14.11.23, Verderber, The Medieval Fold

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Erin Felicia Labbie

The Medieval Review 14.11.23

Verderber, Suzanne. The Medieval Fold: Power, Repression, and the Emergence of the Individual. The New Middle Ages. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Pp. xiv, 198. ISBN: 9781137000972 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Erin Felicia Labbie
Bowling Green State University

The Medieval Fold: Power, Repression, and the Emergence of the Individual is a significant contribution to the history of the human subject in the Twelfth-Century Renaissance. Suzanne Verderber argues that the view of the human subject as a whole and coherent "individual," once thought to come into being only after the Italian Renaissance, is, instead, a production of cultural institutions, power structures, and discourses as early as the twelfth century. Examining the pastoral power of the clergy and the legal power of the courts, Verderber suggests that systems of power produce the individual as a subject who must respond to discursive as well as legal, social, and cultural demands in the twelfth century.

The central argument of the book redefines the individual as a subject who is produced by institutional and ideological systems such as the church and the state. Verderber's thesis is two-fold: First, it seeks to correct a history of psychoanalysis and cultural studies that has, historically, maintained a distinction between the views of language and subjectivity asserted in the work of Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault. Verderber positions Gilles Deleuze's baroque concept of the fold as a mediator in this dialogue. Second, it seeks to foreground a reading of twelfth-century romance by reframing desire in the context of pastoral and legal documents. These goals are developed simultaneously throughout The Medieval Fold; Verderber shows how her argument is dependent on a dialogue within medieval studies that accounts for readings of medieval texts in the context of psychoanalysis and cultural studies.

The Medieval Fold seeks company with other studies of the rise, development, discovery, or emergence of the individual such as Robert Hanning's The Individual in the Twelfth-Century Romance, Colin Morris' The Discovery of the Individual, 1050-1200, and Peter Haidu's The Subject Medieval/Modern: Text and Governance in the Middle Ages. Indeed, Verderber's rich and multi-faceted comparative project on the way that French discourses and courtly and legal strategies produce what we call the "individual" warrants such recognition. Furthermore, Verderber corrects the notion of a linear progress that would indicate a single moment of emergence or arrival of the individual on a teleological and developmental narrative. Diagnosing such narratives of developmental individuality as symptoms of the "sleeping beauty effect," Verderber asserts that discussions of the subject entrenched in a historical trajectory of discovery require correction. In her view, the "sleeping beauty effect," is one way that medievalists and historians have misread the emergence of the individual. Based on the notion that the subject, who once existed (either because it has always already been present, or because its birth may be located on a timeline), but has fallen into dormancy and is waiting to be discovered and revived by the proper prince, or, in the case of scholarly discoveries of the individual, by the proper reader--"the sleeping beauty effect" is what Verderber calls the foil to the first fold in her narrative of the development of the individual. According to Verderber the "sleeping beauty effect" is a flawed way of viewing the emergence (or rise) of the subject. Rather than awaken as if by magic with the discourse of the Other from a different historical epoch, Verderber suggests that institutional systems function to produce the individual through their discursive and legal mandates within their own historical context. In this sense, the historian's narrative and the literary diagnosis of what becomes vibrant and what remains dormant is a key to understanding how The Medieval Fold intervenes in debates about periodicity and the non-linear trajectory that the individual has in medieval, early modern, and modern eras.

In the course of her argument about the rise of the individual, Verderber participates in a long-standing debate about the dialogue or antagonism between Lacanian psychoanalysis and Foucaultian approaches to institutional powers. At the intersection of this debate, Verderber finds Deleuze's reading of Foucault to be the most persuasive means by which to address ideological systems' power to produce individuals who respond to the discursive and legal demands of medieval cultural systems.

Deleuze's oeuvre offers many texts that lend themselves to a productive reading of medieval literature. Verderber's interpretation of the fold as a medieval phenomenon generates a reading of Deleuze that, unexpectedly, veers not toward the romantic elements of his better-known concept of the process of becoming, but instead toward the systemic institutionalization of structures that come into power contemporaneously with the appearance of romance as a literary genre. Rather than locate her argument among those asserted by medievalists who, in the past thirty years, have created a conversation that addresses medieval literature in the context of Deleuze and Guattari's ideas about becoming, deterritorialization, the body as machine, and the question of sadism and masochism, or even the more likely discussion about the baroque that is outlined in Deleuze's The Fold (Le Pli), Verderber redirects the question to Deleuze's reading of Foucault. The choice, which, at first seems counterintuitive, nonetheless asserts a politically charged understanding of medieval romance and power structures that is informed by a latent concern with bio-politics in the dialogues between Foucault and Deleuze. It is in this socio-cultural context that Verderber discusses the folding of power in particular relation to the question of the development of the "individual subject." Specifically, she asks: "how does folding power offer new possibilities for subjectivity, for life? What makes folding, a clearly desirable alternative to pure subjection, possible?" (17). With these questions Verderber announces the political investments of The Medieval Fold and marks her reading of Deleuze as a mediator who navigates the ideological structures of power and knowledge that are at stake in the work of Foucault, on the one hand, and Lacan (and Freud) on the other hand. Through her focus on the genre of romance Verderber's reading of twelfth-century subjectivity produces a clear understanding of how Deleuze and Guattari's persistent and complicated rejection of the Oedipal structure reframes institutions that define and wield discursive and affective power.

One of the more innovative elements of Verderber's argument is its presentation of the intersection between pastoral power and courtly power. Following the concept of the family romance from the micro- to the macrocosmic planes, Verderber renders both individual courtly romance and mass group organization subject to the same disciplinary dynamics. She enumerates the folds that comprise the individual identifying the first fold as pastoral power (18). However, the creation of one fold immediately produces multiple folds so that the second fold indicates that the first fold turns in on itself and defies authority by way of its resistance to pure interiority or exteriority (19). The rendering of multiplicity recalls another of Deleuze's arguments about immanence in his work on Duns Scotus and, although Verderber does not address this overtly, she does venture into the realism/nominalism debate that is at the heart of the scholastic quarrel over universals (20). [1] The distinction between the realist and the nominalist approaches to identity formation is a central point of debate that fundamentally frames the manner in and extent to which discourse has the potential to produce the individual.

For Verderber this begins with the dialogue between the clerical scene of the confessional in which, according to her argument, force is enfolded, and it is articulated in Jacques Lacan's scheme of the four discourses. She asks a question that then motivates much of her work on the confessional: "What does it mean for God, qua Master, to produce knowledge?" (23). The crucial element here is the belief that is invested in the production of the Master's discourse; ultimately, in Lacan's system the desire of the Other would return to the subject in narrative form. However, in Verderber's reading the human doctrine (that is to say, legal and bureaucratic documents) produced by way of the fantasy of God's Master discourse renders a political culture in which romance, confession, and pastoral power function on the same level.

Her support for this position unfolds in the core chapters. Chapter 1, "The Gregorian Reform, Pastoral Power, and Subjection," establishes the argument on the grounds of an analysis of Friedrich Nietzsche's understanding of power and the internalization of authority. Both Deleuze and Foucault focus on Nietzsche in their understandings of power and knowledge, yet Lacan (like Freud) generally avoids overt discussion of Nietzsche (even if his understanding of language and metaphor do factor into an implicit reading of poetics in psychoanalysis). By beginning here, Verderber sets up the tone of the book as one that works in a truly comparative manner and balances philosophy, theory, and literary analysis as she aims to explicate their mutual implications. Chapter 2, "The Courtly Fold: The Subjectivation of Pastoral Power and the Invention of Modern Eroticism," continues the thread with a discussion of Nietzsche, and then explains the core of presence as wholeness (individual identity) with a summary of das Ding (the "thing") (105). Shortly after this discussion the argument shifts to focus on the importance of locating the individual in an historical moment (106).

Having established her theoretical approach, Verderber then applies it to Perceval. In Chapter 3, "Chrétien de Troyes's Diagram of Power: Perceval," the argument comes coalesces to show how the main points of power and knowledge relate to the production of courtly literature and desire. This is supported by a discussion of guilt in the collective and the individual (154). Speaking of Gawain's guilt reflects the "crumbling of restrictions on jouissance going on all around him" (154). In the narrative of The Medieval Fold, jouissance, presumably, is the sort of prelapsarian state that subjects may have enjoyed prior to interpellation by the discursive regimes that Verderber diagnoses in the 12th- century Renaissance. She states, "Indeed, it seems that a lived conflict of the twelfth century is the disjunction between the select few who have internalized accountability, and those who remain 'unfolded' (154). However, we might recall that jouissance also responds to the law, and it is part of Gawain's status as a figure on the horizon of becoming and that it is, at times, produced by the structures that it resists. Verderber seems to indicate this when she concludes that, "the 'medieval' remains at the core of the 'modern' or 'capitalistic' in the sense that the Oedipal model of desire and repression that will be brought to bear against capitalist processes of decoding and deterritorialization appears to have been constituted, in the modern West, in the Middle Ages" (162). At this moment the different elements of Deleuze's work alone, as well as his work in collaboration with Guattari, become synthesized in a constellation of points about temporality and identity.

If there are any evident weaknesses in The Medieval Fold, they may circulate around questions of periodicity. The question of folding requires a non-linear approach to temporality, but there is an undercurrent that remains in which the core argument of the book seeks to reproduce linearity. Remarking that ideological systems are based on epistemic cuts and reproducing Foucault's view of epistemological breaks, Verderber's argument suggests that there is a discernible sense of origin and end to the quest of the individual. In terms of medieval and modern scholarship, the question remains: What is the goal, and what are the consequences, of shifting the timeline for a concept of an individual? Does it matter if the individual is developed, born, discovered, or produced in what is now understood as the Twelfth-Century Renaissance, or later, in what we had formerly dubbed "the Renaissance?"

Of course, the stakes of methods of reading, recognition of subjectivity, and the possibilities for literary interpretation might be revised under such a rubric. However, we could continually shift--or enfold--such a sense of origin of the individual as literary history is revised throughout scholarship. In this sense, there is a tethering to a search for origins in a Foucaultian discourse that could be mediated by a reading of Lacanian psychoanalysis or Derridean deconstruction; in this view, the subject would not be anchored to an origin or a cause, but would exist in a folded dynamic with cultural institutions. Herein lies the tension: in attempting to produce a dialogue between Deleuze, Foucault, and Lacan, Verderber renders a corrective reading of Lacan that subjects him to the disciplining structures of Foucault's discourse. Her reading of Lacan accords with Joan Copjec's reading in Read My Desire, yet, it also resists that dialogue as it inserts Deleuze's analysis of Foucault as a further mediating force (or fold) in the dynamic.

Despite her investment in locating the development of the individual in twelfth-century France, Verderber does not produce a reading of the Twelfth-Century Renaissance that would support a simple shift of the timeline that locates the individual in different historical moments. For instance, much critical and scholarly energy about temporality and periodicity has focused on questioning temporal and epochal definitions only in order to twist or change them. These readings present important understandings of the complexities of periodic breaks; however, they often replicate the structures that they resist when they propose an emergence of the individual at a different time than the accepted. Rather than replicate these familiar arguments about temporality, Verderber focuses on the subject as a fold that exists in time. She produces a view of temporality that is static, even while the subject is pliable. Although she maintains the term "individual" in her title, Verderber substitutes the concept of the individual with a Deleuzian understanding of the fold.

The Medieval Fold is important reading for anyone who interested in medieval cultural studies, the question of the Twelfth-Century Renaissance, courtly love, and for anyone who seeks to understand the way that language becomes discourse. Verderber's attention to the theoretical work of Foucault and Deleuze in response to Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis asserts the significance of twelfth-century courtly romance and pastoral power in the dialogue between medieval studies and psychoanalysis. The unexpected choice to focus on Deleuze's reading of Foucault in an analysis of the history of the individual in twelfth-century medieval culture allows Verderber to veer from ongoing conversations about Deleuze and medieval studies, and to initiate a new conversation that shows how Deleuzean thought contributes to a history of humanism in medieval studies.



1. These ideas are further explored in Gilles Deleuze, Différence et Répétition (Paris: Presse Universitaires de France, 1968); Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul R. Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994); and, with Félix Guattari, Qu'est-ce que la philosophie? (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1991); What is Philosophy? (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).

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Erin Felicia Labbie

Bowling Green State University