Review of Week 6 (by Erin Murray)
Monday, September 26, we began class with a recap of what we thought were characteristics of the Lais we’ve read so far. We collectively agreed that they typically exhibit:
1) Some type of Romance -Courtship, adventure, knights, courtly love [ideal that inspires action that is considered socially beneficial], basic narrative, poetic rhyme patterns)
2) An element of the marvelous – An otherworldly/outside the human world presence, sometimes divine, but not always. Ex: The fairy in Sir Degare, the hermaphroditic deer, the boat and the knot in Guigemar, and the cherries in Sir Cleges. The marvelous seems to be just across a border of where the lines of human and other world is blurred and there is little-no concern for realism.
3) A claim to past oral roots (“these used to be sung”)
4) A Brittany/Breton source (Marie claims this even though she’s writing in England) – distant Celtic past.
5) A typically short length and quite focused, much like a short story. A clear storyline, without a lot of asides, with the exception of Sir Lanfaul.
6) An element of restricted love that is confined due to rules or limitations, secrecy/adultery. Love for love’s sake, not for marriage’s sake. The woman is typically married to someone who is fundamentally inappropriate (i.e. locked her away in a tower).
7) A happy ending – reunions of families after a disruption of family sometimes due to abandonment.
We then moved on to discuss Sir Degare in more detail. We talked about the way knighthood was depicted differently in this story than the others we have read so far. It was very much about physical prowess instead of personal characteristics. Instead of being about greatness with the ladies, it was about being a good warrior. This tradition was presented at the beginning of the story when her father sets out physical challenges that will result in the reward of his daughter’s hand in marriage. He is indiscriminate about who will get her, as long as they can win. This suggests that physical valor is indicative of a knightly/noble character. You’re strong/you win = you must be noble.
Degare’s father is a fairy-knight, thus enters an element of the marvelous. We pondered the question: Is his (the fairy knight’s) knighthood in line with Degare’s and his Grandfather’s idea of knighthood, or is he different? His knighthood is superior, but because Degare is his son, he doesn’t get killed. We also talked about the tension that is created by this “virgin” pregnancy. The daughter abandons Degare because she doesn’t want anyone to think it was her father’s child. This is a result of the tension that existed because of the absence of HER mother. This creates an imbalance and social limits disappear. Although she abandons Degare, she still takes care of him through tokens which echoes the honoring of family that she exhibits before the conception. She was on her way to honor her mother’s death when she encounters fairy knight.
There is a lot of marvelous in this story (dragon, fairy) with no concern for realism. The rapist fairy is not punished, and once the family (mother, son, fairy) is reunited all is well. There is no atonement, no recognition of trespass (unlike in Le Fresne). Everything is wrapped up and resolved. Having the answer is what matters. What one needs is knowledge of background to feel reconciled. This tale is much more difficult to interpret in terms of what values are being represented (i.e. rape), partly because of the fairy element. Non-human is pondered in this story, comfort within the poem of distinctions of who must answer for actions (if he was a human he couldn’t get away with that).
We then moved on to discuss Lanval and Sir Lanfaul which are much more distinct in their versions than previous stories we’ve read.
In Lanval, the whole poem is about honor, treating others appropriately, and acting nobly. It reveals the inherent difficulties in a courtly system. People are being subtly ignoble (envy, overlooking, boasting). The problems begin when Arthur overlooks Lanval in gift-giving and there exists jealousy among the knights. Things are clearly out of balance from the beginning. Lanval leaves to be alone in his sadness, and was approached by the women carrying a basin and a towel who lead him to the pavilion that holds his soon to be fairy lover. Her “otherness” is emphasized by the extreme wealth and luxuriousness that the fairy possesses. It is described as being impossible for any queen or king to possess even a fraction of her wealth. Lanval’s love is bound by the secrecy he has promised to honor. A betrayal occurs during the conflict with Guinevere. Conflict with Guinevere. She propositions him, but turns her down. When she accuses him of liking men since he will not be with her, he gets angry and boasts about the beauty of his love. With this boast, he betrays both king and queen (he should honor his king by being respectful to his queen) and his lover.
We then moved on to discuss Sir Launfal in which Launfal is rewarded for his extreme generosity with the position of steward of the king, a very highly esteemed position (similar to a chief of staff). In this story, it is suggested that if someone is not generous, they are too weak of character to be generous. In this poem, it is Gwennere that is the start of the problems. Lanfaul’s dislike for her is in the interest of the King. SHE is the one who overlooks Lanfaul at gift-giving time, not Arthur. Gwennere is the root of the problem. After leaving and falling into poverty, Arthur’s nephews (who were ordered to accompany him) promise not to reveal Launfal’s secret poverty. He is reduced completely to the lowest point possible so we can see him pulled up out of it by his fairy lover. The lesson here seems to be that even if you are reduced through no fault of your own, you can be pulled back through materials. There is a more tangibility here in terms of the gifts he is given, for example a purse with endless money as opposed to a more abstract endless wealth in Lanval. He is given very specific things with lots of detail exhibiting an obsession with making it very material. People like him once he is wealthy whereas they did not have time for him before. Wealth is so present but intangible in Marie’s version, but in this English version, it’s very tangible. The fairy lover is even given a history and a name, she’s very humanized. Grappling with fairy/material trying to translate abstract fairiness into human terms.
We began class on Wednesday by discussing the objects and networks of gifts and fairies/fairiness at work in these poems and how they might be doing things differently.
1)Gifts – There was an absence of gifts from Arthur, but present from lady(clothes, purse, dwarf, horse, armor, fake friends). These work sort of like tokens. The absence of gifts sort of starts narrative trouble and puts him in place to appreciate the gift economy offered by the fairy. Gift economy as a network as we know it – creates/affirms a bond through exchange of material objects that in some way represent the esteem/value being shown to the recipient. In Lanval, the King is the one that distributes the gifts and forgets, so it is more significant that Lanval is left out. In Launfal, it is Gwen that leaves him out which causes him to think he has to leave. He thinks the bond of knighthood is severed due to lack of act of gift giving. When Arthur forgets him, it is an overt dismissal/disregarding of Lanval’s contribution to the network. When the objects are read through the symbolic exchange, they are very significant. When the fairy gives gifts, she’s filling both a symbolic and literal gap. He can no longer count on Arthur to provide him with knightly necessities, so there she is. She is both inside and outside of the human system, but she gives him things that Arthur never could. Similar to Degare’s Fairy Knight’s superior power. The fairy lover is described as mythic from the get go because of the excess of her material goods, too much to be possible. Her extreme and endless wealth (and beauty) seems to reaffirm her fairy status. Without the objects, she would seem to be just another person. Through the impossibility of her wealth, we see that she is not human, without this she would not stand out.
2)Fairy/fairiness- The fairy lover is constantly represented by extreme wealth and luxury, beauty, and body. Power is gendered in this story and Degare. The fairy knight in Degare is powerful because of his strength, the fairy lover is powerful because of her beauty and wealth. Her beauty has a final significance. Everything rests on her to appear and show her proof (her body and beauty). When she is first described, she is described in terms of flowers, her beauty is grounded in earthly terms. Her beauty description begins with the color of her face, but then it moves into her stuff, even her horse. Then, Launfal recognizes her. The assemblage here is depicted in a way that suggests she needs all of those parts to create who she is. The knight requires his objects to be a knight. His objects often define them. In Sir Lanfaul, he has to borrow a horse from the mayor’s daughter. He is on a borrowed horse because he doesn’t have one. Then he is thrown into the mud, left humiliated. After this, when he is resting he is approached by the representative of the fairy. It is pointed out that he is not as he was at all. Launfal’s new identity is his poverty; it is presented very specifically through his lack of things. Even his spiritual existence is impacted by the poverty as he no longer even attends mass because he has nothing to wear. There is a hyper-materialism in Launfal emphasized by the endless listing of objects.
We also discussed that although objects often have agency through symbolism, it is also often that the foundation can be found in these same objects. Their significance is not quite as controlled as we might assume. Wealth/power of the fairy is out of balance, and points out the human limitations of human society.
We are always working in a fundamentally symbolic framework. It is possible to find new meaning through looking more intently at objects instead of just their symbolism, although you do have to acknowledge that they exist in a framework where they have significance through symbolism.
3)Secrecy- The absence of secrecy causes much of his trouble. It is required, but it makes possible betrayal. Gwen’s lie is secret until it is revealed through the fairy’s perfect body.
We then moved on to discuss “How to Resume the Task of Tracing Associations” in which we start looking at sociology through a different perspective. He wants to return to an earlier view, kind of a conservative/challenging move to go back to the roots where we can find what works. There is an emphasis on networks, especially actor-network theory. The social comes into play here by “redefine the notion of social by going back to its original meaning and making it able to trace connections again” (page 1). What does it mean to trace? Track/describe instead of creating which puts us in a passive position, discouraging a control of the object. There is too much of an attempt to control by knowing.
We then looked at many different quotes that are key points in understanding the work (found in the Worthwhile Quotes section).
We have really been talking about objects even though Bennett wants us to flatten the hierarchy; we still have been separating the human from non-human. We have not really been doing the network.
“If he can produce proof; / if his love would come forward, / if what he said, / what upset the queen, is true, / then he will be acquitted.” (Lines 451-455) – Telling the truth, justice being determined is important.
“’By my faith,’ he said, ‘that is my love. / Now I don’t care if I am killed, / if only she forgives me. / For I am restored, now that I see her.’” (Lines 597-600) – When she finally does appear, he is slow to respond about it saving his life, he is just happy to see her. He only cares if she forgives him, not the humans.
“When they had looked at her well, / when they had greatly praised her beauty” (Lines 611-612).
“the queen was in the wrong. / He never made advances to her.” (Lines 620-621) Lanval’s lover tells Arthur that Lanval did not come on to Guinevere, and that is taken as truth.
“To the last man they agreed / that Lanval had successfully answered the charge.” (627-628) Since the body of his beloved reveals the truth, all is the truth.
“As rose on rys her rode was red;
The her schon upon her hed
As gold wyre that schynyth bryght;
Sche hadde a crounne upon her molde
Of ryche stones, and of golde,
That lofsom lemede lyght.
The lady was clad yn purpere palle,
Wyth gentyll body and myddyll small,
That semely was of syght;
Her matyll was furryd wyth whyt ermyn,
Yreversyd jolyf and fyn -
No rychere be ne myght.” (Line 938-949)
Introduction: “How to Resume the Task of Tracing Associations”
“What I want to do is to redefine the notion of social by going back to its original meaning and making it able to trace connections again” (Page 1).
“The social sciences have disseminated their definition of society as effectively as electric companies deliver electricity and telephone services” (Page 4)
“They have to be actors not simply the hapless bearers of symbolic projection” (Page 10). – What we say they mean goes, but actors are not just what we make them out to be. They are participants in this network. The connections can be social even if there are nonhumans involved.
Octosyllabic couplets – Paired lines of eight syllables each that rhyme with each other.
Largesse – Extreme generosity
Marvelous – Element of other-worldliness, outside of the human element
Preview of Week 7 (by Dr. Seaman)
This week we will spend a couple of days with Jane Bennett and will return to Guigemar to see how our reception of the poem might have changed since our first encounter back in the second week of class prior to our reading of any thing theory or object-oriented ontology.
Monday I will publish the midterm preparation guide for the midterm exam, which will be taken via OAKS on Monday, October 10, 5:30-6:45. We will discuss that briefly together in class Monday and then turn to Vibrant Matter chapter 2,” The Agency of Assemblages.” I’ve been expressing concern of late that we need to be orienting ourselves more directly to the Network central to ANT, having focused on actants, on the object itself. But of course we have, because Bennett hasn’t yet guided us to the next way of conceptualizing the actants. This she does in Chapter 2. As she puts it from the start, thing-power “tends to overstate the thinginess or fixed stability of materiality, whereas my goal is to theorize a materiality that is as much force as entity, as much energy as matter, as much intensity as extension” (20). Here’s where Bennett works further on the distributive agency that she introduced in her Preface and that we touched on there. Consider: What does it mean for bodies to be affective? What exactly is an assemblage? In particular, see what assemblages you might brainstorm from the narratives we’ve read so far this semester. How might we put to good use her statement that “there is not so much a doer (an agent) behind the deed (the blackout) as a doing and an effecting by a human-nonhuman assemblage” (28)?
Regarding Guigemar, consider how this might be a particularly useful sample text for those taking an OOO/vibrant materialism/thing theory approach to literature. Pay attention, as you re-read: What are you reading differently this time around, and why?
On Wednesday we will spend time with Vibrant Matter chapter 3, “Edible Matter.” Now we go with Bennett a bit deeper into the forest, relying on the trail of popcorn that she has kindly left for us to make our way. Here she does more of what we encountered in Chapter 2 with her discussion of the blackout. Pay close attention to what she seems to be demonstrating through each of her more extended examples. And see what this might offer us, in our work in the class.