John Ganim

title.none: Haidu, The Subject Medieval/Modern (John Ganim)

identifier.other: baj9928.0407.004 04.07.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: John Ganim, University of California, Riverside,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Haidu, Peter. The Subject Medieval/Modern: Text and Governance in the Middle Ages. Series: Figurae. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004. Pp. xii, 446. ISBN: $28.00 0-8047-4744-x.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.07.04

Haidu, Peter. The Subject Medieval/Modern: Text and Governance in the Middle Ages. Series: Figurae. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004. Pp. xii, 446. ISBN: $28.00 0-8047-4744-x.

Reviewed by:

John Ganim
University of California, Riverside

The Subject Medieval/Modern is in many ways a sequel to Peter Haidu's highly regarded previous book, The Subject of Violence: The Song of Roland and the Birth of the State (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993). In that earlier book, employing a narratological and semiotic frame of reference, Haidu argued that the birth of the state and the articulation of Western subjectivity emerged simultaneously, as feudal aggression was transmogrified into the delegated violence of centralized monarchical control. Especially in the form found in Digby 53, the "Oxford Roland," the poem ritually, even performatively, represents the subjection of the previously semi-autonomous feudal class to the newly dominant French monarchy. The poem announced their new identity as subjects of the state, but also as agents of their own circumscribed and often violent power. The Subject Medieval/Modern reads the entire canon of Old French literature as a virtual allegory of this formation of subjectivity, exploring the implications of the argument of The Subject of Violence.

For Haidu, the difference between the medieval and modern subject is a matter of content rather than form; that is, the "structure" of the modern and medieval subject (its langue, as it were) are similar, but the specific requirements of the subject to respond in certain ways (its parole, as it were) distinguishes them. The medieval subject and the violence of medieval state formation thus operate as both an uncanny reminder of the violence of modern exertions of power, and as an estranging meditation on history. Hence, for instance, Haidu analyzes the Peace of God as a bona fide social movement, whereas modern sociology might reserve that term for industrial and postindustrial mass protest movements. At the same time, he argues vociferously against recent revisionist, technocratic (or communitarian) models for the formation of the feudal state as an implicit compact. Without awareness of the looming or open use of force as the primary means of coercion, especially in extractive taxation policies and their enforcement by the reconstituted knightly class, without awareness of the forms of explicit resistance by the peasantry to their increasing degradation, history (and literary study) becomes an apology that obliterates the challenge that the medieval poses to the present. Against Foucault and along with David Aers, Simon Gaunt, Robert Hanning, Sarah Kay and others, Haidu refuses to allow subjectivity to be assigned only to the modern or early modern periods.

Haidu not only challenges a liberal reading of the past, he also challenges the theoretical assumptions of the left over the past 35 years, criticizing the degree to which the passive submission and formation of the subject has been emphasized in post-structuralist and psychoanalytic theory, as in Lacan, Zizek, and Foucault, a pessimism he ascribes to the failure of 1968 and the dissolution of communism. But one cannot say that this is a book that could have been written 35 years ago. It could not have, and it is replete with subtle rethinkings of earlier positions, some by Haidu himself. He also avails himself freely of Lacanian language. Instead, what it does is to complete an incomplete agenda, one proposed in the work of Althusser and Macherey, at least their work before the disenchantment Haidu regrets set in. Despite Haidu's explicit Marxian sense of history as structural change, however, beneath his argument is an almost anarchist, existential sense that underlying these changing structures is a constant struggle between the powerful and powerless that only changes the dialogue but not the script from period to period. That, too, is a legacy of 1968 and that, too, is a form of fatalism. Interestingly, the sense of history in Haidu's book is almost the inverse of a similar book, David Wallace's award winning Chaucerian Polity, which deftly employs a more English (beholden to Perry Anderson and Raymond Williams) version of the longue duree, applied to the later Middle Ages, and also concerned with the relation of authorial subjectivity to power. It's as if Haidu's own rhythms of thought continually replicate the relentless ritual repetition of the Song of Roland, precisely that which he seeks to deconstruct.

This almost ritual pattern also gives the book its own majesty of form and style. Given his demystifying agenda, it is rather wonderful how Haidu manages to read the texts he leads us through (a virtual history of Old French literature) with a subtlety and sensitivity that preserves their aesthetic aura, or, rather, that locates their aesthetic aura in their own negotiation of submission and resistance. Indeed, for all the difficulty of his theoretical approach, Haidu's own language sometimes has an incantatory beauty, written as if Dos Passos had been a scholar of medieval French literature.

One of the great benefits of reviews in TMR is that electronic format offers considerable latitude with word counts, and one can usually offer a relatively detailed summary of a book's chapter-by-chapter argument. This is not easily done with The Subject Medieval/Modern because of its length and complexity, but some sense of its breadth can be gleaned from surveying the authors and works it discusses usually in provocative pairings. Each pairing, I assume, is meant to dialectically generate a new formation, which is then analyzed in the next chapter. The book consists of two parts, Part I and Part II, each consisting of about 7 or 8 chapters for a total of fifteen chapters, plus an introduction (which lays out the positions I described above) and a conclusion. In Chapter 2, Bertrand de Born along with a host of other poems about war, are contrasted with the Roman de Troie and the Vie de saint Alexis, which attempts to answer knightly and military values. The vernacular Alexis, argues Haidu, goes beyond the radical asceticism of the Latin version, providing "an ideological justification of the monastery in the language of the contributory untaught" (54) and introducing a point of view representing the affective perspective of those left behind by the ascetic. Haidu observes, for instance, that the "wife's plainte contains the earliest stanza of passionate, carnal love in French" (55). In Chapter 3, comparing the Song of Roland and Louis' Coronation, Haidu updates his well-known interpretation of the Roland, but places it in the context of the reception of its values in later centuries, and notes that Louis' Coronation, for instance, exposes a fissure between power and legitimacy. Chapter 4, "The Love Lyric as Political Technology" discusses the "multiple and split" subject in courtly amorous verse. These poems are produced in the context of feudal courts which themselves could not produce ideology, but could only negotiate among various and conflicting "codes and interests" (80). The dissolution and reintegration of the self in the process of love reflects the "sociopolitical integration of the subject."

Haidu's chapter on Chretien veers from gnomic but intuitive generalizations, "The subject is the topic of all of Chretien de Troyes's work" (100) to paragraphs that are dense even for those initiated into the vocabulary he employs:

The Lacanian Symbolic is a thirdness, as the Imaginary is a secondness; culture lodges in the individual Imaginary, and transcends it. The Yvain's reconstituted subject is indissolubly linked to the sociosymbolic. Individual value is constructed by intense effort and risk of self in the service of others. In each episode, a two-term Imaginary relationship produces an exchange of services whose advantage for the subject is deferred. The episodes are organized by the subject's individual others as a string of the social symbolic. The episodic sequence indexes a totality composed of small sociological groups (the maisniees: households) and large scale socio-concepts (economics as production, distribution, or consumption, the dispensation of justice). The totality indexed is neither religion nor the state, but a political society: human life as collectively interdependent, though short a totalizing institution of governance. Both instances which accumulate deferred value--the "ABSV" and its enfolded alterity, "society" as the totality indexed by the individual episodes are symbolic constructions which represent form of C. S. Pierce's thirdness: the formulation of general values, principles, or rules, often in the form of ideologemes and laws, empirical or deontological, that raise dyadic relations to a new relationality (112).

I have spent a good part of my professional career defending theoretical discourse in medieval studies, but even I have to admit that this paragraph comes dangerously close to an academic equivalent of the moment on "The Motley Fool Radio Show," a radio show on investing and business on National Public Radio, when the hosts ask their usually knowledgeable guests to interpret Alan Greenspan's latest pronouncements, "What Did the Fed Chief Say?" By analogy, I feel like I had been asked, "What Did the French Professor Say?" and I had to consult two colleagues, one an expert on Althusser and one an expert on Lacan to help me out, and I had read an impressive earlier article by the author that had expanded the ideas in this paragraph into an entire article. Is understanding this paragraph necessary to the chapter or could it had been placed in a footnote? The answer is probably yes to both questions, since it is necessary to understand how Haidu manages to argue that the usually absent Arthur is an absolutely necessary center to Chretien's narratives and that Chretien's work are not merely the male fantasies of courtly love, but convincingly dramatize the dangerous and fragile place of women in feudal society.

Amid the current renaissance of Marie de France scholarship, epitomized by R. Howard Bloch's magisterial The Anonymous Marie de France (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), Haidu's chapter on Marie is nevertheless original and refreshing, almost as if, like Marie, he were willing to step aside from his own critical edifice to look at things differently. In contrast to the medieval tendency towards amplification, Marie's texts are minimalist. In place of self-pity, her tales engage themselves in the viewpoint of the other. Culturally part of a virtual colonization of Britain, Marie's works give full weight to subaltern realities. Everywhere in Marie, subjectivity transcends social identification. Marie becomes the "writer of margins."

The first section of The Subject Medieval/Modern ends with a discussion of Raoul de Cambrai, which, according to Haidu, replays many of the themes first articulated in the Roland, but highlights the missing quotient of justice, and analyzes the harsh effects of the King's power. The tortured form of Raoul, that is, offers an analogue to postmodern critiques of centrality and authority, though it does so by rejecting the cultural ideals of romance. Rather than resolution of the long and violent process of subjection that is Haidu's theme, Raoul dramatizes it almost irresolvable contradictions.

Part II of The Subject Medieval/Modern deals with the Twelfth Century and after, and explores the various ways in which the relations between the administrative state, or, more specifically, the somewhat more amorphous and porous late medieval principality, and the subject. Haidu arrestingly suggests that space becomes a newly important category in this development, and that Gothic architecture, with its modular construction, and modular conceptions of time, including serial narrative, are representations of this new demarcation of space. If medieval surveillance was relatively inefficient in the Foucauldian sense, nevertheless, the survey (consider the Domesday Book) placed the individual subject at the receiving end of the state's ordering of the realm, and various forms of census and tax roles are in fact part and parcel of the development of literacy and textuality. As part of this new administrative state, the duties formerly unique to Lordship (justice, law enforcement, taxation and surveillance) are now assigned to agents and subagents. Management becomes a topic of literature, which Haidu observes from the documents and architecture of the Exchequer to Grosseteste's Rules, and on through the literature of households. But as Chapter 10, on Guilliame de Lorris' Roman de la rose, points out, the relative disinterest of the crown in vernacular literature leaves the vernacular free to experiment, to project a "postmodern" medieval subjectivity in which both the space and the sequence of the narrative is both inscrutable and reliance on the senses so beautifully evoked unreliable. Indeed, in opposition to an older Marxist reading of the poem as the epitome of chivalric identity, Haidu observes that everything of chivalry is there except that which is most essential, the knight on horseback. The poem dramatizes its own relative freedom from dominant ideologies (religious or secular), but only relatively. Somewhat metaphorically, Haidu imagines the poem unfinished because its author recognized that the elision of politics and violence left the poem also devoid of its own subject, ending with unmanageable image of pure desire. Chapter 11 contrasts the unsettled binarism of Roman de la rose with the Roman de silence, which explicitly "plays games with identity" (239), in terms of gender (crossdressing), inheritance and the representation of nature and the natural. Haidu intriguingly suggests that the signifiers allowed free play in Silence turn out to be exactly those that are used instrumentally in the trial of Joan of Arc, wherein Joan's travesty of normative roles was answered by a parody of justice (265). In Chapter 12, urban culture, represented by Adam de la Halle's Arras, is taken to be the subject of the "Conges," and Adam's farewell is to a city he cannot leave, because it defines his identity, but it is also an identity he attempts to distinguish from the collective identity of the town and its commercial values.

Chapter 13, on Philippe de Beaumanoir, discusses the "invention of prose." The vernacular first appeared in verse, so that it would be marked as a familiar cultural product, and therefore function as an effective vehicle for ideological control and subjection. But the Psuedo-Turpin Chronicle, for instance, presents its case in prose as against the verse writings that proclaimed the domination of the King. Another thirteenth century text, Jean de Meun's continuation of the Roman de la rose uses verse as an avant-garde form, constantly disturbing the categories its various discourses were designed to advance. The Jealous Husband's tirade, for instance, often taken (even by Christine de Pizan) as evidence of Jean's anti-feminism, in fact "casts misogyny as a form of political inequality" (289). These potentially disruptive developments are appropriated to an ideological defense, however, in the later thirteenth century, in prose works by Philippe de Beaumanoir, the Coutumes du Beauvaisis. Philippe's tract spells out the duties of the bailiff, as a chief functionary of good regional government, but leaves unresolved the rather modern sounding conflict between ethical probity and loyalty to one's lord. In Philippe, the Law is reified as a discourse with its own power to shape subjectivity, in the process of being described as a collection of traditional customs.

Chapter 14, "Ideologies of Subjectivity," pairs Christine de Pizan and Alain Chartier. Christine is less important for her rather limited feminism, argues Haidu, than for being "one of an important group of late-medieval writers who endowed Western culture with the universal medium of political and ideological discourse" (304). Readers taken with that formulation, as I was, are likely to be less on board a few lines later when Haidu calls her "the first vernacular Leninist ideologue." He is on surer ground a bit later when he refines Sheila Delany's well-known analogy of Christine to a medieval Phyllis Schlafly. Actually, he says, Christine's ideological contortions are more akin to a Sandra Day O'Connor or Clarence Thomas, who "perform as progressive ideologemes--representation of women and blacks on the Court--while their pronouncements and votes are usually reactionary" (312). But by addressing the question of power and by prioritizing secular concerns in politics, Christine, despite her anti-populism, articulates a modern political position. Alain Chartier, however, reverts to the traditional dream vision and an antiquated sociology. Despite the conservatism of his form, the voice of his "people" is remarkably prescient, inveighing against the violence and force of their oppressors and calling for reason and justice and relief. The author seeks to have the various estates negotiate a common vision, to project, as Haidu puts it, a future France. Haidu does not cite Anne Middleton's now classic article, "The Idea of Public Poetry in the Reign of Richard II," Speculum 53 (1978): 94-114, but it provides a nice cross-channel analogue. Finally, Chapter 15 discusses François Villon, whose Testament "deconstructs the legal performative it mimics, as well as any fictive union of individual subject and historical community: the performative and its collectivity are always already denounced" (334). Haidu's reading here, despite its theoretical sophistication, seems to reinscribe the Bohemian Villon lionized by avant-garde poets since the late nineteenth century, but then he introduces the question of the "Ballade of the Hung Men," excluded from the Testament, and suddenly Villon becomes an almost existential challenge to the postmodern medieval that Haidu has mapped for us.

The jacket copy notes that Peter Haidu is retired from UCLA, and now lives in Paris. One is tempted to resurrect the old quip misattributed to Oscar Wilde or Dorothy Parker, that when good Americans die they go to Paris, and to observe that Professor Haidu must have been very good to enjoy Paris while still in his intellectual prime. But Paris is an appropriate home for another reason. This is a book that, despite the lifetime of learning that inhabits its pages, is written with the fervor of an uncompromising youthful idealism. Beneath the Marxist superstructure of The Subject Medieval/Modern is the first Situationist history of Old French literature.