«RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES: SUBJECTIVITY AND ALTERITY IN THE CHANSON DE ROLAND by Normand Raymond Bachelor of Arts, Laurentian University, 2001 Master of ...»
These antagonisms are, in effect, manifestations of differing, or subjective, modes of establishing a sense of honour. It is important to remember that honour is binary. On the one hand, honour is a physical and ritualized manifestation of a social “code”, since it is an amalgamation of a complex structure of rites, gestures, and varied outward markings which all serve to establish degrees of propriety and status within a given society123. Honour is related to propriety inasmuch as honour serves to institute what is proper or due to one in such and such a situation.
Now what is proper, what is honourable, can only be proper or honourable to the degree that it is a function of a difference from what is not itself. A subject can only be honoured if the process honouring him is distinguished from those manifestations where other subjects are not being honoured, or, are being dishonoured. The social dimension of honour serves as a marking for the subject. Rituals of honour, for instance, would mean nothing if its function of differentiation were not in relation to other terms, rituals and gestures of honour or dishonour.
On the other hand, honour is also a deeply subjective, or a personal “sentiment”. Honour displays the degree to which a subject is interested in his social status, and the recognition that such a status confers upon himself. Honour suggests that the subjectivizing process is not disinterested but to the contrary, characters are vexed or pleased by the honour they receive since such displays contribute to their view of the relationship they must maintain to their continued fidelity to the subjectivizing process. It is here that the subjectivizing model evidenced in the « Chanson de Roland » distinguishes itself from the kind of model proposed by Alain Badiou.
The poetic model is deeply interested in subjectivity, in cultural formation and identity, and in the gratification (temporal and Transcendent) that can be sought and obtained from pursuing the
logic of this model. This is far removed from a vision wherein:
As Huizinga has remarked : “Every order and estate, every rank and profession, was distinguished by its costume. The great lords never moved about without a glorious display of arms and liveries, exciting fear and envy.
Executions and other public acts of justice, hawking, marriages and funerals, were all announced by cries and processions, songs and music. The lover wore the colors of his lady; companions the emblem of their confraternity;
parties and servants the badges or blazon of their lords.” Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages. Translated by F. Hopman, Penguin Books, London, 1987, p. 9.
(F)idelity, the commitment to a truth, amounts to something like a disinterested enthusiasm, absorption in a compelling task or cause, a sense of elation, of being caught up in something that transcends all petty, private or material concerns. 124 As a consequence, honour, with respect to a situation and the determinate aspects of that situation, varies according to the manner in which the subject chooses to remain faithful to some code, morale, or creed that he identifies with, and which, in turn, in the case of Roland, orientates subjectivity in its turn towards continuity, or away from it. But all of this suggests that there can arise contrasting views as to what may count as “faithfulness”, or the best procedure to maintain the subjectivizing process. As Hegel has demonstrated, the sense of having been
honoured/dishonoured is directly related to one’s private sense of self-worth:
Ici l’offense ne regarde plus la valeur réelle de l’objet qu’il s’agisse de propriété, du rang, d’un droit etc… ; mais la personnalité en soi, l’opinion que le sujet a de lui-même, la valeur qu’il s’attribue. Or, cette valeur, au point où nous sommes, est infinie, comme le sujet est infini à ses propres yeux. Dans l’honneur, l’homme a donc la conscience la plus intime de sa subjectivité infinie, comme étant indépendante de son contenu. … la mesure de l’honneur n’est donc pas dans ce qu’est l’individu en lui-même, mais dans ce
In many respects, it would not be an exaggeration to say that honour is closely connected to a subject’s understanding of himself. Any given knight or warrior (or any given individual for that matter) can have a particular sense of what is honourable for himself, of what best allows for his subjectivity to continue in the here-and-now, or in the hereafter. Honour is to be understood Peter Hallward ‘Translator’s Introduction’, in Badiou, Ethics. An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. Translated by Peter Hallward, Verso’ New York, 2001, p. x.
Hegel, Esthétiques. Textes choisis et traduit par Claude Khodoss, PUF, Paris, 1953, p. 197.
as that which is due a subject. Any particular knight or warrior can assign this idea or sense of honour as his subjectivizing standard. Where honour is lacking, the subjectivizing process has been diminished or impeded in some fashion. Where honour is lacking, as would be the case with the songs of ill-repute that Roland fears so much, the subjectivizing process would be both continued and perverted: continued inasmuch as the subjects fallen at Roncevaux would be remembered, and perverted insofar as they would be remembered for not having gained immortality (the transcendent version), while being set up as the very antithetical paradigm to Frankish Christian subjectivizing.
That members of the same society could disagree as to the best means of actions, allows us to understand that these members are not all the same, nor should they be viewed merely as “types” (the traitor, the hero, the wise etc…). The differences which separate these characters unites them in their all having subjectivities that are to be. They are united in that all of them must choose to recognize a truth, they must choose a manner of adhering to that truth (or betraying it), and they must choose how they will be continue in this decision, playing out their subjective decision with respect to this adherence or betrayal. It is precisely this subjectivizing presence within the Frankish realm that creates the potential for conflict, and disaster. Simply put, a subjective appreciation of how to best establish honour fixes its meaning in a manner that inevitably engenders tension and conflict, since there is bound to be a degree of misunderstanding between the quotidian expression of honour (ritualized and outwardly expressed), and the subjective valuation of honour that generates a highly volatile standard 126 that is hard to define127.
This is precisely what we find in the “Chanson de Roland”. The tension between outward expressions of honour/respect, and a subjective sense of injury or dishonour, is at the very heart of the conflict between Ganelon and Roland. The first “subjective” flourish or insult happens when Ganelon, in the presence of all of the king’s most noble barons, publicly belittles Roland’s counsel to the king (itself a violation of the code or etiquette of counsel, since Roland, faithful to his faithfulness in warring against the enemies of God, speaks first, an “honour” that is not his by rank128) by counselling Charlemagne to discount the advice of fools129.
Notwithstanding the content of Ganelon’s rebuke, one could argue that he is, to some extent, correct in chastising Roland for having violated the ritualized order of the council chamber.
However, it is not the outward expression of rebuke that seems to chafe Roland, but rather, the fact that Ganelon’s attack is an attack on his very subjectivity, on the legitimacy of his subjectivizing process. To be called a fool, is, of course, a way of discrediting a person’s subjectivity, by indicating that there is something rash, hazardous, or unstable about that subject.
In other words, what this subject says, and is willing to do (thereby evoking its subjectivizing Standards that waxe and wane with the precariousness of the sense of personhood, as Hegel states: "Car, aussi loin que j’étende mes prétentions, quelles que soient les objets sur lesquels elles se portent, leur fondement est toujours ma volonté arbitraire". Hegel, Esthétiques, p. 198.
Questions of personal honor are not unrelated to questions of private languages, and the volatility of the former is also suggested in the volatility, the uncertainty (epistemological, sociological and linguistic) of the latter. As Wittgenstein has stated: “The essential thing about private experience is really not that each person possesses his own exemplar, but that nobody knows whether other people also have this or something else. The assumption would thus be possible –though unverifiable- that one section of mankind had one sensation or red and another section another”. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations. Translated by G.E.M. Anscombe, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 1958, p. 95e.
As Ian Short remarks in his translation of the "Chanson de Roland" : "Roland, le premier à prendre la parole, et cela aux mépris de l’ordre hiérarchique feudal, est le seul à s’inscrire en faux contre la politique de l’apaisement".
La chanson de Roland, n.194 à la p. 41.
“E dist al rei: “Ja mar crerez bricun”. Verse 220. Now it should be remembered that Ganelon says this immediately after Roland has advised Charlemagne to ignore Marsile’s pleas for peace, and to continue his military endeavours in Spain.
process) is not to be trusted. Given the terms of Ganelon’s critique, given the words he uses to describe Roland, his negative description of Roland serves to demean and undermine his worth both as a warrior/counsellor to Charlemagne, and as a subject proposing a manner for subjectivities to be conducted. Simply put, Ganelon is stating that Roland simply cannot be trusted, there is a degree of unreasonableness, of madness in his speech (and likely, his acts) and therefore should not be listened to since he is rash, unwise, and a fool. Ganelon is personally
attacking Roland. He is attacking the subject-Roland. As T. Atkinson Jenkins has remarked:
Ganelon, then, in a fiery speech (vv. 220-29), refers to Roland as a bricon (which seems to mean "a worthless fellow"), again as a fol, and accuses his step-son of criminal indifference to dangers run by others than himself: Roland, says Ganelon, has given us
subject in a place of ritualized honour, a public space. If things were to remain as they were, Roland might be vexed, but the damage would indeed be limited. Such, of course, is not the case. One insult will give way to another, and this second attack will be both verbal and physical (at least by proxy) in nature.
Undoubtedly vexed at having been “made the fool” in front of his peers, Roland then designates Ganelon to lead the king’s embassy, publicly instituting him in a role rife with the potential for great personal harm. Roland, by naming Ganelon, places Ganelon’s subjectivity in harm’s way, and endangers Ganelon’s potential for continuity. If Roland has been attacked by
Ganelon, he reverses the field by placing Ganelon in a situation where:
Jenkins, ‘Why did Ganelon Hate Roland?’, in MLA. Vol. 36, No. 2, (June 1921), p. 121.
a) Ganelon will be dishonoured if he refuses to accept the king’s mission and is replaced by Roland131. In this case, Roland will be allowed to continue in his subjectivizing process (warring against the enemies of God) while Ganelon will be contained in his potential process.
b) Ganelon risks certain death if he accepts the king’s mission given the prior treachery of the Saracens132. It is interesting to note that this death would allow Ganelon to continue his subjectivizing process since: i) he would, in a sense be dying in “combat” against the enemies of God. ii) his fateful mission would, as with Basan and Basil133, allow him to be remembered by the collective body of the Franks, and, most likely, would also guarantee him transcendent immortality. That Ganelon does not consider these possibilities undoubtedly says something about his devotion to the Frankish/Christian cause.
What we should retain is that Roland’s designation of Ganelon is itself an insult to him as a subject. Roland seems to be condemning the subject-Ganelon to certain death as one of the Franks who should not benefit from the king’s protection. As Robert Hall has stated, the context within which Roland’s designation is situated further demonstrates his undermining of Ganelon’s
As shown by the fate of Basan and Basile on an earlier mission (verses 207-13), this mission is so dangerous as to be almost certainly fatal; consequently Charlemagne is absolutely unwilling to sacrifice any of his best men, and rejects their offers to go, with such emphasis that his reason should be evident to all (verses 244-73). The resultant That such a substitution would be seen as a violation of status and honour is suggested by Ganelon himself when he responds to Roland’s suggestion : “Guenes respunt : Pur mei n’iras tu mie!/ Tu n’ies mes hom ne jo ne sui tis sire”. Verses 298-299.
See verses 201-209.
See verses 205-209.
implication is that anyone chosen for this mission must necessarily be of second rank, and clearly “expendable”.134 This undermining of Ganelon’s subjectivity is compounded further when Roland proceeds to publicly insult him by treating him as a fool in turn135. Once again, this is clearly a means of devaluing his subjective worth.
I would suggest that the best way to understand the goings-on between Roland and Ganelon is to recognize that, in both cases, we are confronted with situations in which a subject deems that some slight has been made to their sense of honour, and therefore, to themselves. In other words, one injury to the subject necessitates a return of injury, a correction or punishment