to aid and succour the noble and honorable beast.” [And it goes without saying that the dragon, historically, is symbolically associated with everything that is not “noble” and masculine: it is feminine, variable in its sexuality, Asiatic, Muslim, chthonic, etc.] After Yvain slays the dragon by hacking it into tiny pieces—a typical day in the park for a medieval knight—the lion is so grateful that, uncharacteristically for a lion, “it stood up on its hind paws, bowed its head, joined its forepaws and extended them towards Yvain, in an act of total submission,” and from that day on the lion never leaves Yvain’s side. In fact, from that point forward in the story Yvain is known only as “One who they say is never without a lion.”
Yvain’s larger story actually begins prior to his encounter with the lion—with his already established renown as one of Arthur’s best knights, as well as a particular adventure he undertakes that leads to his marriage with a woman whose husband he has killed in single combat. But when he meets the lion, Yvain has been wandering by himself through wild terrain and various towns, partly because he broke a promise to his wife to return to her within one year and one day after leaving her shortly after their wedding to go tourneying, which is really “code” for: hang out with the boys, fight, hunt, and kill some things. When one of his wife’s female servants, Lunete, tracks him down and demands back her lady’s ring, since Yvain has broken his promise, he is stunned and Lunete has to forcibly pull the ring from his finger, at which point Yvain literally goes “mad,” strips off all of his clothing, flees into the woods, and lives “in the forest like a madman and a savage.” Clothing and manners are everything in this world, and by entering the forest in this manner, Yvain signifies his complete abdication of everything his aristocratic culture stands for—he is no longer a husband, or even a knight, but is just an animal. Yvain’s real, naked body, no matter how well-trained and “hard,” cannot, by itself, denote knighthood, or any kind of recognizable social identity, since, in the world of chivalry, identity—human and otherwise—is inextricably bound up with what might be called the technology of soldiery: knives, swords, shields, armor, pennants, spurs and horses. Yvain’s entry into the woods—a landscape, moreover, that in chivalric romance always denotes ahistorical and wild time—represents his reduction to a kind of particulate, atomized being. The rest of the story is taken up with his slow progress back to his supposedly more coherent chivalric self, and the lion plays a critical role in the “second act” of Yvain’s self-fashioning as a knight, but also, as a man.
Everywhere he travels, the lion travels with him, and each time Yvain meets an opponent, he tells the lion to sit by and not interfere, yet at just the right moment, the lion always pounces and helps Yvain defeat his enemies. It is clearly important to Yvain to always let his opponents know that he does not require the lion’s help, yet at the same time, when he is overmatched (as he almost always is), the lion flies in, literally, to decide the matter with one deadly swipe of the paw, demonstrating that the chivalric self always “fights clean” and “honorably,” yet also requires, for the decisive moment, a ferocious, unthinking violence. In one extraordinary moment, when the lion believes Yvain is dead after Yvain has accidentally fallen on his own sword in a fit of swooning grief (primarily because he misses his wife so desperately), the lion attempts suicide by propping the same sword against a stone and throwing himself at it. Clearly, the lion lives for and through Yvain, and the two become inseparable halves of the same person. There is a certain fluidity of identity between Yvain and the lion that creates what the French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guttari have called an “inhuman circuit”—an “amalgam of force, materiality, and motion” as well as a “network of meaning that decomposes human bodies and intercuts them with the inanimate, [the animal, and] the inhuman.” The lion, of course, is also an allegory for Yvain’s warrior ferocity, which is simultaneously “noble,” like the lion’s bearing (meaning upright, supple, and “hard” in his body, but also “rational” and “moral” in mind), and mortally brutal, like the lion’s sharp claws. Together, they make perfect house guests as well as a beautiful killing machine. Ultimately, it is not discretion that is the better part of valor, but terror—here seen, not only as an object of awe, but also of beauty.
Young medieval men became knights, I would argue, primarily through a process of wounding, and Yvain’s story demonstrates this over and over again, as he and the lion wound and receive wounds together along each step of their adventures. They are even healed together, in order to wound and be wounded again. Typically, knights in medieval romance literature fight under the strain of wounds that would kill “ordinary men,” and phrases like “they fought as the blood rose to their ankles and knees” (as if the battlefields were closed containers) are stock commonplaces. Also typical is the knight who fights too soon after his wounds have only just begun to heal, so that while new wounds are being inflicted, the old wounds simultaneously open and the knight almost drowns in his own blood. The knight’s own blood, shed and re-shed, is the true métier of his existence—the reason he knows he’s really alive, even when dying.
I have been thinking a lot recently about the connections between the ethos of medieval chivalry and the contemporary cultural beliefs of young soldiers, such as Capt. David Rozelle of the Third Armored Calvary Regiment, who became an amputee in June 2003 when an anti-tank mine destroyed part of his right leg and foot. In his recent memoir, Back In Action: An American Soldier’s Story of Courage, Faith, and Fortitude—itself a species of romance narrative—Rozelle writes of his observation of his injuries shortly after his armored vehicle was blown up (his Humvee actually lifted off the ground and a door and tire were launched 300 meters away):
“My leg was straight and my foot was misshapen and slumped over to the right, lifeless. It wasn’t just limp, but was grotesquely contorted at a severe angle well beyond ninety degrees. . . . Whenever I tried to move it, pain would run up my leg as if someone were shooting me in the foot again and again. The only thing holding my foot onto my body was my boot. The blood was now pouring down the inside of the cargo wall. It was thick and dark, and carried fragments of bone and tissue with it. . . . I worried about being litter-carried in front of my men. Fuck, they never even saw me sleep, and now they would see me carried in like the dead.”
Ultimately, Rozelle was less angry about his injuries (which would result in the amputation of the lower portion of his right leg), than he was about what he termed the loss of his command. In his memoir, he writes, “I was so angry. My command was over, and the war, for me, was over. I had lost everything in an instant.” Somewhat amazingly, Rozelle has become the first amputee soldier in the history of the U.S. Army to successfully petition to be returned to active combat duty, and this petition was partly successful because of the advances that have been made in prosthetic technology. But it was also successful because of Rozelle’s passionate resolve to return to Iraq only as a commander on the ground, where, previously, his code name was “Killer 6,” and the evening before heading out on specific missions, he would rouse his men by shouting, “Killers on the Warpath!” Most relevant to the discussion here is Chapter 4 of Rozelle’s memoir, “My Life as a Texan,” where Rozelle begins by telling his reader that when he thinks about “making a name for myself as a warrior, I think about mythological heroes,” and since many mythological heroes, such as Gilgamesh, Romulus and Remus, had uncertain parentage, and he himself is adopted, Rozelle places himself within the pseudo-historical lineage of heroic myth. The fact that he is originally from Texas where, as he puts it, the colors of the Texas flag represent “bravery, purity, and loyalty,” and everything is bigger than it is anywhere else, provides further evidence of an heroic provenance. He also lets us know in this chapter that, after many conversations with a teacher who was a Vietnam veteran, and who ran a tank division there, he chose to be a “cavalryman” in an armored division, in order to never be one of the “poor bastards” who make up the infantry. In other words, Rozelle sees himself as having chosen the more “elite” military path, one with definite associations with the images and symbolism of the medieval chevalier. Later in the book, in Chapter 15, “Fit for Duty,” we get the story of the grueling physical therapy Rozelle puts himself through in order to place under erasure his official Army status as “Recovering From Traumatic Injury.” In his letter of “Self-Recommendation and Fitness for Duty,” written in January of 2004, Rozelle wrote, “I am already considering my prosthesis an adaptive part of my body, which has no limits on me personally or professionally,” and somewhat extraordinarily, in March of 2004, the Army’s Medical Evaluation Board evaluated Rozelle as “fit for duty.” As Rozelle defines himself primarily as a commander of battle troops, and would clearly have a difficult time existing outside of that identity, he made a decision that he would take nothing less than active command of active combat troops. Setting an unusual historical precedent, the Army granted that request, and in July 2004, Rozelle returned to Iraq. In Rozelle’s statement in his letter that his prosthesis is an “adaptive” part of his body—a part, moreover, he wishes to train for combat—we can see, as Cohen has written, what might be called the chivalric, Deleuzian assemblage of the soldier (part human, part “other than human”), which “necessarily acknowledges that a body is not a singular, essential thing but an inhuman circuit full of unrealized possibility for rethinking identity.” But this is an identity, too, in both Yvain’s and Rozelle’s case, which is a consummate figure of war, a figure that is predicated upon the desire for muscular, yet-also machine-like, proficient might. It tilts toward destruction.
Perhaps we should not view Rozelle through too negative of a lens, for from one perspective, he has demonstrated that his disability does not define nor limit his identity as a soldier, and even as a servant of the state, and his return to Iraq can be viewed, in that sense, as a kind of progressive triumph, both personally and culturally. And while I can see some of the sense in this argument, I do not think we are always aware of the powerful stories and cultural narratives that write our identities upon our bodies. And I am worried, too, about the larger question of whether or not the maiming and deaths of men and women in the war in Iraq is justified by the supposed causes of this war, however we might define them. As Michael Walzer argued convincingly in Just and Unjust Wars, human society is such that war will likely always be unavoidable, and therefore, it is critical that we insist on war having a moral structure, and we must likewise insist on the vigilant maintenance of that moral structure. As regards Capt. Rozelle and his desire to return to combat duty in Iraq, I keep returning to that moment in Shakespeare’s Henry V when, the evening before the bloody battle of Agincourt, Henry disguises himself and walks through the camp in order to sound out the morale of his troops. To a small group of soldiers who are clearly worried about the outcome of the next day’s battle, Henry says, “Methinks I could not die anywhere so contented as in the King’s company, his cause being just and his quarrel honorable” (IV.i.126-28), to which one of his soldiers replies, “But if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all, ‘We died at such a place,’ some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afear’d there are few die well that die in battle; for how can they charitably dispose of anything when blood is their argument?” (IV.i.134-43).
1. Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan, trans. A.T. Hatto (1960; reprint New York: Penguin Books, 1982), 101.
2. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Medieval Identity Machines (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), 46-47.
3. Ibid., 47.
4. Johan Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages, trans. F. Hopman (1924; reprint New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984), 69.
5. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 82.
6. Cohen, Medieval Identity Machines, 71.
7. Ibid., 85.
8. Chretien de Troyes, “The Knight With the Lion (Yvain),” Arthurian Romances, trans. William W. Kibler (New York: Penguin Books, 1991), 337.
11. Ibid., 357.
12. Ibid., 330.
13. Cohen, Medieval Identity Machines, 37-38, 76.
14. Rozelle, David, Back in Action: An American Soldier’s Story of Courage, Faith, and Fortitude (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2005), 143.
15. Ibid., 145.
16. Ibid., 11.
17. Ibid., 31.
18. Ibid., 212.
19. Ibid., 214.
20. Ibid., 218.
21. Cohen, Medieval Identity Machines, 76.
22. Citations of Shakespeare’s Henry V are taken from The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).
Posted by Eileen Joy at 12:37 AM
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Thanks, Eileen, for posting that powerful essay. Those words addressed to Henry really do resonate, don't they?
I'm happy, too, to find that MIMs was a catalyst. Your posts on this blog and your publishing ventures elsewhere have served similarly for me, and I'm indebted to you for that.
I do feel that, of all my own publishing projects, MIMs has been the unloved child. That's OK -- it is a weird book -- and it was probably the most ambitious thing I'll ever compose. Like everything I do, it was also a labor of love, and I had a great time putting it together over the years. Medieval studies should always be that exuberant.
Nice work EJ. Now, I'm in the midst, right now, of revising the received wisdom about Yvain's madness (not to end discussion, but to provide space for a new beginning for a critical conversation that's been running in place at least since Le Goff's Levi-Strauss in Broceliande): but I don't want to give the game away on that just yet.
If you want to take your argument a bit further, you might exploit this:
he chose to be a “cavalryman” in an armored division, in order to never be one of the “poor bastards” who make up the infantry. In other words, Rozelle sees himself as having chosen the more “elite” military path, one with definite associations with the images and symbolism of the medieval chevalier.
The elite status of this military profession derives precisely from its inhuman interpenetration of armored cavalry with warrior; in other words, Rozelle came at the profession already prepared for, already desiring a prosthesis, a supplement to promise completion. The artificial limb is not an inauthentic replacement of what used to be fully present but rather a fuller presentation of the fantasy of armored, technological self-presence of the knight Rozelle (or Yvain) imagines himself. I think of what might be the oddest example of medieval romance that I know, from The Knight of the Parrot (Le Chevalier du Papegau) Trans. Thomas E. Vesce. Garland Library of Medieval Literature. Garland: New York, 1986, where Arthur meets up with an enormous knight riding on an enormous horse. Arthur, in examining the corpse after the fight, discovers that "the knight, destrier, hauberk, helm, shield, sword, and lance were all one and the same thing" (17). The next day, they skin this knight, and the author invokes mappamundi for witness to these sorts of things being able to exist, citing something called the "Fish Knight," which is also a knight all of one piece, a perfect example of what Anne Berthelet posits in “Merlin, ou l’homme sauvage chez les chevaliers” (in CUER MA Université de Provence Le Nu et la Vêtu au Moyen Age (XIIe – XIII siècles) Senefiance No. 47 (2001)): armor sort of substitutes for clothing, but it also makes knights "comme des sortes de homards indissociables de leur carapace" (like lobsters, inseparable [or 'conjoined with'] their carapace). And so we've returned to the assemblage through which identity must be lived and continually deferred at once, a chivalric version of Tetsuo.
Speaking of Fish Knights: let me put in an early plug for Sylvia Huot's Postcolonial Fictions in the 'Roman de Perceforest': Cultural Identities and Hybridities. The book does many amazing things with this completely insane text of transformations and experiment, but one of my favorite sections involves the Fish Knights on whose island a stranded "real" knight is forced into daily combat just to survive. These fish are chevaliers as well as possible good food (they really are fish, but they joust and speak).
The book comes out next year in the new Gallica imprint of Boydell and Brewer. I predict it'll soon make Perceforest everyone's favorite romance .... if they can find and read it (it's in French and not fully published yet).
Karl--your comments, as always, are really appreciated, especially since medieval romance literature is not a specialty of mine [as is Old English poetry]. I wonder, though, about your thought that, for Capt. Rozelle, "[t]he artificial limb is not an inauthentic replacement of what used to be fully present but [is] rather a fuller presentation of the fantasy of armored, technological self-presence of the knight Rozelle (or Yvain) imagines himself [to be]." On one hand, I agree with you, but on another, if you read Rozelle's account of how difficult it was to adapt to and utilize [somewhat fluidly] his prosthesis, it is hard to see Rozelle thinking of his new limb [or limb extension] as a more "present" armored [as you say] component of his fantasy [mythological] warrior-self. If anything, the prosthesis was a kind of obstacle for him that he had to almost "will" himself into believing was a "natural" part of himself [which is different than imagining his prosthesis as a refined machinic element of his warrior/chevalier persona]. The key to adapting to and "using" his prostheis, according to Rozelle anyway, was to train to such an obsessive extent, that he almost forgot it was artificial, and not a part of his "original" body. In other words, the real point of re-training himself [for Rozelle,in his own words], was to return to a body that was unmaimed and supposedly whole again--to be, not a warrior-machine, but a warrior-human--to not let, in other words, the absence [maiming/loss] of a particular body part stand in his way of enacting his soldier/warrior/Army captain/combat leader self. It's not that the machinic element enhances his abilities as a solider, but that it must be "overcome" [by, suuposedly, force of mind/will/exertion] in order to return to a state where he is so in control of his physical form--wetware or hardware--that he can "transcend" it. Does this make sense?
Dammit, and we're back to disability studies, aren't we?
Tetsuo: The Ironman is perhaps my favorite film of all time (a tie with WR: Mysteries of the Organism). I have memorized it shot by shot.
Disability studies, you say, Emile B.? Don't tar me with that feather! Disability, schmisability. Okay, now I have to go locate "Tetsuo."
Emile: W. R. sounds difficult, but I'll track it down someday. I'm dubious about any film that claims to capture an era--Blowup and Performance, yuch, come to mind from that era--but maybe the imdb review is concentrating on the wrong things: the claim likely isn't the film's, anyway.
Favorite movie? A favorite is David Lean's Summertime (Summer Madness in the UK), if only for this bit:
Rossano Brazzi*: "You are like a hungry child who is given ravioli to eat. 'No,' you say, 'I want beefsteak.' My dear girl, you are hungry. Eat the ravioli."
Katharine Hepburn (petulantly, like a child): "I'm not hungry."
*Famous in my mind because of the South Pacific, where he says "I killed a man." Just watch it. You'll understand: it ranks above Orson Welles' "I killed a man" in Lady from Shanghai, but only just.
JJC: Perceforest sounds like it might just bump William of Palerne aside. Sounds fantastic.
What you're saying definitely makes sense. Here's why I'm dubious, a little: the narrative of overcoming one's prosthesis is the standard narrative for such stories, likely because it is difficult to make such things work, but also likely because it would be too disturbing for it to be otherwise. So I want to resist that narrative. My dubiousness also comes, I'm afraid, simply from the fun I had with my reading: sheer cussed contrarianism.
Now, what can I offer in return? Not sure, except wondering what you would turn up if you pushed around a bit in either cyborg theory, transhumanism (ugh, avoiding the libertarian stuff if at all possible), science fiction more generally but especially what I imagine is the large body of critical material that's coalesced around Robocop.
What drove me to my reading--apart from the sheer cussedness--was, first, the discussion of (in)human circuits in JJC's MIMs, and second, that line about "poor bastards" who don't get the participation/fulfillment with/in machines of the armored cavalry. I might be over-reading, but that alone drove me to want to see an analogy, some kind of return of the repressed, between Rozelle's initial desire to be body + 1 that became, post-maiming, body - 1, and post prosthesis, a body gradually pushed out in favor of machine.
This is all I can do with it now, though: and there's, of course, a bit of a danger is using Rozelle, who's after all a living person, to make critical hay.
now that you have elaborated further on your point, I can see some of the sense of it, especially in relation to Rozelle's comments about not wanting to be in the infantry and you idea of the "return of the repressed," and SURE, just because Rozelle claims that he trained to make the prosthesis feel natural doesn't make it so, although I do feel it is important to try and understand his situation as much as is possible through his own take on it. But whatever you do, do NOT read his book, as it is absolutely DREADFUL [!] from a narrative perspective. Of course, if we tried to talk to Rozelle about Deleuze and those "inhuman circuits," I'm not sure how he would respond, although he *was* an English major in college.
Just want to point out one more thing about Eileen's essay that deserves note: its treatment of romance as catalyst to the formation of a certain kind of socially useful subject. Many medievalists continue to approach romance as a disembodied aesthetic game, even after the work of Joachim Bumke and Richard W. Kaueper (the latter was my undergrad history prof., so he was trying out the material that became his awesome Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe when I was but a babe who sucked it in as received truth. He and Tom Hahn co-tuaght an undergraduate course on chivalry that started the thinking that became the Chevalerie chapter of MIMs).
I'm not saying Chretien wasn't obsessed with aesthetics (he was so damn playful that he couldn't resist turning the ordinary into multivalent shiny objects), but he was also part of a burgeoning movement to beautify the young warrior's knightly body. Cf. those homoerotic WWI poets who had so much in common with Baron Corvo.
I love Kaueper's book and recommend it to my medieval lit. students EVERY chance I get. I think we have to be some what careful when we talk about the ways in which literary projects participated in certain, let's say, social formations, by which I mean, I try not to look at it as a "top down"-only phenomena, with Chretien sitting down and saying, "today I am going to write a story that glorifies knighthood and drives young men like lemmings over a tall cliff to their deaths." In other words, I don't think of artists as "agents" of the State, let's say. At the same time, I think many motives--whether belonging to artists or readers--are often unconscious--and art plays a huge role, I think, both in the past but also today--in shaping how we think/feel/enact our identities, and whether wittingly or unwittingly, romance literature of the Middle Ages, especially, seems to have provided the imaginative playing field upon which men [but also women] could be persuaded to believe in things that are never entirely "real": i.e., romantic love, erotic/bodily perfection, honor, etc.
Agreed; hence my problems with Haidu's book (q.v.). Romance is a genre with its own rules and utility; Chretien participates in by furthering some of those aims some of the time, while subverting and even defeating them at others. Plus, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a medieval author more perversely intent on frustrating easy readings of what his narratives mean.
But whatever you do, do NOT read his book, as it is absolutely DREADFUL [!] from a narrative perspective.
But it might be very useful from a symptomatic perspective.
Many medievalists continue to approach romance as a disembodied aesthetic game
I wouldn't have thought that still possible, except that, at the last Kzoo, because everyone had dropped out of my session but me, I session-hopped my own session. After doing my Chretien paper, I ran upstairs to a full-on Chretien session, and although I can't remember the 2 papers I saw, one of them did an allegorical analysis of Erec's cloak as a figure of rhetoric: or something equally dull. That presentor was from a Baptist University in the South, so go figure.
I think you'd be hard pressed to find a medieval author more perversely intent on frustrating easy readings of what his narratives mean.
Except, of course, Anonymous.
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