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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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Perhaps he only wants to avoid dying, and perhaps he merely wants to pick up a few riches or booty along the way. But this would once again suggest a predilection for materiality in opposition to the anthropological presuppositions inherent in the Christian worldview. In other words, and once again, the "Chanson de Roland" is suggesting that there is a preoccupation with materiality as one of the prime elements of Saracen difference.

What we can see from the above examples is that the "Chanson de Roland" structures its portrayal of the differing modes of subjectivizing in such a way as to continually emphasize the recognition of fundamental differences between Saracens and Franks. Furthermore, the poem wills this recognition into the fabric of Saracen thought, as is evidenced in the very first laisse.

Marsile's words of despair and hopelessness are meant to portray an entire worldview. A worldview at odds with the Christian worldview. They are pleas of despair, hopelessness, and the recognition of a profound difference separating his world from that of Charlemagne's world.

And through his pleas, the poem attempts to state that if any Saracen in the poem bothers to reflect on the apparent similarities between his world and that of the Christian world, he will come to see that these similarities are merely illusions. He will quickly recognize (as does Marsile in his opening statements, and as will be the case in Bramimonde’s conversion at the end of the poem) that between himself and the Christian world, there is a difference, a gap, which, although possibly ever so subtle and infinitesimal276, nonetheless signals that there can be no real communion between the two groups, and that one can never really be the other, nor can one ever hope to enjoy the same kind of socio-cultural status enjoyed by the other while remaining oneself. What we are dealing with in this poem are subjects and their others, differences between modes of existence that, although playing on similarities, are radically distinct.

Differences which are different.

I believe that this is what Bhabha is hinting at when he suggests that the spatial and political structures between two peoples might make them appear to be almost the same, but not quite. The not quite must mean that the difference, although small and almost imperceptible, is still nonetheless a fundamental difference of/in ontology or epistemology. See Bhabha The Location of Culture.


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As we have already seen, commentators on the "Chanson de Roland" such as Sarah Kay and Sharon Kinoshita have often suggested that the Franks are mirrored by the Saracens.

Furthermore, this mirroring extends to the actual narrative presentation of the Saracens, since many of the Saracen warriors are apparently described in a favorable light277. I believe that such criticism is fundamentally wrong about the tenor of such passages.

For these passages where Saracen warriors are apparently commended are, in fact, evoking a “lack”, that is to say, the manifestation of an appearance as a lack of something else.

The primary concern of these passages is to demonstrate that the Saracens are not like the Christians. Despite appearances, regardless of how things might "look", there is, beyond and behind the appearance of semblance, a difference pointing to dissimilarity, to disjunction between Christian and Saracen. The importance of these passages is in their ability to relay the message that the Saracen warriors who are, apparently, described as admirable, are in fact not great because they are not Christian. This being-Christian that is lacking in these Saracen warriors makes of them something other. That the poem concludes its "positive" descriptions of Of the “comparative passages” where Saracens are apparently described in a favorable light (verses 894-899), Kinoshita, downplaying the importance of the existential differences suggested by the very terms being used, suggest that in such passages “the demarcation between Christian and pagan begins to seem less intransigent, more insecure”. Kinoshita, ‘Pagans are wrong and Christians are right: Alterity, Gender, and Nation in the Chanson de Roland’, p. 84.

Saracen warriors on such a note, highlighting the "lack" or gap separating them from their Christian counterparts, suggests to the reader that there are crucial differentiations at play in such comparisons. Differentiations that are theological in nature given that Christians and Saracens recognize different truths, and such recognitions leads to the creation of cultural differentiations given that the two sides will lead their lives differently in accordance with the truths that ground their worldview. The differentiations separating Christian from Saracen imply that the one is definitely different from the other. Differentiations made manifest, as is the case in these narrative descriptions, when characters and subjectivities are subjectivized in and through their mutual interconnectedness/interaction. What the "Chanson de Roland" is proposing, in these passages that undermine Saracen character by indicating the presence of a gap/absence, is a type of theologico-subjective complex of different connected/interacting subjectivities, differentiated between themselves, where the "lack" of which the Saracens suffer must be spoken of as a reduction or absorption of the one to the other.

Now whether or not this “not” can be breached is another question. The "Chanson de Roland" would suggest that it can, if only destructively: by killing the other, forcibly converting him, or having them convert "out of love" as is the case with Bramimonde. This question aside, we must keep in mind that, in these passages where Saracen warriors seem to be celebrated, we are in fact dealing with crucial philosophical terms such as “semblance”, “if only he were”, and “having the appearance of valour or greatness”. The possibility that the Platonic tradition was inherited by medieval Christianity marks such terms out for disapproval, since they are characteristic of the shifting, wavering, and untrustworthy phenomenal world. And it is precisely these problematic terms that are mobilized in the poem, and with which “noble” Saracen warriors are described. I would contend that both the philosophical context of medieval philosophy, as well as the narrative context in which these passages are to be found, clearly indicate that they are not meant to be considered as positive judgements.

Although many experts view them this in this way278, the comparative nature of these passages tends to highlight a defect in Saracen subjectivity, an existential défaut d’être, rather than any positive quality that might be held by the Saracen warrior. This pejorative stance is in keeping with the overall tenor of the poem. In keeping with its warlike ideology, Saracens are necessarily demeaned throughout. Unlike other epic poems where it is not uncommon for a warrior to admire his adversary, in the “Chanson de Roland” such terms of admiration are unheard of. The quasi-chivalrous descriptions of Saracen warriors might appear to give a favourable, although limited, opinion of the Saracen adversary. They could suggest that there is at least a modicum, a small amount of decency of valour to be found in the foe. I believe that such a view is misguided.

A reading more in tune with the narrative thrust of the poem will demonstrate the extent to which, like all the other depictions of the Saracens, these terms further serve to negate and

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comparative. Saracen warriors are never appreciated in and for themselves. Their valor is always judged by way of the dominant paradigm: subjective Christian militancy. The passages compare the Saracen soldier to the Christian. And having compared the two, the passages go on

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comparison establishes an inscribed distinction between the world of reality and authentic subjectivizing (the Christian world), and a world of appearance. I think that one must I once again feel the need to return to Kinoshita, for her assessment of these “if only he were Christian” passages influences her entire conception of the Roland as a work teetering on the brink of nondifferentiation, and it is also on the basis of these passages that she reads the Roland as a work consisting primarily of cultural exchanges, rather than subjective differences.

See verses 894-899 for an example.

emphasize that this distinction is a philosophical one, and to be more precise, an AugustinianPlatonic one. We are dealing with the difference between the real world of Being which potentially elevates to the world of pure Ideality (Christian knights ascend to Heaven), and the flawed world of appearances and immanence. Much of medieval theology was Augustinian, and it does not seem like an exaggeration to suggest that the influence of Plato on Augustine saturates the “Us” vs. “Them”, the “heaven” vs. “Hell”, the “Up” vs. “Down” debate that structure much of the “Chanson de Roland”.

We must remember that the world that begets the “Chanson de Roland” is a dichotomous world, and that the dominant theological strain present during the writing of the text was undoubtedly an Augustinian one. Augustine often described Truth and falsity in terms that were reminiscent of Plato’s cave analogy. Truth was light, falsity was darkness. In the “Chanson de Roland”, Christians are participants of the divine light, whereas Saracens are often couched in darkness. In the Augustinian-Platonic worldview, there is right, and there is wrong. There is the "real", and there is the "appearance" or semblance of the "real", that is to say, the false. In other words, there is Truth, and there is falsity. Once again, we find just such division in the “Chanson de Roland”. Roland’s famous declaration can be said to summarize this view. Now it is not very hard to see how this world divided between the true and the false might also divide appropriate subjectivizing along the same lines. In fact, as we have seen, Christian anthropology, grounded in an admixture of Augustinian-Platonic reasoning, posited just such a world. Consequently, we have a world where there is the sphere of the Ideas/Truth (of those dedicated to them/God, and striving for them), and there is the world of sensible appearances, materiality and falsehoods.

The manner in which the Platonic and Augustinian philosophical traditions use light and darkness (with the requisite moral and philosophical connotations attached to such terms) can also be used as a template when interpreting the “Chanson de Roland’s” characterization of the Saracens. I believe that we can say that the Christian eschatology or theologomachia evidenced in the "Chanson de Roland" was facilitated by just such a philosophical edifice, since the struggle against the Saracens can be viewed as a struggle against the material world, and the subjectivizing process that leads the Christian to God can be thought of as a manner of exiting the phenomenal cave (where men are fascinated by the forms of materiality) by entering the light of Truth. The originality of the poem’s use of light and darkness resides in its effort to demonstrate that these two principles, these two elements are continuously at war. As such, the poem is making a philosophical argument when Christian manhood is encouraged to leave the realm of the senses and materiality, in order to join the realm of the Ideas 280 (God in the Christian paradigm), since such a journeying suggests that, in the philosophical world as well as in its Christian inheritor, there can be no dialectical conciliation between these two standpoints.

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movements/oppositions are crucial distinctions in the "Chanson de Roland" where Christian heroes exit the phenomenal world and enter the noumenal paradise, whereas Saracen warriors remain mired in the shifting world of the senses.

The Christian world presented in the poem, shirking any dialectical conciliation with the world of darkness, does not allow for any admixture between good and evil as correlates of Truth and falsity. Participation in Truth allows for a continuity of the subjective, for integration into the eternal/universal. Once again, the poem can be said to have Augustinian-Platonic echoes.

When Plato strove to furnish a degree of proof for the immortality of the soul, he did not hesitate “And the soul is like the eye: when resting upon that which truth and being shine, the soul perceives and understands, and is radiant with intelligence; but when turned towards the twilight of becoming and perishing, then she has opinion only, and goes blinking about, and is first of one opinion and then of another”. Plato, ‘The Republic’ in Plato: Apology, Crito,Phaedo, Symposium, Republic. Translated by B. Jowett, edited with an introduction by Louise Ropes Loomis, The Classics Club, Roslyn New York, 1942, p. 396.

to remind the reader that decisions taken in the here-and-now will have eternal consequences.

What will happen to the soul, after death, is bound up with those decisions, beliefs, and actions that have been made during the course of a lifetime. In the Platonic world, the Agent (God) of the cosmos, much like his Christian counterpart, is fully cognizant of the works and deeds of each individual soul. It is therefore incumbent upon every soul to contribute most to the defeat of evil and the triumph of goodness/truth. Each soul must strive towards goodness in order to

avoid the pitfalls of eternal damnation (or damned reincarnation). As Plato remarked:

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become worse you shall go to the worse souls or if better to the better, and in every succession of life and death you will do and suffer what like may fitly suffer at the hands of like. This is the justice of heaven, which neither you nor any unfortunate will ever glory in escaping, and which the ordaining powers have specially ordained; take good heed thereof, for it will be sure to take heed of you. … this is also the explanation of the fate of those whom you saw, who had done unholy and evil deeds, and from small beginnings had grown great; and you fancied that from being miserable they had become

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