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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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What we see in Roland’s response is a patterning of his prior belief that Christians are right (and therefore virtuous), whereas Saracens are wrong, and thereby orguilz and torz. We also see that his repeated encounters with the Saracens continuously up the ante in terms of the violence that must be handed out. For Roland, any encounter with the “other” serves to create a greater degree of animosity or hate, as his very words suggest. His brand of incendiary dialogue emanates in his hardened beliefs, and nothing new is generated in the exchange with an “other”, since encounters only serve to reinforce a one-sided pre-understanding. We must remember that Verses 1537-1549. The emphasis is mine.

a hardening of beliefs cannot merely be a passive enterprise. For those beliefs that are handed down to us, must be inherited, cherished, refined, and continuously reaffirmed, thereby giving them, through ourselves, renewed focus and existence. The hardening of beliefs is, indeed, a work or personalization. Despite the repulsion we may have for such a narrow vision of dialogue, it certainly does have philosophical characteristics. Roland, for instance, is motivated by the dynamics of hostility. In his view of the world, exchange means that others must lose themselves in the Franks’ politics of exchange, dying or converting, their subjectivity disappearing into the collective body of the Christian self.

Such a view is dependent upon a world that is divided neatly between good and bad, precisely because it is an ordered world. It is a world of violent passions and domination.

Philosophically, this implies that where authentic dialogue is absent, there is a concomitant desire to dominate and annihilate others. This is why Roland does not care or bemoan the Saracens their fallen dead. Likewise, given that others naturally resist this will to dominate, resist the subjection to the Christian idea of a Truth and the telos that it implies, they are inevitably categorized as bad, as having tort. Tort would seem to lie in the real barriers that one side erects against the desires of an antagonist. Not only have the Saracens turned away from God (and the kind of godly culture incarnated by the Franks), but they persist in their diabolical turn. It is for this reason that Roland desires to wipe out the Saracens by waging a continuous war against them. The other Christians, regardless of their subjective opinions about how best to achieve peace, are all in agreement when it comes to conquering Spain180. They stand in “opposition” to Roland in that they believe that such a conquest can be achieved diplomatically, Even the duke of Naimes’ reasoned approach to Marsile’s offer implies that Spain will fall under the rule of Charlemagne, and the Saracens will convert under the banner of Christianity.

with Marsile installed as Charlemagne’s newest vassal. Roland and his peers, as well as Charlemagne, all desire the conquest of Spain. This is a sine qua none.

Consequently, the social relations between the Christians and the Saracens are based on conflict and conquest, on mastery and submission. This dynamic of conquest and submission means that there is an absence of authentic dialogue between the two camps, and furthermore, that the patterned mirroring, the rituals and beliefs that may appear to be identical among Christians and Saracens181, are not truly so since the two antagonists are distinguished between themselves because they will not have the same chance of gratification182, and this ability/inability to project a desire and satisfy it is an element of differentiation that will act as the source of constant challenges and conflicts. Even if we were to admit for the sake of argument that the two sides were the same, the absence of any substantive dialogue between them transforms their situation into an unstable one, creating the differences between vanquished

–  –  –

the case of our poem, the apparent similarities between the Christians and the Saracens are significantly distinguished in their mutual desire, and elaborative projection for Spanish conquest.

Furthermore, I would argue that the absence of dialogue, the repeated use of insults and death, reinforces horizons, prejudices, and pre-understandings that the subjects then enact and make their own. Roland’s conception of dreit, his insistence on the legitimacy of heroic behavior, his hatred and disgust for Saracens all lead to his encountering events/situations in such a manner that these are already-always answering his anticipations of what is best. Roland wills himself into such an understanding, and chooses to further his subjective development and As we shall see later in this chapter 12, it is a well-worn trope that the Saracens and the Christians mirror one another. It is my belief that this view obscures the philosophical impetus of the poem.

One shall conquer, one shall be conquered. One must conquer, one must be conquered.

becoming in faithful adherence to this understanding of the situation. Closed to dialogue, hostile to “otherness”, the events that unfold before him, as disastrous as they are, nevertheless prove to be adequate to his interpretation of action and the means by which Transcendent and cultural immortality can be gained. Roland’s worldview is not merely intolerant or hostile, it is also methodical inasmuch as he knows how to proceed, and what to do to assure that his conclusions can be replicated.





In consequence, Roland’s theological-philosophical worldview is one in which the Saracen existence/subjectivity is indifferent, inasmuch as he feels no obligation to respect and honour it. "It" does not participate in the logic of subjectivizing that Roland recognizes as legitimate. The Saracen is simply to be “gotten rid of”. In other words, subjectivity, as it is conceived and lived out by Roland, creates a dynamic in which to be whole, to be at peace, is also to be hostile to any and all “other” subjectivity, since to be in such a way necessarily involves an absence of dialogue. It is to proceed on the path of subjectivity in an isolated way.

It is to remove any threat or danger to one’s particular mode of subjectivizing.

Roland, the poem’s hero, is motivated by such logic, and this is why Roland pushes Charlemagne to continue his war in Spain. Peace offerings, negotiated settlements, cannot be trusted, because the other, otherwise desiring, recognizing an “other” truth183, faithful, in his turn, to the subjectivizing process that an “other” truth implies, cannot be trusted in his very being. Saracens and Christians do not worship in the same manner in the “Chanson de Roland”.

Christians pray to a “sky” God, whereas Saracens worship material idols. One instance of faith The “other” religious belief. Not God, but something else, something diabolical, idolatrous, and profane. This is precisely what we find in the very first laisse of the poem when Marsile, the Saracen king, is first described: “Li reis Marsilie la tient, ki Deu nen aimet/ Mahumet serte Appolin recleimet/ Ne s’poet guarder que mals ne l’I ateignet”.

Verses 7-9.

seems to be unmediated, whereas the other is “fabricated”. Clearly, the poem is trying to demonstrate the extent of Christian moral or religious superiority by contrasting these two views.

The “other” is a site of resistance, an opposing desire. What the other has already threatened or destroyed must be avenged, and destruction must be heaped upon him tenfold.

–  –  –

Peace, and the continued becoming of the subject will be achieved when the very last trace of alterity has been wiped away. The logical extension of dialogic absence in an understanding of radical subjectivity is, of course, the absence of alterity.

I would suggest that this subject-other (the “other” as difference, as “desubject”) dynamic structures the “Chanson de Roland”, and that the text proposes that its own worldview, its own ethical stance, cannot be defined other than by having recourse to violence against this “other”.

This necessitates and requires a willed hostility vis-à-vis the “other”. We could not be further removed from the happy world of dialogic, reciprocal, mutual understanding. The basic dynamics put forth in the “Chanson de Roland” deny the potential for any notion of a subject with responsibilities, or obligations of moral understanding, towards an “other”. The face of the other is the face of subservience. The subjective process to which a character like Roland remains faithful, suggests that there is no ethic of compassion or engagement to some “other”.

Verses 196; 210-213.

We are naturally at a point that is completely antithetical to the kind of ethics suggested by a thinker like Lévinas. And this is precisely what must be remembered and reiterated when we read the “Chanson de Roland”. In Lévinas’s model, I am subservient to the Other through my coming to understand the Transcendence inherent in his “face” 185, and likewise, I come to understand my ethical association to such a revelation as a type of moral subservience to such a revelation of Transcendence.

Pour le Désir, cette altérité, inadéquate à l’idée, a un sens. Elle est entendue comme altérité d’Autrui et comme celle du Très-Haut.186 We have to understand the “Chanson de Roland’s” philosophical impetus as denying any kind of religious co-existence or intersubjectivity. The modern efforts to extricate religious thought from a dichotomous, xenophobic, or intolerant model must be turned on their head. If we truly desire to get at the worldview the poem is defending, we have to re-familiarize ourselves with war, hatred, death, and disgust for the “other”.

In the “Chanson de Roland”, there can be no relation with the “other” that does not include violence, submission, or death, since the text insists that alterity be changed or transformed. The narrative changes, conversions, or poetic annihilations with which the poem is replete, are the expression of a force applied against another, and is always concomitant with the existence of a form of violence. If there is any ethical position to be taken from the “Chanson de Roland”, it is that such an ethic desires subjectivity-purity, without striving to be moral, ethical, or pure in the modern sense of these words. It assumes that the worldview put forth by the “other”, as a subjectivizing process emanating from having recognized and been faithful to an "Et l’épiphanie qui se produit comme visage ne se constitue pas comme tous les autres êtres, précisément parce qu’elle "révèle" l’infini. La signification c’est l’infini, c’est-à-dire Autrui". Lévinas, Totalité et infini. Essai sur l’extériorité. Collection “biblio essais”, Le livre de Poche (édition originale Martinus Nijhoff), Paris, 1971, p. 227.

Lévinas, Totalité et infini. Essai sur l’extériorité. p. 23.

“other” truth, is morally condemnable and detested by Providence. Not only does God assist the Christians in their fight against His enemies, He also condemns them to Hell. The essence of Roland’s dichotomous view of Christians and Saracens contributes to the idea that the “good” is made real through violence against an “other”. By opposing the forces of evil, the instances of negativity, violence is both made real, and sanctioned from above. As Richard Kaueper has

keenly observed in his study on the subject of violence during the middle Ages:

Knights who do their hard duty with loyalty and honesty can be assured of divine favour.

God will receive them into an eternity of blissful reward. There can be no question whether or not a man can save his soul by the profession of arms; there can be no danger to the soul in fighting for the right causes –in just wars, to protect one’s kin and their estates, to protect helpless maidens, widows, and orphans, to protect one’s own land and inheritance, to defend Holy Church.187 Consequently, we must understand that violence, violence done against the “other”, is a manifestation of a potential mode of glorification that is accepted as the very fabric of religious purity or chivalrous goodness/glory.

To this theological sanctioning, we must add that the “other” in the “Chanson de Roland” exists as a threat, a danger looming on the horizon of the Christian world 188. The “other” represents a negativity or negation that endangers the existence of the subject; a danger that is a very real danger to my own beliefs and modes of being. The looming presence of the “other” is Kaueper, Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999, p. 288.

A good example of this “demonic threat” can be ascertained by reading some of the early anti-Islamic apologetics. A good case in point is the writing of John Damascene who, in one of his texts, a “dialogue” between a Christian and a heretical Muslim, associates Christ’s victory over the demons in the river Jordan with his own victory over the Muslim in their debate: "Le Chrétien répond: “Je rends grâce à Dieu! Sache de même que, pour moi, Jean était aussi un esclave et un serviteur du Christ dans le Jourdain, où mon Sauveur a été baptisé et a fracassé la tête des mauvais démons qui y avaient leur gîte". Le Musulman, fort surpris et déconcerté, n’ayant plus rien à répliquer au Chrétien, se retira à court d’objections". Jean Damascène, Écrits sur l’islam. Présentation, commentaires et traduction par Raymond Le Coz, Éditions du Cerf, Paris, 1992, p. 249-251.

presented in both subtle and not so subtle ways in the “Chanson de Roland”. Obviously, the presence of a massive Saracen army attacking the Christian rear-guard speaks for itself. To this must be added the narrative “colouring” of the text itself. Saracen alterity is coloured differently.



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