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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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Through Roland's Christianity, as the recognition of a Truth to which one is continually faithful, the understanding of dreit is objectified and becomes actual. It is objectified in the degree to which the Christian mode of understanding and subjectivizing is temporally and spatially located and distributed. It is objectified precisely through the very deeds, as well as the living memory of those deeds (the songs of glory) with which Roland is encouraging his men to action. It is objectified in the form of battle and conquest.

MacIntyre, After Virtue. p.220.

It is a curious fact that much of the scholarship surrounding the “Chanson de Roland” has failed to notice, or to mention, that the very first laisse presents the reader with an important phenomenological interpretation of the relationship between a subjectivizing process and/or space to a moral order. This laisse gives us a divided world: a world divided along religious lines, but equally as important, a world divided along spatio-temporal lines. There is the world and kingdom (the physical domain) dominated by Charlemagne, and the world (the last point of resistance) dominated by Marsile. The upward thrust, the almost irresistible urge to conquer that the first laisse suggests is indicative of a form of thinking that relates the grandeur of a subjectivizing process (the greatness of a man, the manifestation of his subjectivity) to an always-becoming movement forward (consequently, the very last laisse forms a parallel to the first in that it, too, has Charlemagne on the move, looking outward towards new lands to conquer), whereby subjectivity continually needs to repeat itself, assert itself, becoming more than mere appearance through actual objectification and conquest.

Now although the two spheres (Christian and Saracen) seem to share similarities, their differences, however slight, indicate substantive disparities in their modes of subjectivizing, occupying, and possessing space physically and morally. A brief example will suffice to illustrate this point. Whereas Charlemagne, for instance, sits on a throne (verse 116), thereby indicating his regal majesty, his dominion over the lands he has conquered, as well as the lands that are destined to be conquered by him, Marsile is presented in a sunken position (verse 12).

The physical positioning of his body is indicative not only of his moral despair (verses 15-19), but of the lack of physicality, the absence of either moral or physical dreit on the part of a king at wit’s end to defend his flailing kingdom. Simply put, Marsile’s physical occupation of space signifies the degenerate manner in which he proceeds to subjectivize, as well as the degeneracy to which such a subjectivizing process leads.

All of this leads us to believe that some degree of cultural subjectivity is embodied in a relationship to the external world. The difference between the Christian worldview, as compared to the Saracen, lies in the fact that, possessing dreit205, motivated by a will-to-glory, that which differentiates Christianity is displayed in divergent spheres (such as, precisely, the type of behaviour one demonstrates in battle, one’s physical positioning, one’s manner of worshiping as well as the “object” of that worship etc…) that highlight a distinctiveness as an evident difference.

This radical distinction between two moral orders is brought into being because, in Roland’s mind206, the Christian worldview which he defends, and for which he is willing to give his life in the attainment of personal glory, is invested with perfection (the dreit) or righteousness, of which no greater possibility can be conceived to exist. Certainly, it is not the case that the Saracen conception of the “good” can be compared favorably, in Roland’s mind, to what he imagine to be the “good”. I would suggest that Roland’s dichotomous view of dreit and tort are in fact a manner of paraphrasing Anselm's view of knowledge and foolishness. Such a possible "reference" to Anselm should not be dismissed out of hand. We should remember that his Proslogion helped to shape much of the theological argumentation and thinking during the middle ages. We should also remember that Anselm’s work is contemporaneous to that of the “Chanson de Roland”. It is certainly the case that the clear-cut argumentation put forward by Anselm finds its echo in the “Chanson de Roland” and its knightly bravado. Richard Kaeuper, in his recent book Holy Warriors, has brilliantly demonstrated the extent to which the logic of As recognition and fidelity to a Truth.

As well as in that of the author as well.

belief in Anselm’s Proslogion influenced chivalric ideology in its religious orientation. Such an influence is most likely a consequence of the persuasiveness and universality of Anselm’s argument, given that it forms a “logic” of argumentation and rational construction, from first belief to furthering beliefs. One can see how such a modus operandi could have influenced

much Christian thinking. As Kaueper states:

That Anselm’s ideas, abstract and difficult though they were, could eventually reach at least elite layman directly or indirectly is shown wonderfully in Jean de Joinville’s casual account of a conversation he had with his king, Louis IX.... Not only is it evident that Louis possessed a copy of one of Anselm’s books –in this case the Proslogion, the treatise in which he establishes this definition (of God being so good that there cannot be anything better)- but that in his youth Joinville had been taught and now still retains this

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In many ways, Anselm’s project sanctions the association and the orientation of knowledge from a primary epistemological acquaintance with God, to an understanding of procedural subjectivizing. Given an acquaintance with the proof of divine existence, it stands as a consequence that there is a relation to the chain of beings and their manner of being.

I began to ask myself whether there might be found a single argument which would require no other proof than itself alone; and alone would suffice to demonstrate that God truly exists, and that there is a supreme good requiring nothing else, which all other Kaeuper, Holy Warriors. The Religious Ideology of Chivalry. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2009, p. 118.

things require for their existence and well-being; and whatever we believe regarding the

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We should not neglect that Anselm’s most lasting impact on the chivalrous way of thinking lies not merely in the content of his thoughts, but in the manner of his thinking, in the structured order of his thoughts. It is interesting to note that Anselm is looking for a monological argument, that is to say, an argument that stands alone and does not require any proof or corollary other than itself. There is an order of monological thinking of this kind that is at work in the “Chanson de Roland”. The “aseity” of Anselm’s argument, its ability to stand by itself, much like the aseity of God (and the “right” religion that follows from an adherence to such a deity) is not only a demonstration of its sovereignty, but a statement about the fruitlessness of dialogue: regarding this question, and all other questions that follow or derive from it, no other is needed. Any “other” solution or possibility is simply folly.

And since it is also the case that Anselm strongly essentializes man209, a further consequence deriving from the knowledge of the deity to the application of this knowledge to the process of subjectivizing, is that there are definitive modes of conduct that are more in line, or in keeping with the divinity than others. If the world was created by God, if it has received the totality of its being from Him, then participation in God’s perfection can be said to represent an intrinsic necessity. A proper response thereby implies that one move from a mode where it is impossible to imagine a greater degree of being, to a consideration of faithfulness to that God as logically rigorous, and of course, as ethically rigorous.

Anselm, ‘Proslogion’, in Complete Philosophical and Theological Treatises of Anslem of Canterbury. Translated by Jasper Hopkins and Herbert Richardson, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 2000, p. 88.

Anselm argues that man was created to see God. This view of man’s creations, in and of itself, is enough of a statement about God, the heavens, and man’s place or role in the world. See Anselm, ‘Proslogion’, in Complete Philosophical and Theological Treatises of Anslem of Canterbury.

For when a will was first given to the rational nature, it was –in the moment of givingturned by the Giver towards that which it was supposed to will; or better, it was not first given and then turned upright, but it was originally made upright. As long as the will stood firm in this uprightness in which it was made (and which we call truth or justice), it was just. But when it turned itself away from that which it was supposed to will towards that which it was not supposed to will, it no longer stood fast in the original uprightness

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I would contend that Anselm’s thinking lends itself to the demonization of an “other”.

For his vision of a religious life, as a mode of faithfulness to God, implies that the real evil does not come from matter itself, rather, it enters the world through the reprehensible act of a “spiritual” subjectivizing. Taken in this fashion, if we now turn our attention to the “Chanson de Roland”, we can see that the textual Saracens found in the poem are evil because they choose, and have chosen to worship other deities. The poem goes to great lengths to make this point abundantly clear. Not only are they said to Deu nen aimet, they are adorned with an evil triumvirate of pagan idols211.

Obedience to the certainty of Anselm’s argument denotes a moral choice. It means that, as a rational creature, man is called to communion with his Creator, a summons that is addressed to the human mind with its freedom of choice. The choice implies election or damnation, for the wrong choice abandons the subject to perdition whereby a lesser good has been chosen over and against God. This “damnable choice” is precisely that of the Saracens in the “Chanson de Roland”. Given the choice, Saracens continually choose the wrong option. Given the choice, Anselm, ‘The Fall of Satan’, in Anselm of Canterbury. Truth, Freedom, and Evil. Three Philosophical Dialogues. Edited and translated by Jasper Hopkins and Herbert Richardson, Harper Torchbooks, New York, 1967, p. 162.

See verse 8.

Saracens continue in their desubjectivizing ways. The Saracen warriors are morally unrighteous212. The result of this choice is a breach in the original order of things. The Saracens are to be demonized by the likes of Turpin because their evil is not merely a matter of their failing nature, of erroneous or defective actions, but ultimately of their personal revolt and rebellion, as free creatures, against the Creator. The contrast between Christian faithfulness and

Saracen Satanism is best exemplified when Turpin dispatches a pagan magician:

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This passage clearly indicates that two very distinct theological worlds are confronting one another. It also demonstrates that the recognition of a Truth, and of its antithesis, sets up a potential conflict with an “other”. If we assume, as Turpin’s theological chauvinism would suggest, that no proper subjectivizing process can be imagined outside of a union with the Christian God, it follows that the modes and means of worshipping and acknowledging that God must involve a degree of rigor and absolutism. In other words, rigor and moral absolutism stem from the recognition of the existence of the perfection itself. Since the logic is absolute and

rigorous, then the subject’s adherence to this logic becomes the locus of any potential ethics:

those who refuse the logic, and all other potential actions (their modes and means of beingtowards-God) as a consequence of their initial epistemological rejection, are inevitably wrong, or false, whereas those who do accept it, are situated in dreit or righteousness. If Christians are right, it is because they are faithful to their teleological essence in a manner unlike the Saracens.

See verses 940-943, Verses 1390-1393.

They have previously been right about the question of God’s existence, and have rightly positioned themselves in accordance to their understanding of that question. They have understood that they are created to see God, have understood that God is the good, and that their goal is to orient themselves towards Him.

I believe that the characteristic "charm" of the “Chanson de Roland” resides partly in this type of hermeneutics. In the world of the “Chanson de Roland”, the primordial question moves forward blindly towards its answer, and having gotten hold of that answer, the entire chain of being falls neatly into place. Having answered the essential question, that of God’s existence, everything else is put into the clearing, everything else is situated or placed in relation to the question and its answer.

I think we are now sufficiently capable of understanding that Roland’s philosophical outlook is, in fact, a form of adherence to this view. His distinction between dreit and tort, between Christian and Saracen is tantamount to a kind of a priori argument, because in his mind, there is a moral absolutism to Christian dreit as being necessarily better than anything Saracen culture, a posteriori, can propose.


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A good way to understand how the “Chanson de Roland” portrays the development of Christian subjectivity, is to come to grips with the way in which it deals with alterity as its opposite.

Consequently, any analysis of alterity must assume that the Saracens do not mirror the Franks.

The fact that some commentators have asserted the contrary position demonstrates, I believe, the extent to which they have focused on the appearance of similarities to the detriment of a deeper understanding of the philosophy of subjectivity and violence made manifest by the poem. As we shall see in this chapter, the Saracens are not to be considered as the Christians’ indistinguishable “other”.

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