«RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES: SUBJECTIVITY AND ALTERITY IN THE CHANSON DE ROLAND by Normand Raymond Bachelor of Arts, Laurentian University, 2001 Master of ...»
There are a number of reasons why this line of argument seems erroneous. Firstly, it basically ignores many other passages in the poem where there is in fact an emphasis on difference. Furthermore, as we shall see in chapters 8-14, this difference is almost always expressed as a difference in religious affiliation and the resulting becoming of the subject who adopts this particular theological view. The poem, after all, takes great pain to indicate that the Saracens and the Christians use different forms of “calculus.” Such calculations are always grounded in the moral paradigms made actual by the religious faith of the subjects. The Saracens, for instance, are perfectly willing to sacrifice others to retain their possessions; the Christians are not so willing. Likewise, the two sides act differently when it comes to martial engagements. The Saracens are more than willing to negotiate, cheat, bribe, use dishonourable tactics, and even evade conflict in order to save their hides and possessions. The Christian heroes, on the other hand, always seem to be spoiling for a fight since they view such an activity in theological terms. Lastly, Christians and Saracens have different soteriological destinies awaiting them, since Christians are destined to be saved, whereas the Saracens are destined to be damned.
Now I don’t mean to suggest that what has been written about the "Chanson de Roland" is unimportant or fruitless. I would rather think that all of these explanations probably bear some kernel of truth, some aspect of the text that needs to be thought through. But they do miss what I consider to be the crucial point: an opposition of worldviews is always dependent upon a philosophical understanding of the subjects involved in such an opposition. It is this “framework” that I believe needs to be explore.
Epic Works of literature like the “Iliad”, “the Odyssey”, or “The Aeneid” have been the focus of much philosophical work and speculation, and philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Erasmus, Pascal, Hegel, Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Bloch, Heidegger, Habermas, Lévinas, Camus, Foucault etc... have all dedicated works, or some of their work to thinking about these epic texts. Insofar as the Chanson de Roland is concerned, there has been an almost universal silence. I cannot mention a single philosopher who has dedicated any serious amount of thinking to this text. As a consequence, and in response to such silence, this thesis will attempt to both remedy this absence and, by exploring what I believe to be an important aspect of the "Chanson de Roland": the manner in which it attempts to justify the creation of a theological dichotomy, and the way in which hat dichotomy receives philosophical justification.
Consequently, throughout this thesis I shall endeavour to show that the crucial factor distinguishing the Christians from the Saracens is that the former are engaged in a subjectivizing process, whereas the latter, by contrast, are engaged in what can best be described as a desubjectivizing process. The existence of such a process is incumbent upon four factors that will be detailed in the varying chapters of my thesis.
1- Firstly, as we shall see in chapters 1-7, the discovery of a Truth that is thought to be logically rigorous and undeniable will facilitate a subjectivizing process that will, in turn, give rise to the creation of differences. In order for a character or type to become a subject, he must identify a Truth which, with respect to himself, is conditional (it is that without which he would not/could not be what he is - in the case of the "Chanson de Roland", the Creator-God is this Truth, for, without His divine dispensation and creation, the human type would not exist, be what it is, or be in the manner that it is). This means that any potential for his subjecthood to be (for the existence of this particular subject to be rather than to not be) is to be understood as an inheritance or gift from the Creator-subject.
After having identified the existence of such a Truth, the character must identify with this Truth inasmuch as it is seen to be essential to the subjecthood of the character since, not only is the Truth the guarantor of its existence, It is also the ultimate signification or meaning of such an existence. The subject comes to be because he is created by the Creator-subject, but of equal importance, the term of its subjecthood, that towards which it is destined to as belonging, that for which it is meant to strive and turn as the point of its greatest potential fulfillment (the immortality of the subject having been a faithful subject to God- in other words, the permanent continuity of the subjectivizing process). The subject, recognizing himself as a creature of God, also recognizes that the subjectivizing process in which he is engaged should naturally be turned towards God. God is his telos.
2- Secondly, as we shall see in chapters 1-10, after having identified a Truth with which it now identifies, the subject then must proceed to persist in the identifying process. In other words, the subject will attempt to remain faithful to the Truth and the subjectivizing process he has identified as following from the discovery of the Truth. He will do this by establishing parameters of action, of thought, and of belief. These parameters allow the subject to further cement the meaning of the Truth (this, for instance, will involve negating other truths as falsehoods, since existence can only have one meaning or telos), while strengthening his own identification with the Truth. In the "Chanson de Roland", such identification will manifest itself
in a number of ways:
a) As a form of a theological phobia towards any and all forms of alterity
b) As a call to self-sacrifice, including dying in the name of a theological construct
c) In acts of piety such as prayers
d) In the practised ritualizations of space such as can be found in the creation of pilgrimage sites or "churches". For example, in the climax to the first battle scene, Roland gathers the fallen Franks before the dying Turpin. This gathering has aspects of a ritualized mass, and serves as a poignant example of just how space can become sacralizede) By gathering, collecting, and “worshipping” theophanic articles such as relics
f) In the saying/adoration of the Truth in the form of the mass (Charlemagne is usually shown praying and participating in early morning masses)
g) In the proselytizing zeal towards others that are different. A zeal that will masquerade as "freedom of choice" (which in the "Chanson de Roland" is always particularly motivated by the threat of violence and death which make the choice that much clearer and easier).
It is through such "mores" and codes that the subjectivizing process makes itself manifest.
3- Thirdly, as we shall see in chapters 8-10, this faithfulness to the Truth as being subject to that Truth within the context of the "Chanson de Roland's" martial politics, will have a very specific particularization. It will involve the valorization of martial prowess and becoming.
Furthermore, it will lend itself to the creation of a well-defined identity, namely, Christian knighthood. As such, this Christian knighthood, in keeping with the need to establish parameters of action, thought, and belief that serve to strengthen the identification of the Truth as the willful negation of all "other truths", will not particularize itself in isolation or in-itself. Rather, the strengthening of the subjectivizing process and the formation to a specific Christian martial identity, will be undertaken as a continuous process involved in struggling, resisting, correcting, and finally negating other alternative identities (these being understood as other identifications to/with differing "truths"). In the "Chanson de Roland", the greatest embodiments of Christian martial faithfulness to the Truth will be demonstrated by Roland and Turpin, who, at all times and regardless of the costs, will strive to maintain and continue their holy war against what they perceive as the perniciousness of Saracen belief.
4- Lastly, as we shall see in chapters 11-14, given that the faithfulness involved in the subjectivizing process is characterized by an open hostility to any form of theological alterity, the subjectivizing process defended in the "Chanson de Roland" will standardize a portrait of this "otherness" in "demonic" terms. This "other" will be systematically represented in negative terms, as a “desubject” inasmuch as the fallaciousness of his religious beliefs will be presented (one need only think about the episode of the revolt against the pagan idols after the defeat of the Saracens by Charlemagne's forces). Furthermore, his subjectivizing process, or the elemental aspects of his cultural faithfulness will be shown to be lacking (his cowardice, his fear of death are testimony to this); his desubjectivization will be shown to be implicit to a worldview accentuated, not on the attainment or possibility of subjectivity, but by the subsumption of subjectivity by the "mass"; his physical monstrosity will be explained, in part, in terms of his dependent origination in a wasteland, a terre gaste, devoid of the life-giving elements characteristic of lands visited by the sacred. In other words, the subjectivizing process exemplified by Christians will be represented as occurring, side by side, with a concomitant process, that of the demonization/desubjectivization of the "other".
2. CREATION AND THE CREATION OF DIFFERENCES: MEDIEVAL
The above quotation can ideally serve as a notice to most studies on the “Chanson de Roland”. It has often been repeated that the “Chanson de Roland’s” narrative strategy is dependent upon a cultural and/or existential division between Christians and Saracens. The poem goes to great lengths to stress that the Christians and Saracens are different, and that they represent two very different worldviews and ways of life. In this thesis, I shall endeavour to demonstrate that these different worlds/worldviews represent different subjectivizing processes. Processes that originate in the recognition of a Truth, and develop from the logic of existence that is associated with that Truth. As a consequence, the "Chanson de Roland" is interested in contrasting different forms of subjectivity as they pertain to the manner in which characters develop, or regress, in their subjectivity depending upon what kind of Truth they have chosen to enact, such that the poem valorizes one form, while demonizing an "other".
Helen Adolf, ‘Christendom and Islam in the Middle Ages : New Light on ‘Grail Stone’ and ‘Hidden Host’’, in Speculum, Vol. 32, no. 1, Jan. 1957, p. 105.
As we shall see, this division is so central to the poem’s view of the world, that it is continuously reinforced by the poem’s particular manner of characterizing the major players of the action. As we shall see in chapters 8 through 14 of this thesis, the poem dichotomizes the two parties, and characterizes/represents the different characters in accordance to their allegiance/adherence to one of the two worlds. Christians, the faithful ones at least, will be the object of positive portrayals, demonstrating the fealty to their lord, their overwhelming martial prowess, and of course, their great and undying piety. By contrast, the Saracens characters will suffer from the exact opposite portrayal. Devious, cunning, cowardly, and above all, idolatrous and pagan, the Saracens in the “Chanson de Roland” have, as we will see, no redeeming qualities. This division, this manner of neatly dividing and segregating the poetic elements into “good” and “bad” camps is so endemic to the poem`s narrative, that in the minds of most readers, the poem’s catchphrase “Christians are right, and Saracens are wrong”, can be said to aptly summarize the text’s poetic intentions.
The poem presents the reader with a divided world. There is good, and there is evil.
Some characters, mostly Christians, are characterized in a flattering mode, while others, mostly Saracens, are characterized as being devious, cowardly, or downright monstrous. The Christians, as we will shall see, are the heroes, worthy subjects of a religious Truth that brings them Transcendent and temporal immortality, these Christian knights are bearers of righteousness and knightly prowess, proud defenders of the feudal-Christian manner of being. By contrast, the Saracens, as we will see in greater detail in chapters 11-14, are the antithesis to the values being promoted by the narrative. Unworthy subjects of God, their faithfulness to all manners of wickedness inevitably leads them to existential monstrosity. Whereas a knight like Roland, for instance, is the very embodiment of martial valour and “faithful” service (to God and liege), Saracen warriors are inevitably represented under the guise of cowardice, incompetence, or as bearing a formal “lack” that renders them inherently inferior to their Christian counterparts.
Given the division inherent to the text, what the following sections of this thesis will attempt to sketch out are the various ways in which the “Chanson de Roland” suggests not only the existence of a divided world, but the manner in which this division implies that the very order of Creation is itself split or segmented. The world is divided because God's Creation has been "broken" or altered.