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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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I would suggest that this Hegelian dynamic, contextualized by religious constructs, is precisely what motivates chivalric thought and becoming235. In the "Chanson de Roland", a warrior is nothing other than the sum of his conquests and battles. Charlemagne, for instance, is described, by friend and foe alike, as a great conqueror, having levelled many cities and vanquished many peoples. Roland, when confessing his sins in his mea culpa, also enumerates the cities and peoples he has conquered and defeated. And of course, the very oppositional logic Including the sacrifice of their own sons: "Enveiuns I les filz de noz muillers/ Par num d’ocire i enveierai le men/ Asez est melz qu’il i perdent lé chefs/ Que nus perduns l’onur ne la deintét". Verses 42-45.

Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Translated by A.V. Miller with an analysis of the text and a foreword by J.N.

Findlay., Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977, p. 113.

Richard Kaueper stresses this very point, in non-philosophic terms, when he writes: "Yet competition and its results are usually accepted or even highly regarded. A real man of prowess will bear the marks of other men’s weapons on his body". Kaueper, Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe. p. 151. The emphasis is mine.

that confronts the two sides, Christian versus Saracen, coupled with the very brutal foreign policy employed by the Christians (convert, or die), easily lends itself to a reading that is in conformity with the thrust of Hegel's argument. Strife, willed strife, the embracing of strife and the risk for life and limb that it implies are fundamental elements in the warrior, knightly code.

In contrast with fear, prowess revels in risk inasmuch as the agent of prowess achieves a conception of himself by confronting another and submitting (converting) or killing him. Risk, coupled with the religious drive, allow for a subject to express and determine himself, to develop himself, and hopefully, if and when death comes, to die in such a manner as to achieve immortality, that is to say, the transcendent continuation of the subjectivity started in the immanent. And so it is that the martial subject endures by multiplying itself, renewing combat by always challenging others236, with the result that the transient nature of this other becomes dependent upon my victory. Victory as life-risking, itself transient and impermanent in nature (even Roland is "defeated" and perishes in combat), when it is exercised in a theological framework, allows for the continued, albeit transformed and transmuted, continuity of the subject since he is lifted into the hereafter. Prowess seeks, and achieves, the preservation and extension of the subject.

Ruse, on the other hand, is utilized and deployed because, in the Saracen, the chivalric love of danger, the insatiable quest for combat is lacking, such that the only viable option left are stratagems, ploys for peace, and underhanded backstabbing. Strength of arms is replaced by cunning, and martial initiative is supplanted by false appearances. One subject does not so much conquer or submit another, as he carefully avoids conflict with him. When such trickery is coupled with the "irrational" impulse, the turning away from God, the anthropologically perverse "Obviously, if war is the highest expression of prowess, the best opportunity for prowess, knights need war.

When in romance a knight brings peace to some castle, region, or kingdom, that martial achievement usually spells the end of prowess there and thus the end of interest". Kaueper, Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe. p. 166.

subject not only persists in his perversion and desubjectivizing, he accentuates such a mode of existence by foregoing the kind of activity that would allow him to make a mark for himself.

Not only does the Saracen turn away from the correct subjectivizing mode by way of his theological choice, he furthers this distance by another turning away that is phenomenological in nature.

By contrast, Roland, the very hero of the poem that bears his name, disdains appearances, ruses, and stratagems. His military initiatives are limited to a kind of blunt, straightforward frontal assault. What characterizes a valiant warrior like Roland is his refusal to conceal his prowess and desire for combat. This open display of prowess is precisely what Ganelon deems his “orgoilz” –pride- (verse 389), and what some commentators have categorized as his démesure -hubris-. Likewise it is Roland’s staunch belief in the “justice” of arms that incites him to harass Charlemagne with pleas for the continuation of the war, and the need to avenge those Franks that Marsile had treacherously killed237. This desire for combat is articulated and defended in theological terms. Consequently, this need to fight, this impetus towards combat 238, forms and founds the knight qua knight, such that present social status, worthiness in the eyes of men and of God, as well as future recognition, are all dependent upon the valorization and actualization of this quality. The "Chanson de Roland" stresses that an important difference between the Christian knights and the Saracens in the “Chanson de Roland” lies in the peculiar association, common to European chivalry, of existential violence and existential theology.

For in one of its essential dimensions chivalry rested on the very fusion of prowess and piety; it functioned as the male, aristocratic form of lay piety; it was itself, in other words, an embodiment of the religious force that worked so powerfully to shape society, See verses 194-213.

What Richard Kaueper has described, in terms reminiscent of the notion of a conatus, as “never tir(ing) of doing battle”. Kaueper, Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe. p. 162.

at least from the twelfth century. The worship of the demigod prowess- with all the ideas and practises of the quasi-religion of honour- was merged with medieval Christianity239.

I believe that Richard Kaueper has identified an important conjunction of elements here, and I take his comment, more specifically his categorization of prowess as a demigod, to mean that anything and everything related to chivalric becoming, specifically prowess as a continuous call-to-arms, inasmuch as it is, and strives to remain the agency of the subject, must endeavour to persist as it is, and, in so doing, reveals itself as an essential aspect of the warrior spirit and the chevalier.

In contrast, not only could Marsile (from the Christian perspective) be said to act like, and to be a coward, he would appear to be less of a subject in martial or kingly terms. For the knight, and the warrior king who embodies the cultural and cultual dimensions of his society, is largely defined by his adherence to, and excellence in displays of martial prowess 240. The "Chanson de Roland" furnishes an excellent example of just such a phenomenon in its portrayal of the Christian king. Charlemagne is widely recognized as a great warrior by friend and foe alike. Thus it is that, however begrudgingly, even the Saracens recognize the greatness of an enemy king in chivalric terms. When Ganelon first meets Blancandrin, the Saracen envoy, the latter remarks that Charlemagne is truly a great king, aged in years, and covered in military glory.

Dist Blancandrins: “Merveilus hom est Charles,

–  –  –

Vers Engletere passat il la mer salse Kaueper, Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe. p. 47.

As Richard Kaueper has noted: “Only after reading scores of works of chivalric literature can we fully appreciate the utterly tireless, almost obsessional emphasis placed on personal prowess as the key chivalric trait. Not simply one quality among others in a list of virtues, prowess often stands as a one-word definition of chivalry in these texts”. Kaueper, Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe. p. 135.

Ad oés seint Perre en cunquist le chevage »241.

If the Christian warriors become subjects by displaying and participating in acts of fearlessness242, then the Saracens fear of loss, death, and dishonour by way of ill-fated combat, all define their antipodal desubjectivizing, for in them there is a lack, an absence of that "human" trait beloved of a warrior elite. This absence defines them in their difference to the warlike Christians.

The fear of death that provokes desperation, and which sustains desperate measures, suggests that the fearful person is too attached to his life, and with respect to the characterization of the Saracens in the “Chanson de Roland”, such a preoccupation is defined largely in material terms. With the notable exception of Roland's desperate efforts to dash his sword against a rock in order to preserve it from falling into enemy hands, the "Chanson de Roland" would have us believe that the Christian world is quite averse to the kind of materialist thinking so common among the Saracens. The Franks, simply put, do not think about worldly goods and possessions.

They do not fear their loss (other than for theological reasons, their swords bearing an unseemly amount of holy relics), they merely attempt to prevent their falling into enemy hands. This distinction is undoubtedly specious for the modern reader likely to see "commodity fetishism" in both Christians and Saracens; it remains, nonetheless, an important distinction in the poem's logic. For it indicates that the Saracens, once again, are turned away from God, by having turned towards the material world, whereas the Christians are turned towards God (and the protection of his "theophanies" by way of the holy relics) by having turned away from any consideration of worldly/material interests. One looks above, the other looks below.

Verses 370-373.

As is evidenced in the following verses: “Li duze per sunt remés en Espaigne/ Vint milie Francs unt en la lur cumpaigne;/ Nen unt pour ne de murir dutance”. Verses 826-828. Also see verses 1046-1047.

In fact, the Saracens continuously associate subjectivity and materiality in their thinking.

Not only do they fear death at the hands of Charlemagne, but they also seem to fear, to the very same degree, losing their possessions and material wealth. This preoccupation with materiality motivates the ill-fated plot to dupe the Franks into leaving Spain. The Saracens mistakenly believe that the Franks are like themselves, motivated by the same drives (i.e., not the drive towards God), and can be made to see reason: not religious reason as the discovery and adherence to a Truth, but material reasoning since it is thought that they can be bought off, exchanging one mass of goods (the tribute given to Charlemagne) for another (Spain itself). This fear of loss, this fear of death and impoverishment is so dominant in Saracen thinking, that the Saracens, unlike their Christian counterparts (who wish to avenge the death of family members243), are willing to sacrifice their sons in order to better secure their hold on their material possessions and their own lives. Hence Blancandrin, one of Marsile’s barons, advises


–  –  –

That such a proposal could be made, or even entertained, suggests that the poem represents the acts and thoughts of the Saracen elite as extreme. It points to the fact that, from a Christian perspective, the Saracen chooses and acts improperly, that is to say, he conceives of his See verses 205-213.

Verses 42-46. This willingness to sacrifice one’s sons gets repeated in another section of the poem. See also verses 56-61.

actions and thoughts differently. No Christian would sacrifice his family. In fact, the contrary is true inasmuch as someone like Roland is willing to die rather than have any degree of shame fall on his family. Duty to God, honour, loyalty to family, these are not important factors guiding Saracen behaviour. Given the importance of such elements in determining Christian subjectivity, one can only surmise that the poem's insistence that the Saracens would be willing to trade the lives of their sons against material possessions is but another proof of their difference, their "desubjectivity". Whereas Franks have some definite attitudes and modes of behaviour, that are meant to signify that there is a collective sense of a sphere of human experience that figures more or less in any subject of that community245, the option put forth by the Saracens falls off the map of moral considerations. It is not a question merely of their disagreeing as to what might constitute appropriate or inappropriate actions (is it appropriate to truly convert, is it appropriate to surrender, and under what conditions?), rather Saracen difference seems to be situated in the sphere of disputing that there are appropriate ways of acting and reacting. The narrative thrust wills us to believe that, siding with the poem's Christian heroes, we come to realize that there is no situation in which such a plot could seriously be entertained, nor could there be circumstances in which fathers would willingly sacrifice their sons in order to hold on to worldly possessions.

We can judge the extent to which the poem demonizes the Saracens by focusing on Blancandrin’s advice to Marsile. His “political considerations” are contextualized in such a way as to evidence the fact that nothing is held more sacred than the possessions he and Marsile enjoy. Consequently, anything and everything must be sacrificed in order to secure these possessions. And this would seem to include "human sacrifice". Not only are the Saracens willing to “play” on their faith by faking adherence to another religion (which in itself Even the treasonous Ganelon falls under such a category, as does his trial, which is both determined and determining of the various cultural/ethical possibilities that Frankish society has developed.

distinguishes them from the Franks, who are moral purists in this regard), thereby indicating a certain degree of superficiality in their religious beliefs, they are also willing to sacrifice their sons in order to maintain their wealth and status. If “faith” and “family” are two fundamental grounding experiences, then the ease with which the Saracens are willing to do away with them tends to denote them, easily, as moral "monsters". Their plot, in focus and in detail, substantiates their own consciousness of themselves as being different.

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