While writing my paper analyzing Bisclavret, among other texts, I found an article that brought up some interesting thoughts about the symbolism of the removal of his clothing by his wife:
Premodern English society was based on a courtly system where the King reigned, Queen on arm, followed and supported by a tightly-knit group of knights who were completely devoted to him. These knights bore his insignia and fought his battles in return for land, money, and other bounty that was given in a gift-economy as a reward for their loyalty. In Bisclavret,the removal of this clothes does not only force him into his animal form, it removes his human form and this his insignia, identity, and ability to bear arms in honor of his King. Because he is unable to perform his knightly duties, his animal existence then becomes shameful because he is forced to be absent from the court for an entire year.
However, he is able to gain some of his pride back as he is able to show the king by licking his boots that he is in servitude to him and therefore has a rational mind. He then becomes the King’s loyal companion, accompanying him everywhere, able to protect him as he would in his human form.
When the wiseman realizes that Bisclavret must have attacked his wife for a reason and her torture leads to her admittance that she took Bisclavret’s clothes and the wolf before them is in fact him, he is given back his clothes. This return of the clothing allows him to return to his human form but he will not put them on. The wiseman, ever wise, suggests that he to do so in front of the king would be shameful. There are two possible reasons that he will not put on the clothes in front of the King and the court. The first is that by doing so he proves that he is in fact a hybrid and the removal of his clothes will turn him back into an animal, thus making him vulnerable again in the same way that he foolishly did to his wife by telling her his secret. The second, is that because he has been so shamed in the year that he was unable to fulfill his role as a knight that he fears returning to his human form where he can be blamed for his absence.
This idea ties the clothes together with humanity and the insignia that ties the knight to the king, all of which would function well in an object oriented approach.
When we were told that we would be able to demonstrate what we learned throughout the semester in the form of a creative project, I was excited because the material we have been dealing with is so hard to contain on a sheet of paper. Though it took a little while to pin down exactly what we wanted to do, because the choices were practically unlimited, it was so fun working with my group to try to portray Bennett’s ideas of edible matter and agency through a medieval-themed cooking show. It was also so interesting, surprising (in a good way!), and enlightening, to see how the other students in the class dealt with the concepts we’ve talked about this semester. It really made it clear that traces of these theories can be found pretty much everywhere from Lady Gaga to pecan pies.
A lot of people dealt with similar concepts as my group did, dealing with assemblages and how individual parts come together to create a whole action or ‘thing’: Thomas’ kinexs (sorry if I spelled this wrong Thomas!), our pottage, Austin’s writing process etc. Some of the projects that interested me the most in a “wow I never would have thought of that!” sort of way was Autumn’s re-naming of the lais and Victor’s Lady Gaga presentation. Not only were Autumn’s books beautiful but they really made you think about how the lais we read would have been greatly altered if their object of focus was not human action but some of the actants we talked about. For example, In Guigemar, if the hermaphroditic deer was the center of the story, the story would end when she/he died. We would never know or really care what happened to Guigemar except that he was cursed for killing this deer. Also I felt so much more for the poor nightengale who was so wrongly killed and never wanted to be involved in these neighbors love affair when Autumn put it in her new lais perspective.
When Victor got up to present and Lady Gaga came on the screen I thought, “Ok, how on earth is he going to make this work?” and he did! So well too! I can completely see how Lady Gaga has removed her human identity from herself and taken on so many different personas and even objects to make a cultural, political, or environmental point. She was a great example of how a person can un-objectify herself and, to use Jane Bennett’s description, shimmy back and forth between object and thing.
Basically, good job everyone! I very much enjoyed listening to/painting/eating/watching your presentations!
My essay, “Debunking Traditional Chivalric Acts in the Medieval Court’s of Bisclavret and The Greene Knight”, in response to prompt A will use Brown’s “Thing Theory” along with some of Jane Bennett’s ideas about Thing-power and assemblages found in the first two chapters of Vibrant Matter to conclude what the untraditional examples of a challenge, mercy, shame, and violence found in Bisclavret and The Greene Knight say about the act itself and the ones performing it. I intend to investigate each act separately and make individual conclusions about the thingness of each and how it reflects on the protagonist. Both lais are medieval texts whose knightly protagonists must overcome the traditional knightly tests of allegiance to the king, keeping one’s word, mercy, and honor. In both Bisclavret and The Greene Knight, the knights either act in a way that is untraditional in the courtly practice of knighthood. I intend use two of Bill Brown’s key ideas in his theory to challenge the conventional modes of chivalry addressed in many of the critical literary texts I read. Continue reading
As we saw in Laustic, the nightingale was a subject of misplaced agency, a songbird that bore the weight of an unfaithful marriage and was thus destroyed though it had never involved itself. In Laustic the bird, which at the wife quickly thought up as an excuse for why she got up from her bed at night, winds up being a token of love that the wife sends her love across the wall once it has been killed and she no longer has an excuse to come to the window at night. Her love builds this dead bird an ornate box and carries it around with him for the rest of his days. This love, one that is prohibited by a small wall between two houses, seems so ridiculous that it is really quite sad for this bird to be sacrificed for their deception. Their love never meant much so the fact that the man carries around this dead bird for the rest of his days, which was never supposed to represent their love in the first place, is quite absurd.
We seem the same thing in Equitain, where their love and the fall of their love seems quite ridiculous. From the start, their love is invalidated by the fact that the King gets around frequently and never settles down. However, he seems very sincere when he confesses his love to her but as soon as she starts to get jealous of his possible marriage to another woman, they instantly decide to kill her husband…with boiling water. Boiling water? Really? Before the king and her husband are about to bleed and bathe together, the husband goes outside and the king and the wife just can’t keep their hands off each other. The husband busts in, catches them, and in a fit of fright (not very Kingly) the king jumps into the scalding bath and dies. The husband proceeds to plunge the wife’s head under water killing her too. This is another lai where everything seems like a trick in the end. The emotions, love, and devotion that we at first believed in all crumbled and their ridiculous plan backfired on them killing them both. Essentially, it seemed as though Laustic and Equitain were poems that presented false agency and then left the reader with nothing at the end.
In this class we have learned much about mideval society, honorable knighthood, King-knight relationships and agreements, and courtly love. In almost every lai that we have read in this class the story concludes with the knight overcoming his barrier, and riding off into the sunset with his damsel. However, in Eliduc, the lai’s happy ending is one we have never seen before, devotion to God. From the time we meet Eliduc’s wife, she is a role model character, never demanding his devotion, being concerned about her husband’s sadness, assuming the best of him but not being ignorant, wishing the best for her husband and his new love, knowing to imitate the weasel to revive the girl, and finally: honorably bowing out and leaving the system of the knight/King/courtly world and joining the church.
Then, surprisingly I thought, shortly after their happy marriage Eliduc founds a church, sends his wife away to the convent his wife joined to become a nun, and finally finds “true love”. Could it be that this is the best possible ending to Marie? That the rest of the victorious knights we have read were too nearsighted to see this spiritual possibility? The wife is one of the most noble, respectable characters we have met in Marie and in this way I think that she shows us that devoting oneself to God and finding a holy love was the most honorable thing a person could do in that time.
During class yesterday, one of the things that we never exactly reached a conclusion on was the question of weather these knights who are turned into wolves prefer to be in their human form or if they prefer their animal form. Using werewolf associations that we are familiar with today, we jump to the conclusion that these knights goal once their wives have entrapped them into wolf-dom one way or another is to become a man again as quickly as possible. However, we see these werewolves quite content as being in animal form. Before they were stuck as animals, their transformations were not a painful, uncontrollable, violent danger but a three day play time in the woods, frolicking about without having to deal with human burdens and their wives. Their new allegiance is formed when they see their King and make clear their subservience, becoming incredibly close and loving with the King in a master-servant type relationship.
This leads me to the other point we spoke about in class that these lais might be insinuating that a homosocial environment is superior to a heterosocial one. These men seem the most happy when they are in their animal form and their devotion lies only with the King and they have no wife or courting to be bothered with. The relationship between the King and the werewolfs is the same as a King and his most devoted knight.
This all makes sense except that in Melion, he wants to turn his wife into a wolf as a form of punishment when her father gives her over to be punished any which way he pleases. This is the one part that seemed to upset the reasoning that these lais are promoting a homosocial environment free of women and the believed folly that comes with them. If Melion loved being a wolf, why would he want to demand that the wife that betrayed him is forced to live a life that he found so simply pleasureful?
Marion’s post about fortune cookies reminded me of a thought I had the last time few times I read my horoscope. Whenever I read my horoscope it always seems to be spot on or completely off the mark, never anywhere in between. Of course when everything it says seems to apply directly to me, I find everyone I can to read it aloud to so everyone can remark “wow! that’s so true about you!” and I usually try to make an effort to ingrain the advice it gave me so knowingly about my life into my brain to use to tackle my current debacles. However, when I read my horoscope and it seems to have nothing to do with me, I instantly write it off and think something along the lines of, “these stupid things are nonsense. I mean please, I wonder whose job it is to think up these ridiculous things.”
This reminded me of when we talked about how we only recognize an object’s ‘thing-ness’ when it doesn’t perform the way we expect it to. I find it interesting that humans, such as myself, can take a 100 word explanation and suggestion about their deepest secrets, thoughts, and feelings so much to heart if an assemblage happens to line up on the day. But when something doesn’t seem to fit, we write it off as something silly, seeing the horoscope for what it is, a made up prophecy written by someone somewhere who knows nothing about us as individuals and has probably only studied the characteristics of each sign.
To this day, I have been terrified to go to a psychic because of how real my few friends’ who have gone say it is. A psychic seems a lot harder to write off than a measly horoscope. It is interesting to think how the agency of a living person in front of you telling you things about your life has less agency than a piece of paper doing the same thing, even if both are equally accurate or equally inaccurate. I know we have spent the semester considering that all ‘things’ have equal agency but in this case it would seem that the human would exert more agency than the paper. But then again, that is because we, as humans, have whole assemblages associated with psychics telling the future rather than horoscopes which seem to verify that a psychic would have training or special powers or at least deal with you in person…
When we went around in class yesterday, I was very glad and interested that the topic of religion came up. Since reading Jane Bennett’s prologue to Vibrant Matter, I was struck by the way she spoke about her theory in an almost religious-like manner. The basic foundation for vibrant materialism is that we, humans, are not the most important and that instead of the world revolving around us it revolves around all things that are equal and constantly interacting and having agency in combination with other things. In acquiring this knowledge, Bennett expects us to give respect to everything as the way we would respect another human. This particular passage stuck me most:
“the image of dead or thourougly instrumentalized matter feeds human hubris and our earth-destroying fantasies of conquest and consumption. It does so by preventing us from detecting (seeing, hearing, smelling, testing, feeling) a fuller range of nonhuman powers circulating around and within human bodies. These matierial powers, which can aid or destroy, enrich or disable, ennoble or degrade us, in any case call for our attentiveness, or even respect” (ix).
This idea reminded me very much of what I little I know about Buddhism (which Samuel affirmed for me in class yesterday) and what my yoga teachers are constantly preaching. That to be a real yogi, one must come to regard every thing that they come in contact with with equal respect, that men and women are no better than a rock and have no bigger purpose in the world. Besides using this idea to dissect agency in literature, I think it is a very revolutionary and beneficial way of looking at life. If everyone in the world thought this way there would not be holocausts and wars because people would respect the purpose of everybody, every piece of land, every piece of gold, and let it be what it is instead of trying to possess it. On a smaller scale, it is much easier to find peace with the world if you have this mentality. It goes along the “everything-happens-for-a-reason-idea”. Anyway, I am glad that someone brought up looking at these theories in connection (or in opposition) with religion and I am interested in looking more closely at the possibility it brings up.
As we’ve been talking about assemblages in class, the whole concept seems a little vague to me. I think I understand, and correct me if I’m wrong here, that an assemblage is all the actants that combine one way or another to make something happen, to put it loosely. We looked at Guigemar and the events and actants that led up to his injury: his desire to hunt, his huntsmen, his arrow, his horse, the fact that the deer ran out at that precise moment, the strange female yet male quality of the deer, the deer’s curse etc. I understand this but it seems as though infinite things combine to produce one action or event. The list could go on infinitely to sum up the parts that got Guigemar wounded: that specific day, the strength he used to shoot the arrow, the horse’s speed, the deers speed, etc etc.
It would seem that then everything existing is part of an assemblage or the effect of an assemblage and it would be impossible to try to pinpoint all the parts of an assemblage because there are really infinite. I mean no offense to Jane Bennett but I just really don’t understand how realizing that each action, event etc is made up of many causes is beneficial except for simply recognizing that everything is made up of so many other parts so appreciation, blame, confusion, etc can be dispersed instead of centered on one, not entirely at fault being.
I guess what I am getting at is how looking at assemblages will helpful in studying pre-1700 texts besides what I just mentioned?
As I am doing a closer reading of Jane Bennett for an essay proposal, the supposed activeness of ‘things’ that are not necessarily objects has led me to conclude that if the characters in Le Fresne valued all ‘things’ as much as “thing-power’ theory does, there would have never been any doubt that Fresne was a noble match for Gurun. In Le Fresne, her nobility is finally asserted by her mothers recognition of her identity through the presence of the ring and the fine fabric, both literal representations of wealth and noble blood. However, if Gurun and his lords placed equal value on behavior as they did on objects, Le Fresne would have proven herself from the start.
Her value is apparent: “There wasn’t one, big or little, who didn’t love her for her noble character, and honor her well.” (310-313). But instead of ultimately being associated with the nobility that she emanates she is instead associated with the literal place from where she came, a barren Ash tree. This is ironic because as we have seen, nobility does not always act nobly but those who act nobly should be valued and honored for that alone. Gurun should have placed more respect in the ‘thing’ that was her virtue, devotion, and respectability, not her lack of proof in the form of an object or title of being noble.