Review of Week 12 and Preview of Week 13
Review by Marion Ayer
On Monday we began with a discussion of Emare. We decided that the ship in Emare seemed very similar to the ship that moved the plot along in Guigemar, but also that the ships were more than plot carriers and had real purposes within the text. We then had an extensive discussion of the robe, and highlighted its importance considering how long its description is. Each corner of the robe contains s scene of lovers that is embroidered with diamonds. The scenes are depicted and described as similar even though there are major differences in their stories.
After this our discussion shifted to Emare’s character. The most notable part of our discussion was the point that Emare’s womanly manners were different than the manners in other texts that we’ve read because hers involves training and learning, and they are practiced. In other texts, proper womanly manners seems to come naturally as a result of being born noble, but here it is different.
The rest of our discussion seemed to focus on the agency of the robe. The robe is very powerful and has a certain aesthetic beauty. Austin suggested that it may be cursed because trouble seems to follow it everywhere that it goes. The King immediately falls in love with her when he sees it, and it causes her father to act incestuously. We concluded that the robe causes people to act uncharacteristically, but especially the father and the king’s mother who believes she is a supernatural demon. Although the king’s immediate love for Emare would be somewhat uncharacteristic, it’s different that the father’s because he stays with her and it establishes a positive union.
We ended our discussion of Emare by noting that the objects in the story seem to create most of the problems. The most important example here, and most obvious, was the robe, which makes Emare seem inhuman and otherworldly causing people to respond, “appropriately, even if their behavior isn’t appropriate.”
For the rest of class we discussed Latour, beginning by summarizing that his purpose is to look at the process of the creation of power rather than the product. We said that power is not an entity to be distributed, but it is created during a process and that if you see power as something that just exists you are misunderstanding it and avoiding how it is created. At the end of class, Dr. Seaman encouraged us to not to think of humans as objects only when they are passive, and to try not to look at the obvious moments to find things, assemblages, and humans that we can see as having agency.
Wednesday we began with a discussion of Laustic, noting that the knight who loved his neighbors wife is “good,” but his is not the normal list of incredible traits that we usually get about knights, and the only reason that his neighbor’s wife knows he is good is because he literally lives across the wall, so his reputation did not have to travel far. The poem just mentions a wall that separates them, but fails to mention marriage as a boundary between them. Their possessions are exchanges through “tossing and throwing” rather than through something beautiful like a messenger swan. We noted that the lines “Each took pleasure in the other’s sight/ since they could have nothing more” meant that their love was purely bodily and physical, unlike courtly and transcendent love that we are used to in medieval lais.
Our discussion ended with Dr. Seaman asking how the story would change is it ended after line 119, just after the husband kills the nightingale. We thought that this would make it more of a tragic love story, making us more sympathetic for them and the bird. You would probably think that by wanting the bird she was feeling bad for it, but the bird just turns into a message with empty symbolism. The nightingale is much more beautiful than their love, but it misrepresents them and becomes whatever they want it to be.
Our discussion of Milun began with us listing key participants in the assemblage. The participants were: the ring, the swan, the baron, letters carried by the swan, letter for the child, messenger, aunt, porter, nurse, chamberlains, husband, secrecy, reputation (which sometimes works as a story), honor/chivalry, communication, ingenuity, death, and love.
We discussed the plot, how no one can beat Milun in jousting, resulting in his reputation spreading to his future lover, who he gets pregnant and they hide the pregnancy and send the child off to be raised by her sister. We could not figure out why they didn’t just get married, considering there were no obstacles in there way like in Laustic. Dr. Seaman noted how the actors in the assemblage seemed to be working in love’s favor. For example, the Porter is helpful in allowing the message to get to her lover. Someone also raised the point that instead of producing a dead bird, they produce a great Knight and in the end everything, once again, works in love’s favor.
Our class ended with a discussion of Eliduc, and Dr. Seaman encouraged us to not read the story through the plot or protagonists. We agreed that Eliduc was an odd knight for a number of reasons. He kills the sailor, one of his own men, he is unfaithful to his wife, and he becomes a monk at the end. Also, throughout the story he seems to just be traveling around not fully committing himself to anything. We decided that this could possibly mean that the system of chivalry depends on oaths without acknowledging that oaths can lead to conflict.
The bulk of the rest of our discussion revolved around Eliduc’s first wife, and how she seemed to be a depiction of completely selfless love. She does not focus on the breaking of the oath that her husband gave her. She understands that love is a concept much beyond the bounds of an oath.
“A boot he fond by the brym,
And a glistening thing theyrn,
Therof they hadde ferly.” (Lines 349-51)
These lines are ambiguous because it is not certain what was glistening. Is it her or the robe?
“Myghth y onus gete lond,
Of the watur that ys so stronge,
By northe or by sowthe,
Wele owth y to warye the, see,
I have myche shame yn the!” (Lines 664-68)
She blames no humans, but then blames the sea
“To state that domination breaks down bodies and souls is one thing whereas concluding that these hierarchies, dissymmetry, inertia, powers, and cruelties are made of social stuff is a different argument altogether” (64).
Power is not an entity that is distributed; it is created during a process.
Latour makes a series of five points on pages 80-82 under the section, “A list of situations where an object’s activity is made easily visible.” This passage is much too long to type, but bear in mind that we discussed the first four of these points in class and they are all crucial to his argument.
“there was no barrier or boundary
except a high wall of dark stone” (Lines37-8).
“and they could exchange their possessions,
by tossing and throwing them” (Lines 43-4).
“Each took pleasure in the other’s sight
since they could have nothing more” (Lines 77-78).
“She asked her lord for the bird
but he killed it out of spite,
he broke its neck in his hands-
too vicious of an act-
and threw the body on the lady;
her shift was stained with blood,
a little, on her breast.” (Lines 113-19)
“Milun came to a decision:
he would quickly cross the sea
and joust with this knight,
in order to do some harm to him and his reputation.
Anger spurred him on
To try to unhorse the knight-
That would put him to shame!
Then he would go look for his son
Who had left the country;
Milun did not know what had become of him” (Lines 351-61).
“But envy of his success,
which often happens among people,
caused trouble between him and his lord.
He was slandered and accused
Until the lord sent him away from his court
without a formal accusation.
Eludic did not know why.
He asked the king many times
To listen to his defense,
Not to believe the slander,
For he’s always served the king willingly;
But the king would not respond.
Since he would hear none of it,
Eliduc had to leave” (Lines 41-54).
“Love sent her a message,
commanding her to love him,
that made her go pale and sigh
but she didn’t
want to speak of it
in case he might hold it against her” (Lines 304-308).
“”Lovely one,” the lady awnsered,
“there is no living thing in all the world
that can give him joy;
I can assure you of that.
He thinks that you are dead
And is quite disconsolate”” (Lines 1085-90).
Supermarket metaphor- “we would call ‘social’ not any specific shelf or aisle, but the multiple modifications made throughout the whole place in the organization of all the goods- their packaging, their pricing, their labeling- because those minute shifts reveal to the observer which new combinations are explored and which paths will be taken (what will later be defined as a ‘network’) (Latour, 65).
Preview of Week 13 (by Dr. Seaman)
This coming week holds two beautiful and unusual Middle English romances: Sir Orfeo and Sir Gowther. The first of these is an adaptation of Ovid’s story of Orpheus and Eurydice from the Metamorphosis. Note that here, there is no metamorphosis. I encourage you to read before class a brief summary of Ovid’s narrative, so that you can consider how this poem contrasts to that and what seems to hold most promise, in the original story, to the Orfeo-poet. I will want to talk especially about how things seem in the Fairy world, and about how Orfeo spends his time while his wife is away. Wednesday’s discussion of Sir Gowther is sure to be interesting–which means I encourage you to find some time away from your Annotated Bibliography (due Tuesday night at 11) to read the poem sufficiently before class. Here we have demonic paternity, to set alongside the fairy paternity of Sir Degare. (Special note: It might help to read a plot summary of both of these poems–since both are in Middle English–on Wikipedia before [and not instead of] starting the Middle English; that might well make your experience of reading it in the original go more smoothly.)