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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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Preceding generations of Christians (those members of the family that Roland mentions when suggesting that he can only die fighting gloriously) have already answered the question as to what is the Truth, and they have already formulated the proper way of participating in a process

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determinism, since evasion or betrayal is always a possibility (as evidenced by Ganelon).

Roland is continuing this process, and continuing in that process. Consequently, Roland’s heroism is shaped not only by his immediate present, or by the sedimentation of a chivalric past, but also by his envisioned project, his projecting and willing a future for himself into the future.

Roland is shaping his subjectivity through this martial last stand. Roland’s plea is a mise en garde against reductionist readings, for it suggests that, in his own thinking, his subjectivity is As Heidegger explains, a subject possibilizes elements of the worldview that he inhabits: “Possibility, as an existentiale, does not signify a free-floating potentiality-for-Being in the sense of the ‘liberty of indifference’. In every case Dasein, as essentially having a state-of-mind, has already got itself into definite possibilities. As the potentiality-for-Being which it is, it has let such possibilities pass by; it is constantly waiving the possibilities of its Being, or else it seizes upon them and makes mistakes. But this means that Dasein is Being-possible which has been delivered over to itself –thrown possibility through and through”. Heidegger, Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson, Harper SanFrancisco (a division of Harper Collins), New York, 1962, p. 183. In the case of the “Chanson de Roland”, this implies that the subject possibilizes hostility to alterity since this possibility is inherent to his world.

neither an object, nor a mere physical process that can be manipulated at will, nor is it placid and helpless against the indifferent universe that would render all action absurd.

Consequently, not only does Roland’s plea represent a burgeoning consciousness of subjectivity, it also serves to frame the question of subjectivity’s relationship to the rest of society. The songs of glory or infamy that will be sung about the deeds of a warrior are social markers, lending credence or opprobrium to a manner of subjectivizing. Perhaps as fundamental as any kind of religious chauvinism, Roland’s assertions of his possessing dreit (given his participation in the Christian possession of dreit), and his will to glory indicate that he possesses a strong sense of the importance of his own subjectivity. A subjectivity which is desirous of one form of the good (being well considered) suggested by his environment. As Alasdair MacIntyre

has aptly argued:

We live out our lives, both individually and in our relationships with each other, in the light of certain conceptions of a possible shared future, a future in which certain possibilities beckon us forward and others repel us, some seem already foreclosed and others perhaps inevitable. There is no present which is not informed by some image of some future and an image of the future which always presents itself in the form of a telosor a variety of ends or goals- towards which we are either moving or failing to move in

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Given Roland’s insistence on glory, given his avowed recognition of the potential weight of future glory/non-glory, given that Roland, as a Christian, would be cognizant of the hereafter awaiting him, I would contend that Roland wills his life to-be oriented towards some telos. In Roland’s case, it is a double telos. On the one hand, given the martial nature of the poetic MacIntyre, After Virtue. Second edition, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame Indiana, 1984, p. 215narrative, there is a sense of military honour that the warrior must respect by fighting for his noble lord.

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Aside from this allegiance to his king and lord115, there is also a religious duty that requires that one fight for one’s God. This religious duty is evidenced not only in Roland’s assertion that Christians are right and pagans are wrong, but also in his questing for combat, in his religiously motivated request for combat against the Saracens. This theological duty to fight against the enemies of God is a manner of striving towards God. It allows a subject to recognize a Truth, to recognize its antithesis, and to strive towards that Truth in a continuous process that concomitantly hardens and arms itself against any “other”. Faithfulness to one Truth implies animosity towards another mistruth. This is precisely what we see happening in the “Chanson de Roland”. The two characters who are the most religiously motivated (Roland and Turpin) do not afford the Saracens any respite, respect, or recognition. They are “other”, and as such, must be treated as suspect, at best, and as enemies to be slaughtered of the time.

When Olivier informs Roland that the Saracen armies are just over the next hill, and that a great battle will have to be fought116, Roland not only welcomes this prospect, he seems to relish it. Furthermore, if we pay close attention to what he expresses in the poem, we can see that he welcomes combat with the Saracens in theological terms: Respont Rollant: E Deus la nus Verses, 1009-1012.

"Le service militaire dû par les vassaux à leurs seigneurs est un devoir rappelé par tous les théoriciens de la vassalité ". Jean Flori, La chevalerie. Éditions Jean-Paul Gisserot, Paris, 1998, p. 37.

« Dist Oliver: Sire cumpainz, ce crei/ De Sarrazins purum bataille aveir ». Verses 1006-1007.

otreit!117. Such a passage shows that Roland is eager for battle and does not think about turning away from the upcoming fight. The passage implies that such a battle is to be viewed as something of a blessing. Clearly, Roland and his peers are willing to die for God because their conception of themselves as Christian warriors (a conception, let us remember, which is at the heart of Roland’s thinking) implies that if the world was created by God, if it received the totality of its being from him, participation in God’s perfection is an intrinsic necessity 118. Service to God secures subjective immortality. By dying gloriously, Roland fulfills his duties towards his lord, and his devotion towards his God in a manner which, although contested (by Olivier), is nonetheless indicative of a recognition of subject-agency. Roland’s actions, mysterious when analysed as caprice or démesure or as cultural-instinct119, can best be described as a subjectivizing flourish.

All of this leads us to conclude that Roland clearly cares about his future. He clearly worries about the kind of things that will be said of him. That a degree of “subjectivization” would be present in the “Chanson de Roland” and its main protagonist should not be surprising.

After all, one could argue that the very mechanism of service, especially in its religious dimensions, helps to foster a strong sense of identity or subjectivity. As Foucault has stated, the Verse 1008.

“This theology, by claiming, on the basis of Christianity of course, to be rational reflection founding a faith with a universal vocation, founded at the same time the principle of a knowing subject in general, of a knowing subject who finds both his point of absolute fulfillment and highest degree of perfection in God, who is also his Creator and so his model”. Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject. Lectures at the Collège de France. Edited by Frédéric Gros, translated by Graham Burchell, Picador, New York, 2005, p. 26.

Josephine Miles is indicative of this one-sided, communal school of interpretation, when she states: “Roland is far less individual and aloof. … In the Roland it is rather a familial and chivalric mutuality that prevails and, when it fails, tragically fails”. ‘The Heroic Style of the Song of Roland’, in Romance Philology. Vol. XI, no. 4, May 1958, p. 360.

type of pastoral power at work in the Christian tradition also leads to the creation of


“Christian pastorship implies a peculiar type of knowledge between the pastor and each of his sheep. This knowledge is particular. It individualizes”. Foucault, “Pastoral Power and Political Reason”, in Religion and Culture: Michel Foucault. Selected and edited by Jeremy R. Carrette, Routledge, New York, p. 142.

9. THE OTHERNESS WITHIN Roland’s sense of subjectivity, were it to be an isolated phenomenon, could be dismissed as a textual or hermeneutical aberration. However, such is not the case. Roland is not alone in shaping his faithfulness to a Truth. He is not alone in caring for his immortality, or in having a sense of subjectivity. In fact, the “Chanson de Roland” is replete with examples of characters expressing their subjectivity in unique ways. The wealth of such examples can only lead us to conclude that a concern for subjectivity is one of the central aspects at work in a comprehension of the poem. I believe that the analysis of a few other examples of “subjective flourishing” will suffice to demonstrate my argument.

A key part of the narrative plot of the poem is, of course, Ganelon’s betrayal of Roland.

A great deal has been written about this episode, and some of the more interesting analyses have concentrated on the “Christological” aspects of Ganelon’s betrayal. As such, this episode is meant to evoke and recall the Biblical betrayal of Christ. Ganelon turns from the Truth and its defense (or defender) much in the same way the treason of Judas allows for the persecution and death of the Truth-Incarnate. Consequently, Ganelon is rejecting the ethos of medieval Christian knighthood. Brewster Fitz, for one, has argued just such a point by stating that Ganelon must be interpreted as a Judas-like figure inasmuch as his betrayal of Roland’s Christian leadership undermines the very logic of the Christian military ideology characteristic of the Crusader period.

Ganelon is rejecting belief in Roland, whose death is an Imitatio Christi. Hence, he is rejecting the logic of the Crusade, the quest for a martyr’s death while taking vengeance on the enemies of Christ, and the quest for penance and absolution provided by the Crusade. Typologically speaking, he is imitating the Jew’s rejection of Christ, who often in the iconography of the Crusade was depicted riding in the vanguard with sword in

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Such an interpretation has its merits, one of which being that it facilitates the demonizing of Ganelon as a character. It also serves to indicate that Ganelon, by betraying the Franks, is also turning away from a model of subjectivizing that is faithful to the Christian Truth served by the Franks, and therefore sets himself up for subjective negation. Ganelon is a man who had recognized the Truth, and had been faithful to it, but who has now decided to move away from that Truth. By striking at the rearguard, Ganelon is striking at the king, who, as embodiment of Frankish Christianity, stands in place for God. By extension, Ganelon is striking at God.Having moved away from that Truth, he has also moved away from the continued process of subjectivizing that is actualized by being faithful to such a process. Consequently, there is no immortality waiting for Ganelon. Certainly, he will be granted damnation and infamy, but not immortality. After his betrayal has been discovered, and after his plot has been unmade, the other Christian knights participate in the solemn process of memory122, and thereby perpetuate into Transcendence and the communal memory the subjects who have been killed. For Ganelon, on the other hand, the poem clearly indicates the extent of his spiritual demise: he is absent from the participation in a process that sees itself as subject to God, and furthermore, he is no longer seen to express belief in the process itself. The process of subjectivization has been abandoned Brewster Fitz, ‘Cain as Convict and Convert? Cross-Cultural Logic in the Song of Roland’, in MLN. Vol. 113, No. 4, Sept. 1998, p. 817.

The ritualized burying, and “idol-making” of Turpin, Olivier and Roland. See verses 2951-2973.

by Ganelon (or abandoned for him). This much is made clear given that nowhere does Ganelon say that he expects to participate in a continuous process, nor does he ever appeal to such a process. Rather, his last means of recourse are legal, and not transcendent. He appeals to family, law, ritual, status, and role. This recourse to the legal mechanisms suggests that Ganelon does not believe that his own subjectivity will be continued through faithfulness to God, or through communal participation in that faithfulness, since Ganelon now believes that the only means of guaranteeing his survival are immanent in nature. We should also recognize that the text does not suggest that any form of honorable immortality should be expected for Ganelon, in other words, the reader never is presented with a scenario wherein the continuity of Ganelon’s subjectivity is to be expected. If he is to survive, and to continue, it is in Hell as nothingness. In fact, the poem’s narrative implicitly suggests that the opposite view, that denying Ganelon’s continuity, is true: ill-repute, as the embodiment of the faithfulness of the Christian community will propagate an image of Ganelon as a man having gone from a true embodiment of subjectivity, to a flawed, corrupted embodiment. We remember Ganelon because he was a traitor, and we remember him as a traitor.

But perhaps Ganelon had never really been a subject, had never really been faithful to the type of subjectivizing made manifest and celebrated by the poem’s main hero. If we review the instances of narrative tensions that arise between Roland and Ganelon, it seems rather obvious that these tensions are the result of subjective antagonisms playing each other out. Simply put, Ganelon and Roland have two very different visions of how to become, or maintain, subjectivity.

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