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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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When we consider that this standing, this waiting is a waiting for eventual conversion or death (the very terms of Charlemagne's foreign policy), it becomes rather apparent that there is, within the poem's narrative, a characterization of the Saracens as teleologically lacking: lacking in their teleological drive towards God, and teleologically lacking in their cultural and/or subjectivizing drive to expand their culture and mode of life. Once more, the reader is confronted with the existence of a fundamental difference separating the Saracens from the Christian heroes. For, unlike the Christians, the Saracen telos is characterized as an unenviable becoming towards death or conversion226. Conversion is certainly enviable from the perspective of the Christian heroes, it is, however, less appealing for the Saracens. The damnable manner in which Saracen warriors die, are converted en masse, or are dispatched into Hell are all evidence of this negative telos. It is the recognition of this unappealing choice that motivates Marsile’s despair. There is a note of hopelessness in Marsile’s plea for counsel and help from his barons. His words represent a form of despair that arises when his very existence, as well as the extended spatial subjectivizing of his kingdom, in other words, the cultural and cultual apparatus of his existence, are threatened by

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recognition of a fundamental difference: we –the Saracens- are not like the Christians. We, the Saracens, are unable, unwilling, or simply incapable of fighting against the Christians. We -the Saracens- cannot move forward, expanding our cultural, cultual, and subjectivizing dimensions in the same manner as the Christian "other". After all, Marsile admits as much. Marsile’s words denote a recognition of cultural, or existential inferiority.

This is implied not only in Marsile’s own words ("Si m’guarisez e de mort e de hunte"-verse 21), but also in the “foreign policy” of the Franks who offer their defeated adversaries either conversion to Christianity or death: "En la citét nen ad remés paien/ Ne seit ocis u deviant chrestïen/". Verses 101-102 (No pagans remain within the city walls, since they have all been converted or killed).

This passage also seems to suggest a number of other things, all of which point to the recognition of difference. Firstly, the Saracen king is clearly aware that his foe, the Christian “other”, stands in a position of superiority to himself. If we can believe the tenor of Marsile’s assertion that pecchét nus encumbret227, then we must assume that the Saracen king is keenly aware of the fact that the “other” is better than he, at least in the sense that the “other” is a victor, while he will likely become a vanquished foe. Perhaps most importantly, the “other” stands in a position of theological grace, whereas Marsile and his knights stand in a position of theological disgrace. The destined doom weighing against Marsile that is manifested in the first laisse clearly finds its echo here in Marsile's own words. Something bad and ominous has happened, and will happen to the Saracens. A foreboding destiny weighs on them.

The Saracen way of life is opposed on two fronts: the cosmological destiny that has already condemned Marsile and his men, and the immanent presence of a hostile army.

Misfortune or ill fate has befallen the Saracens. Marsile’s opening words represent a heretical, prière du plus grand péril228, addressed not to God229, but to a harassed Saracen host perplexed, anguished, and desperately confused about the ill fortunes that have visited them. Now such despair, of course, naturally evokes its opposite state: the “beatific” conquests and glories of the Christian army. Once again, we find a manifestation of just such thinking in the very first laisse.

Nowhere, on the Christian side, does one find the same expression of despair, and Christian prayers (Roland's is a prime example) are ritualized mea culpas bathed in penance and hope since they lead to Paradise. The important thing to note is that Marsile, in his desperate plea, is giving voice to the notion that there is, in fact, a process at work that is differentiating and Verse 15.

The prayer of peril is a motif in medieval literature where a hero faced with a moment of great peril, or when facing death, will recite biblical passages referencing the sufferings of saints and prophets.

This is obvious given the fact that we have been informed in the first laisse that Marsile neither believes in, nor loves God.

distinguishing the Saracens and the Christians. This difference, as expressed by Marsile, is the metaphysical incipit that will structure the rest of the poem.

The metaphysical superiority of the Christian “other” is also related to a military superiority230. Given that the Christians are largely fighting for God, or in the name of their religion, their military superiority is embedded within a theological framework. Marsile is aware of this strange theologico-martial conjuncture, as his words, the tenor of his plea marshal the presence of both dimensions as elements of that which is plaguing him. Marsile acknowledges that some foul “thing” has befallen him, and he adds that his troubles are further aggravated by his inability to reverse the misfortunes that are plaguing him. The military misfortunes are, in themselves, sufficient enough cause to make Marsile aware of the radical difference separating

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conquered, but his conquest is made inevitable by means of his own weakness. His weakness will lead to his being conquered, and therefore, to his dishonour and his death. I believe that we can accurately view the threat of dishonour and death, expressed by Marsile as mort and hunte at the hands of his enemy, as marks of a certain degree of consciousness about his own difference.

Marsile is conscious of the fact that he will be dishonored, whereas the Christian will be honoured. He and his army will be slaughtered, whereas the Christians will be victorious. This either/or way of viewing the world makes manifest the dichotomous world in which Marsile lives, and thinks. For it is a world of differences.

I would suggest that, in his despair, in his recognition of his weakness and his anguish, Marsile is brought to recognize and think about his own difference, his particular subjectivity, and the manner in which he has lived it and wishes to go on living it. In recognizing the The metaphysical and military superiority of the Christians is also emphasized by Bramimonde, the Saracen queen, when she laments to the emir’s heralds that the empire lost, and no force on earth is capable of stopping Charlemagne’s advance. See verses 2714-2723.

possibility of the loss of his empire, Marsile’s consciousness ascertains a degree of identity between himself, the “now” of his possession of empire, and the opposition of that "now" to the “future” as the loss of empire and subjectivity. Marsile is aware of the fact that in death, he will no longer be the subject that he is, and, through conversion, he will also cease to be the subject that he is presently. In other words, Marsile’s plea makes manifest that his awareness that his possession of the empire, as well as the manner in which this becomes the possible expression of his subjectivity, function against the backdrop that is the agency of another. Marsile, pleading

for help, king and subject, is aware that he will likely become the determined object of another:


In the “Chanson de Roland”, this recognition is granted and made effective through the confrontation with the Christian “other”. What despair (or the fear of dishonour and death) achieves is the experience of an “outside” that is unlike me, and whose crucial differentiation (Charlemagne, by Marsile’s own account, is both blessed and martially superior) from me engenders a recognition of the difference that I am. It is in light of this phenomenon that we must understand Marsile’s desperate pleas to his assembled army. The Saracen king does not ignore the fact that his armies, and thereby his own command of those armies, is incapable of stopping the Christian advance. Charlemagne is likely to conquer all of Spain. Marsile will either be forced to convert, negating himself by becoming the “same-as-the-other”, or he will be killed. In either case, he is condemned to become something other than the subject that he is currently: Si m’guarisez e de mort e de hunte.

That Marsile would fear death is also an important feature distinguishing him from the Christian king. In phenomenological terms, it signals a difference as to a warlike mode of being.

One of the great themes running throughout the poem is the continuous justification and legitimization of martial prowess as an honourable means of subjectivizing. Being willing to risk it all is a potent indicator of subjective presencing and becoming. Fighting, risking one's life, confronting another in a field of combat, struggling against opposing forces (especially forces that are religious in nature, mobilizing divergent views as to the essence of what it means to be a living subject) all find applause and validation in the poem's narrative. Clearly, war is a proper mode of becoming for those seeking to become God-fearing (subject to God) Christian subjects.

Fear, in turn, is neither knightly, foregoing the glory of prowess, nor is it concomitant with any form of mastery. The fear of death and dishonour moves away from the conquest of things and beings in the world. Fear does not move forward, it does not drive or strive. Fear is entrenched, like the Saracens who hole up in their remaining bastion. Fear moves backward.

Fear compels a subject to be mastered in the face of another’s desire to negate, to cancel, to convert, or destroy. Fear is actually the abnegation of subjectivizing as it is understood in the "Chanson de Roland", since it retreats in the face of the other’s chivalric attitude to seek, destroy, or kill the enemy. Fear, of the type represented by Marsile, manifesting itself in the form of wiles and ruses in order to evade contact and confrontation, does not seek to assert its own subjectivity. Fear, in existential terms, is a conditioning of being, inasmuch as the fearful subject ceases to advance ahead of himself, because other factors (notably the presence of an aggressive other) condition his acting and unfolding, his stretching out a dimension of possibilities. Fear comes to dominate and determine the manner in which a subject views himself and the manner in which he is to lead his life. I believe that Marsile’s pleas for help, his fear of death and conquest, his desperate actions, and his eventually resorting to a treacherous plot that can only backfire against him, can be viewed as symptomatic of a fear conditioning his subjectivizing process.

All of these desperate actions, motivated by a fear of the Christian other, are characteristic of a forgetfulness of being and subjectivity.

The man who fears does not stop with any of these; his “environment” does not disappear, but it is encountered without his knowing his way about in it any longer. This bewildered making-present of the first thing that comes into one’s head, is something that

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Fearful conduct, therefore, foregoes military confrontation, and replaces it with backdoor “politicking”, artifice, and “bewilderment”. This is precisely what occurs in the “Chanson de Roland”. Marsile, under the influence of his barons, proposes a peace pact with Charlemagne.

He will convert to Christianity if Charlemagne agrees to leave Spain 232. Once Charlemagne is gone, Marsile will simply disregard the oath and pact he has just sworn. It is a pact that he has no intention of keeping. Its purpose is to allow him to avoid confrontation, since he knows his armies are inferior, and thereby fears dishonour and death. His sole immediate goal is to see the Frankish army leave Spain. This short-term interest is not weighed against the longer-term possibility of future Frankish retaliation against the Saracens for not having been faithful to the terms of the pact they had themselves proposed. I would suggest that this short-sightedness, itself a manifestation of intermittent subjectivizing (that subjectivizing which is without goal or telos other than its own immediacy), of a subjectivizing that does not view continuity, but rather, is obsessed with the here and now, is characteristic of a mode of a way of life, a mode of experiencing one's subjectivity and thinking that is overwhelmed by fear. It is doubtful whether Marsile and his barons ever really thought that their plot for peace would not be discovered, and more importantly, avenged by Charlemagne. Fearful conduct, in this case, does not take into Heidegger, Being and Time, p. 392.

See verses 27-50.

consideration the long-term possibilities and repercussions that might effect the development of a mode of subjectivity. It's only focus is on the immediate, the here and now. This inability to think things through, over and beyond the immediate constraints of those things confronting the subject is characteristic of a mode of behaviour that is motivated by fear. What truly interests the Saracen host is avoiding, at all costs233, having to risk their lives in combat against the Christian other.

I believe that we can come to a phenomenological understanding of this evasion. In his reading of primitive societies that are driven and determined by martial prowess and the urge to dominate, Hegel had suggested that the ability, or rather the willingness, to risk one’s life is the defining human characteristic.

However, the exhibition of itself as the pure abstraction of self-consciousness consists in showing itself to be the pure negation of its objective mode, that is, in showing that it is fettered to no determinate existence, that it is not at all bound to the universal individuality of existence, that it is not shackled to life234.

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