«RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES: SUBJECTIVITY AND ALTERITY IN THE CHANSON DE ROLAND by Normand Raymond Bachelor of Arts, Laurentian University, 2001 Master of ...»
The Saracens are often draped in darkness. This darkness is sometimes biological 189. At other times, the poem expresses it in terms that are environmental190. They are described as either having darkened skin, or by being surrounded in shadows, lurking in ambush in the darkened valleys. These narrative tricks all suggest that we are dealing with beings that have turned away from the light (God) in order to develop their hellish features in a manner that distinguishes them form their Christians antagonists. The coloring used in the poem is meant to be reflective of moral, social, and cultural degeneracy. That there is something degenerate about the Saracens is suggested in the opening laisses of the poem, where, the first time we meet Marsile, he is couched under the shadow of a tree191, and, likewise, his gods also inhabit dark places 192.
The “Chanson de Roland” continues its narrative assault against Saracen subjectivity by presenting their theological otherness, which appears in the form of a pronounced negation or rejection of the Christian tradition. When describing some of the Saracen warriors (including Marsile), the author does not fail to mention that they are unbelievers, and that, furthermore, they
have rejected and denied the One and True God, as evidenced in the following excerpts:
Devant chevalchet un Sarrazin Abisme See for instance, verses 1915-1919.
The environmental darkness is provided by descriptions of the shadows, the play of light and darkness, the crepuscular atmosphere that surrounds and conceals the Saracen army. See for instance verses 848-859.
See verses 11-12.
The Saracen gods are kept in a crypt. See verse 2580.
Plus fel de lui n’out en sa cumpagnie :
I would suggest that in these passages, felonious conduct or character is clearly associated with a lack of belief, or to be more precise, with an engagement in a negative belief
recognition of an “other” truth stems the perverted subjectivizing process wherein characters degenerate. This lack of belief in God (i.e., not the Saracen "gods") is important, for it was often from this starting point that Christian medieval philosophy began. Much of the scholastic tradition was rooted in the twin pillars of belief in God, and belief in the existence of a singular
God. As Étienne Gilson has noted:
Now this Credo in unum Deum of the Christians, this first article of their faith, appeared at the same time as an irrefragable truth. That if there is a God, there is only one God.
… what the Fathers had never ceased to affirm as fundamental belief because God himself had said it, is also one of those rational truths, and most important of all, one which did not enter philosophy by way of reason 195.
If we remember that it is only the fool who says in his heart that there is no God 196 (or who affirms the existence of an “other” God), then the passages from the “Chanson de Roland” relating Saracen beliefs border on theological blasphemy. By confronting an enemy host, the Christian subject, as a cognizant being, is opposed to a negative “other”. The type of dreit and tort that Roland mentions in his statement therefore imply that on the one hand, there is the Verses 1631-1634.
Étienne Gilson, The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy. Translated by A.H.C. Downes, Shed & Ward, London, 1950, p. 46-47.
Ps. 14, 1. Folly which, we must remember, serves as Saint Anselm’s starting point in the ‘Proslogion’.
ethical spirit of subject-assuredness and certainty, the kind found and promulgated in Anselm’s ontological proof, and on the other hand, there is to be found the negating influence of the “other”. The threat of Saracen belief lies in the fact that, negative thinking, as it stands incarnated in the “other”, presents “otherness” to belief itself, in such a way that what is thought to be eternal and everlasting, is suddenly confronted with an alternative narrative. It might still be considered folly and madness, but such perversions might also be contagious. It is better to stamp out such madness. The “other” embodies a subjectivizing process of truth recognition and fidelity that, being “other” is also in turn, the opposite of one’s own subjectivizing process.
I believe that the poem grounds its hostility towards the Saracens in a peculiar form of reasoning. The presence of “otherness”, as a questioning197 and relativizing subject, questions the community’s self-assuredness in its stead. Because his faithfulness to a truth stands as a negation of “our” faith, because he does not “love” (nen aimet) our God, the other denies our subject-assuredness, contradicts this certainty, and ironically (for the pagan gods are nothing) asserts nothingness in its place. From an epistemological standpoint, this affects the consciousness of subject-assuredness. For a belief that grounds a subjectivizing process (or, minimally, the idea of God) is a state of consciousness, always something in the believer’s consciousness. Anselm’s epistemological account allows us to understand the importance of
belief ideas as constituent elements in consciousness:
Hence, even the fool is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For, when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, The « other » questions inasmuch as he does not ask the same theological question (Who is God, or does God exists, since he asks that question in such a way as to involve a multiplicity), and his refusal to convert or submit suggests a questioning of Christian legitimacy.
suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality;
There are two important aspects to Anselm’s argument with respect to the “Chanson de Roland”. Firstly, that belief, or talk about God involves existence in the understanding, and that the denial of such a belief (which Anselm considers absurd), either as outright negation, or as theological alterity, would in turn imply the denial/negation of both the idea of God existing in the understanding, as well as his existence. With respect to its deleterious effect on the consciousness of belief, and of that which exists in the understanding, the negation of, or opposition to, a particular Christian belief is a denial of the contents of its state of consciousness.
This negative turn, this questioning and diabolical turning away199 from subject-assuredness (since only the fool would deny it), comes to be when consciousness is itself upended to some degree. Otherness, in its horror, reveals to consciousness the possibility of its own demise, or wiping-away. This is one of the important reasons why the other, as an “other” incarnating
consciousness to become aware of the possible negation of that which is so central to itself.
This, in turn, evokes the ultimate possibility of one’s subjectivity also being negated by the "other".
Yet epistemological subject-assuredness does not entirely suffice. The subjectivizing
preoccupied with the themes of action and fighting, to be right is to be right in the mode of Anselm, Basic Writings. Translated by S.N. Deane, Open Court Publishing, Lasalle Illinois, 1962, p. 8.
Diabolic in the possibly Deleuzian sense: “There is something demoniacal or demonic in a line of flight. Demons are different from gods, because gods have fixed attributes, properties and functions, territories and codes: they have to do with rails, boundaries and surveys. What demons do is jump across intervals, and from one interval to another”. Deleuze, Dialogues II. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam, Columbia University Press, New York, 2002, p. 40.
having-it-to-be. Consequently, dreit and tort are to be understood as statements of facts (at least as far as Roland perceives them), as well as an epistemological consideration. To say what is, is of course to know what is. It is to know that this thing is200. But this doesn’t get us very far in our attempt to understand why men would go on murdered and murdering to honour such a statement. For it seems to me that what Roland is really saying, is that dreit does in fact exist (along with its antagonistic counterpart) and that it can be known in its existence 201. Dreit is dreit, but what is the difference between dreit as an abstract form of knowledge (as an ostensive definition), and dreit as an elemental structure of belief in the subjectivizing process?
It would appear that Roland is answering this very question when he states that there is, or rather, there are two processes at work in the world. Furthermore, he also seems to be stating that these orders can be ascertained, can be defined and that these possibilities are dependent upon the understanding or knowledge of such orders. With respect to the “Chanson de Roland”, I would suggest that the work and understanding inherent to the defining is completely absorbed in the existential quantifiers that describe “dreit” and “tort”: namely the quantifiers “Christian” and “Saracen”. These are existential quantifiers that bring to mind worldviews, societal structures, modes of participation and omission, as well as understandings of what is right or good, and how such right or good can be entertained or attained, and of what it is to be right or good. These latter elements indicate that we have already moved past the simplicity of an ostensive definition of the world, towards an epistemologico-existential understanding of our embeddedness/interrelation to what is right or good as fundamental aspects of our world. For it is one thing to know that dreit is, it is quite another to know how it is, or why such a consideration matters at all. Knowledge of what is, in-itself, remains undeveloped, whereas What Heidegger might call it’s “that-being” or Daßsein.
This would suggest that essence also has another dimension, namely its “what-being” or Sosein.
knowledge of how or why what is is as it is represents a more developed understanding of essence, and more importantly, of the interaction of essence with our own sense of being, with our burgeoning notion of subjectivity.
Consequently, we must assume that within Roland’s statement, there is an actuality of knowledge highlighting precisely those areas of concern we have been mentioning: a process of subjectivizing indicating knowledge of particularity of essence, mode of existence, usefulness or purpose, and teleological end202. From the knowledge of an essence’s being, to the knowledge of the existence of a particular type of essence, a hermeneutics of the “Chanson de Roland” must come to the conclusion that, notwithstanding the appearance of theological simplicity, a certain broadened theology is being presented here. A theology in which an entire worldview is structured by a primary question: the question of God and of our relationship to Him. For Christians to be right is for them to bear or be in the right. This possession of dreit203 has a particular dimension, since it serves to authenticate a certain conception of alterity which, rightly or wrongly, assumes that the other must be equally defined in relationship to the good as the subject is, or is to be. From a notion of the subject, as it pertains to its roles in a society, and its interrelatedness to other roles (and the “other” warrior, does he not bear the same role as I?) within that society, one can come to see how this understanding can be projected into a broader horizon, which inevitably assumes, or subsumes, the other within familiar moral or virtuous
constraints. As MacIntyre states:
As Wittgenstein indicated, the possibility of an ostensive definition’s being understood requires the prior understanding of its role in a language game, that is to say, a way of life: ““So one might say : the ostensive definition explains the use- the meaning- of the word when the overall role of the word in language is clear. Thus if I know that someone means to explain a colour-word to me the ostensive definition “That is called sepia” will help me to understand the word. –And you can say this, so long as you do not forget that all sorts of problems attach to the words “to know” or “to be clear”.
One has already to know (or be able to do) something in order to be capable of asking a thing’s name”.
Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations. 30, p. 14e-15e.
It is to be remembered that the text states that “chrestïens unt dreit”.
For I am never able to seek for the good or exercise the virtues only qua individual. This is partly because what it is to live the good life concretely varies from circumstance to circumstance even when it is one and the same conception of the good life and one and the same set of virtues which are being embodied in a human life... (w)e all approach our own circumstances as bearers of a particular social identity. I am someone’s son or daughter, someone else’s cousin or uncle; I am a citizen of this or that city, a member of this or that guild or profession; I belong to this clan, that tribe, this nation. Hence what is good for me has to be good for one who inhabits these roles. As such, I inherit from the past of my family, my city, my tribe, my nation, a variety of debts, inheritances, rightful expectations and obligations. These constitute the given of my life, my moral starting point. This is in part what gives my life its own moral particularity204.
Consequently, if I am right, it is either because I am right in-itself, or I am doing something right, or an admixture of both. It suggests a pattern of spiritual and metaphysical needs that are deemed to be essential. The possession of dreit as a function or manifestation of Christianity discloses that in its relationship to God, there is also an equal degree of subjectivization going on.