«RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES: SUBJECTIVITY AND ALTERITY IN THE CHANSON DE ROLAND by Normand Raymond Bachelor of Arts, Laurentian University, 2001 Master of ...»
amusements. The existence of multiple conflicts within the text, the divergent paths through which subjectivity appears in the different characters, paths as varied as treason (Ganelon), wisdom (Olivier), hesitation149, or dashing prowess150 all suggest that, inasmuch as the characters are concerned, their actions, desires, and beliefs are potentially expressive of, but not subsumed by, their class background and historical milieu, since these “environmental alliances” are ultimately signified and decided upon by themselves. Living for the Truth to which they adhere, having turned towards God and having recognized that the continuity of one’s subjectivity is best manifested there, the faithfulness expressed by a given character necessarily involves the presencing of determinates/conditionalities that are formative of the identity this subject puts into
play. What is at play are such things as:
i- Markings such as relics151 ii- Sites and spaces cordoned off for their Christian specificity. One need only think of the pilgrimage sites indicated and constructed in the text.152 iii- Codes such as the songs of repute and other “gestes” that are referred to in the poem. 153 iv- Rituals (prayers and masses in which the heroes participate154) v- The theophanic irruptions of which the Christian protagonists are both witnesses and
One need only think of those multiple scenes in wish Charles seems to dither or be uncertain as to what course of action he should adopt. One could also include those scenes where Charles, having received a dream-vision, omits to commit himself to any action that might have negated the tragedy.
Prowess being the very word with which Olivier describes Roland’s actions. See verse 1731.
Roland’s sword is described thusely : « En l’oriét punt asez i ad reliques/ La dent seint Perre e del sanc seint Basilie/ E des chevels mun seignor seint Denise/ Del vestement i ad seinte Marie ». Verses 2345-2348. See also verses 2962-2969.
See verses 3684-3694.
See verses 2095-2098.
See verses 667-670; 1124-1138; 2200-2205; 2445-2450.
See verses 1420-1437; 2451-2459; 3992-3998.
All of these elements demonstrate that these characters choose freely, signify aspects of their world, create a cultural identity for themselves and their community because they act freely, and represent distinct subjectivities.
The conflict between Roland and Olivier is another example of how differences in the subjectivizing process enter the poem. Many commentators have insisted on the fact that the two characters are categorized differently. Such a difference between the two men has even become a well-worn trope best expressed in the very terms put forth by the poem itself: Rollant est proz e Oliver est sage156. (Roland is brave and Olivier is wise). Simply put, the two men
just witnessed the immense size of the Saracen army, and, alarmed by the potential slaughter that may befall the rear guard of Charlemagne’s army, he asks Roland to blow the Oliphant in order to secure some reinforcements. Roland refuses. His refusal stems from the fact that, unlike Olivier who believes that securing reinforcements would be a wise decision that would avoid the senseless slaughter of so many worthy men157, Roland feels that such a gesture would be dishonourable158. A dishonour stemming from Roland’s initial assertion to the king that nothing would happen to his rear guard159. Roland had assured the king that no harm would come to his army as long as he (Roland) was present. The subject-Roland is assuring the king that he will Verse 1093.
This is, in essence, what Olivier is attempting to communicate to Roland in lay 87: "Rollant, vëez en alques!/ Cist nus sunt prés, mais trop nus est loinz Carles/ Vostre olifan, suner vos ne l’ desgnastes;/ Fust li reis, n’i oüssum damage/ Guardez amunt ça devers les porz d’Aspre:/ Vëeir poëz dolente rereguarde;/ Ki ceste fait, jamais n’en ferat altre". Verses 1099-1105.
It is also the meaning of his later accusation against Roland in lay 131 : "Cumpainz, vos forsfeïstes/ Kar vassalage par sens ne nest folie:/ Mielz valt mesure que ne fait estultie/ Franceis sunt morz par vostre legerie;/ Jamais Karlon de nus n’avrat servise/ Se m’ creïsez, venuz i fust mi sire;/ Ceste bataille oüssum ja fenie/ U pris u mort i fust li reis Marsilie/ Vostre proëcce, Rollant, mar la veïmes!/ Karles li magnes de nos n’avrat aïe/ N’ert mais tel home entresqu’al Deu juïse/ Vos i murrez, e France en ert hunie". Verses 1723-1734.
Roland responds to Olivier in the following terms: "Jo ferie que fols!/ En dulce France en perdreie mun los/ Sempres ferrai de Durendal granz colps;/ Sanglant en ert li branz entresqu’a l’or/ Felun paien mar I vindrent as porz:/ Jo vos pelvis, tuz sunt jugez a mort". Verses, 1053-1058.
signify any potential battle, rather than merely suffer a battle to befall him 160. Consequently, blowing the Oliphant would signal a disavowal of his prior statements. It would also indicate that Roland no longer shares the unbridled confidence he had in himself when he had sworn his oath before the king. In terms of bravado or martial prowess, there would be a lessening in the
Oliphant, Roland would be expressing, in front of all of his peers, that contrary to what he had previously said, he is in fact incapable of assuring the direction/protection of the rear guard, and furthermore, that his inability is commensurate to his necessitating outside help. Roland would be abdicating his freely chosen decision to risk his life by faithfully fighting the Saracen enemy.
Consequently, he would also be abdicating, or modifying, the subjectivizing process involved in such faithfulness to fighting God’s enemies.
It seems that the tension between the two men is also indicative of a distinction in perception as to how best to maintain/continue the subjectivizing process of faithfulness to Lord and God. Roland’s modus operandi as a knight is to become-glorious, whereas Olivier’s modus operandi is to act with reasoned caution. Both men are reacting differently with respect to values of a shared community, and with respect to a shared context. Both men are participating in the same situation, yet acting differently, according to subjective constructs, and thereby, proposing different codes (or meanings to the codes), spaces, and rituals. This difference in the modes of reacting towards a shared situation suggests that these characters are not identical to one another. They are not cut from the same narrative cloth. These are discretely different 162, and differing, subjects which look on the events of their world as a locus of meanings and See verses 787-791.
See verses 1049-1058.
The poem is discrete in that, the interiority of the characters is indicated by their purposive manner of acting, wherein the discretion of their subjectivity (their “hidden” inner sphere) is made manifest. Consequently, these actions are not broad brushed “types”, but particularized forms of becoming, exclusive to each of the characters.
possibilities by reference to which they can understand themselves and their relationship to that world. Roland does not view a massed enemy in the same fashion as Olivier. They both perceive a situation differently, and act/react differently to that situation. Once again, confronted by the same facts, these facts are organized/reorganized163 in such a way that they now serve differing purposes and goals: for Olivier, the best manner to proceed and continue being, is to engage in a reasoned and strategic deployment of forces; for Roland, the best manner involves an idealized adventure. In this precise military situation, two subjectivities factor into how the material world is signified. The subject-Roland lives by symbols and images that are not the same as those of the subject-Olivier. For both, the immediate world in which they live is constituted by their subjectivizing process, by the drives and forces to which they adhere, such that what they perceive, and what they choose to live out, is a life-world, overlaid on the situation, saturated with order, meaning, and value that is projected by the subject. In other words, we have two Augustinian subjects who freely choose to act in different manners. These are not characters which look upon the events unfolding in front of them as neutral domains of facts, or mere contingently correlated elements that can be traced into an ever expanding, rigidly determined meta-narrative. Their world is a world in which subjectivity is possible and possibilized, it is an open world164.
If Roland reacts differently from Olivier when confronted by the news of the Saracen army’s advance towards the rearguard, it is because the facts of the situation (the numbers involved, the combat ground, the logistics etc…) have been reorganized in such a way as to suggest a different meaning.
Georg Lukàcs’s literary criticism had long ago proposed that medieval Christian literature was paradoxical given its presentation of a systematically closed world, understood by theology, yet nonetheless open given its soteriological orientation: "Et, chez Giotto et Dante, chez Wolfram d’Eschenbach et Pisano, chez saint Thomas et saint François, le monde redevient une circonférence accomplie, une totalité saisissable d’un seul regard. … Le cri d’appel au salut devient dissonance dans le parfait système rythmique du monde et permet la constitution d’un nouvel équilibre non moins coloré et non moins achevé que l’équilibre grec; celui des intensités inadéquates et hétérogènes. Le caractère insaisissable, éternellement inaccessible du monde racheté est rapproché jusqu’à un éloignement visible. Le Jugement Dernier devient réalité présente et ne constitue plus qu’un élément dans l’harmonie des sphères conçues comme déjà réalisées. Il fait oublier sa véritable nature qui exige que le monde soit frappé comme Philoctète d’une blessure empoisonnée que seul peut guérir le Paraclet". Lukàcs, La théorie du Roland and Olivier both know that something must be done, they both “intuit” some knowledge of the situation, but the difference separating them is not epistemological. It is “existential” since their quarrel centers on how they as subjects must act, on how their response to the Saracens is “to-be” done. Olivier prefers a more practical approach, whereas Roland perceives, imagines, and chooses to live out the situation ideally, with a notion of glory and immortality. Indeed the Roland/Olivier dichotomy allows us to understand that there is a relationship between a situation and subject’s continuity165.
For instance, Olivier’s repeated requests for reinforcement 166 can be interpreted philosophically: the proper manner to act/react in a situation (the manner best allowing for the continued process of subjectivizing) is to place oneself in a dynamic connection that cannot be reduced to abstract terms. Simply put, Olivier is stating that Roland is not taking the situation seriously, that he is not interpreting the facts correctly. His interpretation of the situation is being colored, or distorted, by his vanity, his idealized notion of a warrior’s glorious death for Lord and God. It is the “concreteness” of having to choose how a subject will respond in a situation, as opposed to the abstractness of a notion, which is at the heart of the quarrel between Roland and Olivier. His reproach is that Roland has sacrificed the lives of his men, of real living subjects, to fulfill his own sense of personal honor or glory and immortality167. Roland, in the mind of Olivier, is overemphasizing his subjectivity against that of the other Franks. For Olivier, roman. Traduit de l’allemand par Jean Clairevoye, et suivi de ‘Introduction aux premiers écrits de Georg Lukàcs’ par Lucien Goldmann, collection "Tel", Gallimard, Paris, 1968, p. 29.
“And even when Dasein explicitly addresses itself as “I here”, this locative personal designation must be understood in terms of Dasein’s existential spatiality. In interpreting this we have already intimated that this “Ihere” (sic) does not mean a certain privileged point –that of an I-thing- but is to be understood as Being-in in terms of the “yonder” of the world that is ready-to-hand- the “yonder” which is the dwelling-place of Dasein as concern”.
Heidegger, Being and Time. p. 155.
See verses 1005-1086.
"Cumpainz, vos forsfeïstes,/ Kar vasselage par sens nen est folie:/ Mielz valt mesure que ne fait estultie ". Verses 1723-1725.
the existence of others (and the respect afforded these other subjects) is primordial (as is their continued service to Charlemagne as a continued process of subjectivizing), whereas honor/immortality for itself is an abstract notion. The reverse is the case for Roland, inasmuch as a life lived without honor (without the kind of immortality that allows for another form of subjective continuity) is unworthy of consideration. Consequently, as far as he is concerned, it is better to die, honorably, than to continue living168.
If we recognize that, each in his own way, Roland and Olivier are developing and defending a sense of subjectivity that is to be defined dynamically in relation to a sphere of values, we must recognize that their participation in the battle, as well as their self-positioning with respect to the battle, involves a very specific mode of subjective participation. Participation as the practical relationship between real, determinate, distinct subjects which, despite the relationship, remain distinct. I believe that this subjective distinction is precisely what the poem is hinting at by having Roland and Olivier argue and quarrel.
Their argument, their quarrelling suggests that there is a very strong personal investment in their vision of the situation, and their approach to what may be considered proper action and the best manner of living/dying. These two men do not agree as to the proper way of remaining "Melz voeill murir qu’a huntage remaigne". Verse 1091.
faithful to Lord and God. Their disagreement is not with regards to the Truth itself (both are Christians, both are willing to fight, and die if need be, for Lord and God), but to its application.
Quarrelling, it should be remembered, can only arise in a field of differences contesting one