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«RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES: SUBJECTIVITY AND ALTERITY IN THE CHANSON DE ROLAND by Normand Raymond Bachelor of Arts, Laurentian University, 2001 Master of ...»

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Normand Raymond

Bachelor of Arts, Laurentian University, 2001

Master of Arts, York University, 2005

Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of

the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences in partial fulfillment

of the requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

University of Pittsburgh



This dissertation was presented by Normand Raymond It was defended on September 20th, 2013 and approved by John Lyon, Associate Professor, German Department Giuseppina Mecchia, Associate Professor, French Department Todd Reeser, Professor, French Department Dissertation Advisor: Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Professor, French Department ii Copyright © by Normand Raymond iii



Normand Raymond, PhD University of Pittsburgh, 2013 This dissertation seeks to explore how theological and philosophical traditions during the medieval period lead to the establishment of views on the nature of God, the best manner of living, as well as the best way of remaining faithful to a proper mode of religious worship. Furthermore, this study proposes that the adherence to such religious truths played a significant role in fashioning subjectivities, while simultaneously determining one religious traditions interaction with other religious communities. I argue that by identifying with a certain conception of God, the worldview presented in the “Song of Roland” comes to identify the themes of power/chivalry, subjective becoming, and fear as being inextricably linked in the Franks reaction to the Saracen world. Religious identification thus serves to establish dichotomies, worldviews, and religious differences that ultimately justify violent extremism and genocide. My work contributes and innovates upon much of the existing scholarship, yet I break new ground in the field given that the theoretical framework I have chosen to employ seeks to fully develop the philosophical, political, and theological consequences of early Christian anthropology.

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Paien unt tort e chrestïens unt dreit.

It is the goal of this thesis to demonstrate that any understanding of the Chanson de Roland must begin with this fundamental statement. Such a statement concisely articulates a worldview, a theological and philosophical positioning that establishes a dichotomy in the world. A dichotomy that is characterized by very specific qualities, namely, the existence of cultural and existential distinctions (for, we are after all, dealing with the conflict and contrast between two differing cultures and the divergent modes of living, becoming, and expressing their subjectivity) that serve to establish a separation, a gap, between those subjects who view themselves as embodying the "right" side in this fight, from those that are deemed to be embodying the "wrong" side in the fight. The criteria used to determine the appropriateness of a subject's belonging and becoming in this dispute, is to be found in the terms used by Roland to distinguish one side from the other: religious affiliation and fidelity. Consequently, I will be arguing in this thesis that we must view Roland's statement (and the entire poetic edifice that surrounds and contextualizes it) as an attempt to justify, philosophically and theologically, the origin of such a distinction, of the causes the allow such a distinction to appear, as well as the consequences that follow from the emergence of this point of distinction. In other words, I will endeavour to articulate the underlying philosophy and theology which is at the heart of the "Chanson de Roland".

I believe such work to be necessary given its absence in the discipline. Curiously enough, although many commentators of the "Chanson de Roland" have emphasized this divide or distinction between Christian and Saracen, few have attempted to explicate the theological origins or philosophical consequences of such a division. This is true of much of the preceding scholarly tradition of the "Chanson de Roland", as well as with more recent articles. Whether it is Bédier, George Fenwick Jones, Pierre le Gentil, Ian Short or others, the dichotomy between Christians and Saracens is largely left in a conceptual terrain vague. It is either explained away as simply a religious opposition (an opposition needing no further analysis since it is assumed that the nature of the religious, as such, and of a religious opposition, to be more precise, does not need any kind of explanation or conceptual detective work), an easy means of dehumanization (one side demeans the other without any apparent conceptual framework being

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seek to establish how the discovery, and recognition of a foundational Truth, on the part of the Christians, will inevitably lead to the conception/construction of Saracen difference as a hostile, and necessarily oppositional force that must be eradicated.

I will therefore be theorizing against a certain academic background. The work of Sharon Kinoshita perhaps best exemplifies this hermeneutical nullification of difference1. The principal thrust of her argument contends that the apparent differences between the Christians This view is best exemplified by Sharon Kinoshita in a series of seminal articles. ‘Pagans are wrong and Christians are right: Alterity, Gender, and Nation in the Chanson de Roland’, in Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. Vol. 31, No. 1, Winter 2001; Medieval Boundaries. Rethinking Difference in Old French Literature. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2006.

and the Saracens in the “Chanson de Roland” (differences in which the text revels) are neither essential, existential, or of any serious importance. The two sides appear to mirror one another, sharing the same political structures, the same speech and language, the same martial bravado.

In two of her articles, she suggests that the real problem in the "Chanson de Roland" is not one of intractable differences, but rather, a menace of nondifferentiation caused by possible cultural osmosis or conversion. What Kinoshita means by this is that the Christians and the Saracens are alike in every conceivable way, except for religion, and religion, contrary to what a reader might think, is not a great barrier or divider. Religious differences can be breached. People can convert. Consequently, religious differences are not all that important. This de-emphasizing of religious difference is clearly indicated by Kinoshita’s structural use of conversion, as well as her performative description of religious difference as a “nothing more”. Kinoshita’s article seems to emphasize the point that what looks to be the same, must inevitable be the same. Hence the reason her argument moves from the appearance of similarity, on the cultural plane, to the assertion of existential similarity in her negation of difference. In other words, “(s)imilar in language and custom, the two sides arguably differ in religion and nothing more”. Such a view, I would argue, misses something crucial. It should be remembered that any two things which are virtually indistinguishable are, in fact, in actuality, distinguished from one another. The gap between them may be considered small or imperceptible. Nonetheless, a gap exists, and it is maintained. A gad the “Chanson de Roland” maintains rather vehemently. This gap is maintained regardless of any possible conversion, since conversion does not render division unstable. Conversion strengthens divisions and gaps. Conversion does not imply instability, but stability: otherness ceases to be other, inasmuch as what is other is negated, and is replaced with the “same” of some other from which it was originally different. The dichotomy between one subject and some other is maintained, since you still have differences, but no middle ground because any conversion undertaken by a subject occurs by negating his otherness and embracing a new subjectivity, which one has now made one’s sameness. The converted subject is made to recognize himself, and to submit himself, to and through a newly revealed essentiality made manifest by way of the beneficial religious presence of the converting force that makes the convert aware of some inherent value that had previously gone unnoticed.

If we briefly reflect upon the figure of Bramimonde, and of her conversion, we see that this is precisely how conversion is envisioned and structured in the “Chanson de Roland”.

Bramimonde’s conversion does not render the gap between the Christian and Saracen worlds unstable. Through her conversion she strengthens that gap. For Bramimonde ceases to be herself, as Bramimonde, and becomes other than what she originally was through her conversion.

She becomes Julienne, adopting a new name and a new manner of being, and her conversion is brought about through her recognition of the essentiality, the truth, of a discursive theological regime that had been foreign to her as the Saracen Bramimonde. In other words, as far as the subject Bramimonde is considered, the converting theological force has made manifest a truth shared by itself, as an other to Saracen culture, and this truth is seen to be a positive thing. It is to this “positivity” as a world-view being posited, and as a type of “good” that the converted subject is supposed to submit.

Furthermore, we also need to recognize that what may be virtually indistinguishable is nonetheless in a state of difference. Whether the degree of difference is large, small, or imperceptible, it remains that the difference is the site where things are disrupted, where the notion of everything being the same is fractured by indicating that what we thought of as being similar or indistinguishable, in fact contains difference. And this smallest degree of difference implies a continued, a needed degree of separation, or absolute differentiation, that no measure of movement or conversion can breach. The actuality of an infinitesimal difference in the virtually indistinguishable actually negates its virtual identity, since this smallest degree of difference within the virtually indistinguishable corrodes the very possibility of there being any potential identity. If there is any movement implied in the “Chanson de Roland”, it is not from one virtually identical realm to its mirror image, it is rather from one difference to another. No matter how slight, or apparently insignificant, differences, even imperceptible differences, are nonetheless fundamental differences representing gaps or schisms between two entities, since it is often these small, yet radically diverging differences, which function as the impetus for the existence of competing or antagonistic discursive regimes.

The deemphasizing of the theological and philosophical distinction suggested by Kinoshita would imply that Christians and Saracens are not really different, and that we are not dealing with two radically opposites modes of subjectivizing, since, ultimately, both sides are in fact similar but differ merely in religion. This argument moves the meaning of the text away from its theological/philosophical foundation, and situates the debate in terms of cultural autonomy or sovereignty. It is not the case, in her view, that the cultual grounds the cultural, rather, the theologico-philosophical is simply some other cultural facet among a diverse field of cultural components. Religion being a cultural artefact, the removal of this artefact allows for simple conversion from one side to the other given that both sides are essentially the same.

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