Friday, April 13, 2007

Quote of the day: Sir Amadace

While I was writing this, JJC, apparently, was continuing the conversation on queer theory and Edelman. If you haven't already read that post, well, get on it.

Sir Amadace is a romance unusually full of dead corpses. A necessary pleonasm (unlike Slayer's "rotten limbs lie dead"), here meant to distinguish merely dead corpses from slain corpses. What fighting there is occurs quickly, virtually off-stage (Amadace "wasse the best that evyr mon hade / In justing for to see. / Ther he wanne full mecul honoure" (533-35): and that's it). Amadace does not create corpses; he simply comes across them. The first he finds in a forest chapel stinking with the rot of a dead knight unburied because of his debts, whose widow, as she says, "sixtene weke I have setyn here, / Kepand this dede cors opon this bere, /With candils brennand bryghte. / And so schall I evyrmore do, / Till dethe cum and take me to" (193-97). Later, Amadace comes across a mass of corpses in a passage that I offer as today's quote:
Now als Sir Amadace welke bi the se sonde,
The broken schippus he ther fonde -
Hit were mervayl to say.
He fond wrekun amung the stones
Knyghtes in menevere for the nones,
Stedes quite and gray,
With all kynne maner of richas
That any mon myghte devise
Castun uppe with waturs lay;
Kistes and cofurs bothe ther stode,
Was fulle of gold precius and gode,
No mon bare noghte away. (517-28)

No man, that is, until Amadace himself, per the advice of a spectral knight, loots the corpses to outfit himself in a manner befitting his station. I found this scene--which I imagined as Amadace picking his way through the corpses--nightmarish, uncanny, not least of all because the scene is so eerily reminiscent (to summon a cliché) of other scenes in other romances, the turgid catalogs of sartorial excess in courts swollen with gold and men. One could almost forget that the knights in miniver amid their chests and coffers are dead: almost, but not quite.


Michael O'Rourke said...

I don't know why but this scene made me think of Lacan's "Aggressivity in Psychoanalysis"...

Karl Steel said...

Care to elaborate?

Jeffrey Cohen said...

It's an amazing scene. What brought you to it, Karl?

M O'R: were you thinking of the Boschian vision there of the ruptured bodies?

I also think of Jeremy Citrome's work, especially his brilliant piece on chivalry and surgery (Exemplaria 13.1, "Bodies That Splatter") that explores the knightly fight against the perpetual undoing of the body.

But the Amadace scene is creepy in a way that can't really be domesticated by these references...

Michael O'Rourke said...

I guess it must have been this bit in Lacan's essay which got triggered (inmy unconscious) by Karl's quote from Amadace:

" These are the images of castration, mutilation, dismemberment, dislocation, evisceration, devouring, bursting open of the body"

I was also thinking of course of le corps morcele in "The Mirror Stage" and the "aggressive disintegration in the individual".

But JJC is right, this Lacanian framing of the body as fortress and/or in pieces, might work for Chaucer or Malory or other romances but perhaps inadequately gets at this scene Karl has shared with us (there is of course nothing domesticating about Citrome's work which really brilliantly does the messy kind of bodily work most theory gets squeamish about. I was reading Hillis Miller on "right reading" in his book on speech acts in Henry James this week--perhaps "Bodies that Splatter" is what we might call "rectal reading").

Karl Steel said...

I've been meaning to read Bodies that Splatter since I first saw the title. Thanks for the reminder. (and I should say that I'm finding the Derrida cannibalism lecture notes rather slow going, Michael. I'd like to think that what's slowing me down is not just my inadequacies....)

I'm writing about The Avowyng of Arthur, which survives in a single exemplar in the Irish Blackburn ms (at Princeton), along with two other romances, Sir Amadace (1 other ms) and The Awntyrs of Arthur (3 other mss). Both because I thought I should read all the literary stuff in the ms and because I decided to justify all the TEAMs editions I have by reading a few of them through, I decided to give Amadace a shot.

Odd thing with this passage is the lack of ruptured bodies. The first body Amadace comes across, the rotting corpse in the forest chapel, is insistently ruptured: the text goes on and on about the smell of death in a way I find very unusual for chivalric narrative. But there's no smell or indeed horror at the corpses on the beach. Instead of violence, the scene represents generosity. It anticipates the largesse that will soon benefit Amadace in the wake of his tournament victories: and not even anticipates, because this largesse is a kind of (unconscious) largesse of the dead. Rather than putting the corpses in the context of violence and the chivalric body--although I shouldn't foreclose that--I want to put this scene in the context of Amadace's obsession with finance and exchange, which strikes me as even more intense than Octavian (with I know you, JJC, wrote about in MIMs).

Okay, back to packing. My household's moving to Flatbush on Tuesday, and this medieval break has to come to a close.

Nicola Masciandaro said...

The scene strikes me as a spectacle of transitoriness founded, not (in the ubi sunt mode) on the absence of the transitory, but on its lingering, hence "uncanny" presence. The almost not dead bodies, corpses that continue to possess, point back to the "already dead" living, trapped in their self-reduction to the materiality of their possessions.

Glad to see Slayer lingering in your imagination. Finding such a shipwreck, I could sing, "Nothing here remains / No future and no past / No one could foresee
The end that came so fast" (Slayer, "Skeletons of Society," Seasons in the Abyss).

Liza Blake said...

Hey Karl -- after reading and becoming mildly infatuated with the strange perversity of the romance The Squyr of Lowe Degre I've been doing searches for texts with other strange uses of dead bodies being used in strange ways (besides relics, for the moment), and google keeps taking me to ITM posts that you've written! Perhaps we should talk ...

Mientras tanto, off to read Amadace.