“Medieval Things” (Robertson) / The Franklin’s Tale [T Oct 7]

“Post-Enlightenment common sense encourages us to view things as inert, mute witnesses to the life of active agents, to train our attention on the human subjects who look at, move around, and organize nonhuman things. Premodern things have no such reticence and premodern subjects are often shown to be at the mercy of ‘their’ things. “

How would you consider the relationships between the actants in the assemblages in “The Franklin’s Tale” if you were to read the tale from a Post-Enlightenment perspective? How would you consider these relationships from the perspective of Robertson (and her view on Pre-Modern objects)? How would these two readings differ?


4 thoughts on ““Medieval Things” (Robertson) / The Franklin’s Tale [T Oct 7]

  1. Kellie Robertson claims that “Post-Enlightenment common sense encourages
    us to view things as inert, mute witnesses to the life of active agents, to
    train our attention on the human subjects who look at, move around, and
    organize nonhuman things.” (p. 1063) Robertson herself, on the other hand, tends to focus on the relationship between the human psyche and objects- how objects influence human thought. When approaching “The Franklin’s Tale” from a Post-Enlightenment perspective, objects such as the scientist’s astrological equipment would become simple tools for achieving the illusion that the rocks had gone. Robertson would likely point to how these very tools could have been what influenced Aurelius and his brother into considering the illusion idea in the first place.

  2. Viewing The Franklin’s Tale from a post-Enlightenment perspective, the human actants within the assemblage are given a higher status, more thing-power, than the non-human actants. As Robertson states, “the categories of the ‘human’ and the ‘non-human’ are both similarly subject to construction, despite the fact that, since at least the seventeenth century, they have been consistently made to appear natural” (1063). The post-Enlightenment thinking encouraged the distancing between human and non-human actants; it places human actants in a superior position in relation to non-human actants. For instance, a post-Enlightenment reading of The Franklin’s Tale would note “alle the rokkes, stoon by stoon” (line 993), which Dorigen requests Aurelius remove in order to win her, as just a tool in which Dorigen uses. They have no agency or power in the situation and are just a bargaining chip, so to speak. On the other hand, Robertson describes the premodern thing as “a given object [that] obtains a quasi-spiritual power that binds receiver and the giver together; the gift’s power is an example of how ostensibly inanimate things can constitute human communities, blurring the strict line between human and thing” (1064). The premodern reading of The Franklin’s Tale would see the rocks as having a larger role in the conflict of the story. From this perspective the rocks both hold the power of keeping Dorigen true to her husband (in that she sees it as an impossible task) and also hold the power to obtaining Dorigen in Aurelius’ view. What happens with the rocks, what the rock as an actant does, deeply affects the story, from a premodern perspective in contrast to the post-Enlightenment view.

  3. Dorigen feels that the rocks have too much power because they “an hundred thousand bodyes of mankynde/ Han rokkes slayn” (877-8). She attributes this power to the will of God and so prays that Arveragus might not be killed by the rocks. Arveragus has of course acted as an agent in putting himself in the way of such danger, but once he is on the water it is the rocks which have the power. The rocks are interpreted by Dorigen as actively slaying men. They are not simply passive things, but malignant actants. This is why they must be removed (in Dorigen’s view) because men cannot actively withstand the power of the rocks. A post-enlightenment perspective would discount Dorigen’s view that the rocks can actively slay men and say that instead men slay themselves through poor navigation. Magic cannot remove them though, the magician can only “maken illusion” by means of astrology that “every wight sholde wene’ and seye/ that of Britaigne the rokkes were awaye” (1264-1270). The magican can only influence the human perspective on the rocks, not the rocks themselves.

  4. I feel like the Post-Enlightenment view on objects is that they are completely subject to the whims and influnces of human and being extentions of humans. But it’s in the Franklin’s tale that the rocks play a huge role, mainly through their assemblage and as actants to keep Dorigen and Aurelius seperate. But largely, the rocks are the witnesses to the story.

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