Fictional Evil and the Reader's Seduction: Rabelais's Creations of "L'esprit Maling"
Nash, Jerry C., The Romanic Review
Among other readers of Francois Rabelais, Robert Griffin and M. A. Screech have written convincingly on the subject of evil and the Devil, and especially on the moral and religious meaning of evil, as it helps to shed light on the enigmatic yet totally fascinating character Panurge. (1) For Griffin, the reader's first encounter with Panurge, in all his "misfortunes and his puzzling appearance" (in Pantagruel 9), is an encounter with "the Biblical Lucifer" (332). For Screech, the reader's last encounter with Panurge (in Quart Livre 67, "Comment Panurge par male paour se conchia ...") is also an encounter "with the Devil and matters diabolical" (457), with Panurge as the Devil in his complete "physical and moral impurity ... [his] ugliness and dirtiness as associates of evil" (459). At the end of his quest, then, as at its beginning, Panurge has been viewed as a man who is "bad, sick, wicked, diabolical; a man who delights in the foul, the dirty, the ugly, the unclean" (460).
Now, as most readers of Rabelais know, Panurge has infinite readerly appeal, as much even as (if not more than) Pantagruel, who clearly incarnates "the clean spirit, the pure spirit," that is, "cleanliness and godliness" (Screech, 459). No other fictional character, not even Pantagruel, has intrigued and seduced Rabelais's readers like Panurge. What is it, then, that accounts for the fascination that we have (like Rabelais obviously had) for the character Panurge, for Panurge as the embodiment of evil whom Rabelais variously calls, or intimately associates with, "l'esprit maling" or 'Tesprit immonde" or "l'esprit calumniateur"? (2)
It does not seem to be without merit to stress that the readerly appeal of Panurge achieves its impact, not so much because of the moral or religious meaning of evil per se, a meaning that is undeniably in Rabelais's works, but because of the aesthetic or fictional meaning of evil with which Rabelais presents the reader. Evil is everywhere in Rabelais's works, and it is there, more powerfully and more profoundly, as the result of Rabelais showing it, rather than telling it, to the reader. Stated differently, it is Rabelais's portrayal of evil that seduces, not the principle of evil itself. Rabelais is not a didactic moral philosopher who proffers principles and propositions on what constitutes good or evil, who "tells" or presents to the reader a ready-made set of ethical conclusions for immediate inculcation in life. Literature as envisioned and written by Rabelais does not speak to us merely by providing abstract descriptions of the human condition. Fictional narrative literature is not just a repository of moral insights and an endless source of ethical examples. These are the domains of philosophy, not literature. This is not to say, however, that moral understanding is not a major concern of literature, but that such understanding is, and must be, presented differently. It is useful here to turn to Frank Palmer, who has written lucidly on this subject: "To have an understanding of fictional characters that goes beyond merely 'knowing about', [the reader] must therefore be in some sense acquainted with them via the power of the work to "show'." Furthermore, in the matter of the reader's moral understanding and the literary epistemology of value, what the writer "shows us, acquaints us with, is something that deepens our understanding of what we already know. [...] In showing, as opposed to telling, a work of art does not present us with descriptions of the world (from which we are left to infer propositions about life), it acquaints us with scenes, objects, people, and circumstances in such a way that we learn through that acquaintance." (3)
Rabelais is just this kind of master fictional writer who, with his highly developed sense of evil, "shows" it to the reader in many forms, and especially in the character form of Panurge, the great illusionist and master of deception. Panurge assumes the very important role of the Devil to entice and seduce the reader. Rabelais literally "acquaints" the reader with the Devil and with evil, subjects which have always lent themselves to an intriguing and captivating kind of fictional art, moreso even than their opposites of the holy and the good. As Simone Weil once wrote, the "good" in real life is in every way superior to "evil," but the reverse is true in literature: "Le bien et le mal fictifs ont le rapport contraire. Le bien fictif est ennuyeux et plat. Le mal fictif est varie, interessant, attachant, profond, plein de seductions." (4)
The fictionality of Rabelais's works certainly confirms Weil's views on good and evil. There is only one reference in all of Rabelais's fiction to "le esprit munde," and it is stated in the form of a philosophical principle about life (Tiers Livre, 7, 395 (5)). But there are, as we have already begun to see, many references to and, more important, many fictional portrayals of "l'esprit maling," which Rabelais also calls "immonde" and "calumniateur." (6) It is as if evil, moreso than the subject of the good, is also for Rabelais what truly lends itself to readerly discovery and knowledge. Rabelais very carefully establishes the acquaintanceship. The good can of course be shown, but only evil lends itself to the sort of heightened dramatic tension that is fictionally compelling. This reversal of values between good and evil as we value them in life and the focus on evil in Rabelais's fictional art are clearly part of an aesthetic purpose. This purpose and the writerly comic principle underlying Rabelais's narratives, a principle we shall refer to as "privative" evil, are the subjects we shall focus on in the remainder of this study. We shall discuss in particular how Rabelais treats the comic dimensions of privative evil, an evil that is succinctly yet very aptly defined by Thomas Aquinas: "Malum est non ens." It is this ontologically negating principle that sets the stage for Rabelais's comedy of evil and incongruity. Rabelais shows us this principle, and makes us laugh at it, in his narrative portrayal of established human roles or social patterns which be come altered by characters (like Panurge) who behave like a god, an animal, or the Devil himself. (7)
Rabelais provides us with a good indication in Le Tiers Livre 14 as to why the reader is fascinated and seduced by fictional constructs of privative evil, those of the Devil in particular, constructs which pertain both to human characters and to allegorical or symbolic characters. Rabelais is always showing us that the reader can best learn from evil, that dignitas hominis can more readily be seen, by way of comic contrast and ridicule, in what it is not, that is, in its privative state. In this chapter, Panurge (a.k.a. Momus, the sleepy demonic son of Night) is interpreting an erotic dream he has just had. His wife had been "fondling" and "stroking" him and had planted two little horns into his forehead, pushing them in ever deeper, an event which in no way hurt or distressed Panurge: "La follastre, nonobstant ma remonstrance, me les fischoyt encore plus avant. Et en ce ne me faisoit mal quiconques, qui est cas admirable" (419). For everyone else in this chapter, the horns represented the horns of cuckoldry. For Panurge, they became the horns of plenty ("cornes d'abondance," 421) signifying the sexual gratification his future wife was sure to bring him. After all, as Panurge argues his interpretation, Bacchus and Pan also wore horns and were not at all cuckolded. Why should he become so?
Panurge always seeks to convey the impression that he is "normal," even in his dreams as he does in the above episode. But the reader knows or at least suspects that he is not normal. The reader knows this because Rabelais shows us the incongruous and deviant aspects of Panurge's character and conduct in a social context, like the matter of his future marriage. There is one other figure whom Panurge does not name in his argument but who needs to be added to those of Bacchus and Pan. The reader is compelled to include the Devil himself who conventionally appears with animalized features such as horns. Panurge's somnial divination is the means for the reader to recognize his identification with the Devil and evil. In his dream, Panurge has been visited, has been tricked, by the Devil, by this "ange de Sathan [who often] se transfigure en ange de lumiere" (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:14 for this "angel of light" and Isaiah 14:12 for Satan as the Morning Star), this "ange maling et seducteur [who] au commencement resjouist l'homme, en fin le laisse perturbe, fasche et perplex" (423). In his dream, Panurge was certainly rejoui and led by the Devil to freely indulge his sexual fantasy, but upon awakening to reality, he becomes "perturbe, fasche et perplex," a very bothered state that the reader sees him in more often than not. The reader has just acquired a certain knowledge of evil, not by abstract description, but by being acquainted with the character Panurge, with the evil within him. We have just been exposed to Panurge's non-Being, to privative evil, to the absence of good which we recognize as evil. The reader's acquaintance with Panurge in this erotic-dream episode is fully materialized thanks to the power of Rabelais's narrative art to show the reader what really motivates and energizes this central character.
Panurge is forever being seduced by the Devil, that is, yielding freely to the devil within him. And the reader is forever being seduced by Panurge as a result of his being (self-) seduced. In the very beginning, Panurge is portrayed as a "pipeur, beuveur, bateur de pavez, ribleur" and, most revealing for the devil in him, as a "malfaisant," a doer of evil (Pantagruel 16, 280). In Le Tiers Livre 7, the opting for good (the way of "le esprit munde") or for evil (the way of "l'esprit maling") in an external matter such as one's future marriage is clearly spelled out to Panurge, along with their ultimate implications. This chapter raises profound questions concerning freedom, necessity, and the individual will. Coming very early in Panurge's quest, the passage on good and evil also sets the stage for the comedy of evil and inconguity that will ensue. Since Rabelais's comedy is related to our perceptions of incongruity (that is, as readers we laugh when we perceive that the relationship of an individual to oneself, to society and its conventions, to nature or natural law is very different from our own, which we take to be the norm), it follows that a congruity of meanings must be clearly established first before such perception and laughter can be possible. Ethical roles and patterns must be generally acknowledged before breaking them proves to be amusing. This kind of contrastive narrative setup is precisely what Rabelais arranges for Panurge" "Chascun abonde en son sens, mesmement en choses foraines, externes et indifferentes, lesquelles de soy ne sont bonnes ne maulvaises, pource qu'elles ne sortent de nos cceurs et pensees, qui est l'officine de tout bien et tout mal : bien, si bonne est, et par le esprit munde reiglee l'affection; mal, si hors aequite par l'esprit maling est l'affection depravee" (395). (8)
In Rabelais's passage on man's freedom to elect good or evil, it is Pantagruel who offers this wise piece of advice to Panurge. Pantagruel is assuming here the role of social arbiter, whose point of view usually asserts the ethical norm in Rabelais's comedy. However, Panurge--always clever, flexible, resourceful, when confronted with a serious challenge or obstacle, and with a shrewdness or wileness that renders him the object of some suspicion and disreputable qualities--responds to Pantagruel by ignoring the advice and thus rejecting the norm. He prefers instead to describe his new, strange attire and dress which he has just put on as a sign of his intention to marry, a self-portrait that is both comic and linguistic proof of demoniacal possession. It is also proof of the aesthetic power of Rabelais's fiction to show the reader something that could not be obtained by telling. The first words uttered by Panurge are: "Voiez-vous ce bureau [the coarse brown fabric used to replace his codpiece]? Croiez qu'en luy consiste quelque occulte propriete a peu de gens congneue. Je ne l'ay prins qu'a ce matin, mais desja j'endesve, je deguene, je grezille d'estre marie et labourer en diable bur [Demerson: "diable brun," "diabolique paillard"] dessus ma femme, sans craincte des coups de baston. O le grand mesnaiger que je seray!" (395). Again, we are witnessing Panurge opt for the way of the devil, symbolized both in his chosen attire and in the purely sexual projection he gives to his marriage. Panurge has indeed become the comic eccentric and the Devil, very odd in body and mind, and "at" whom the reader laughs. This "devil" in Panurge (Greek diabolos--a slanderer--the archenemy of man's/Panurge's moral, spiritual interest [cf. Job 1:6, Revelations 2:10, Zechariah 3:1]) is what is literally dictating Panurge's verbal responses to marriage and his interactions with the other characters, as well as those with Rabelais's readers.
In Le Tiers Livre 11, Panurge is warned that testing one's future, in particular his anxiety over being cuckolded in his future marriage, by dice throwing is very deceptive, and worse. It is to follow Lucifer to eternal perdition: "Ce sont hamessons par lesquelz le Calumniateur tire les simples ames a perdition eternelle" (406). Up to this point, Panurge has demonstrated himself to be one of these "simples times" of the Devil, and he will continue to do so. By the time we reach Le Tiers Livre 19, where Panurge seeks the counsel of deafmutes, his real underlying problem has become quite obvious. He has been, and continues to let himself be, misled by the "evil spirit," giving in every time to the Devil through his own, unbridled sexual fantasies. "L'esprit maling vous seduyt" (437) is how Pantagruel is forced to assess the situation. But could this assessment really have been otherwise? For in Le Tiers Livre 23, Panurge finally reveals how he once studied at the University of Toledo, the Spanish university renowned for black magic, under the tutelage of none other than "le Reverend Pere en Diable Picatris, recteur de la faculte diabolologicque" (453). Under this devil, Panurge learned, among other things, that "les diables craignent la splendeur des espies aussi bien que la lueur du soleil" and he learned especially how to "parl[er] en vraye diabolologie de Tolete" (453), that is, how to lie and to deceive. Panurge's deception has not, to be sure, been overlooked by Rabelais's readers: "Like Babel, Panurge is a confusion of tongues, a dramatic lie. [ ... ] Panurge's language is paradoxical, yet a source of power and freedom, for through it he lies his way into the affections of Pantagruel with the same ease and skill tradition attributes to the devil." (9) Is not the reader similarly "affected" by Panurge's "dramatic lie[s]"?
Only one time is Panurge truly offended, deeply offended, by the advice on marriage which he receives from all his counselors and sources of divination. And this is a case of one devil (Panurge) being, shall we say, "outdeviled," Rabelais's variation of le trompeur trompS. The old adage that applies here, with a slight change made to it, is that "it takes a devil to know a devil." This is brilliantly dramatized in the celebrated Her Trippa episode (Le Tiers Livre 25). This fascinating episode, "an extra-serial and specially valorized episode literally central to the entire book" of the Tiers Livre, as Edwin Duval has so convincingly identified it to be, (10) is also the center of devildom, of diablerie, the true home of the "esprit maling" or the Devil in Rabelais's books. It is only fitting that Panurge should meet his match here in Her Trippa, which is in reality a confrontation of Panurge with himself, with his own self-interest and self-deception, indeed his refusal to act according to the Socratic "Know thyself," which is what all his advisers, and most emphatically Her Trippa, tell him over and over again he should be listening to.
Now, Her Trippa, the archpractitioner of black magic, has a hundred different ways up his sleeve to foretell the future: "par art de astrologie, geomantie, chiromantie, metopomantie et aultres de pareille ratine, il praedit toutes choses futures" (460). Before even talking to him, Panurge presents Her Trippa with some interesting gifts: a wolfskin coat, a gilded sword, and fifty gold pieces or "angels" inscribed with the effigy of the archangel St. Michael. The symbolism is perfectly clear. With these gifts, Panurge wishes to even the playing field, so to speak, for he knows with whom he is about to engage in discussion. The "robbe de peau de loup" is an attribute of Apollo, of Light, and of the Devil, this "ange de Sathan [who] se transfigure en ange de lumiere" as we saw in Le Tiers Livre 14. The light of day as well as that of a finely gilded sword, Panurge's second gift to Her Trippa, are both, as we also saw in Le Tiers Livre 23, the means to hold the Devil at bay, tricks Panurge had learned in his studies at Toledo ("les diables craignent la splendeur des espees aussi bien que la lueur du soleil"). The fifty "angels" or gold pieces of St. Michael speak for themselves. (It was Satan who struggled with the archangel Michael for the body of Moses [Jude 9].)
But in spite of Panurge's attempts to influence Her Trippa, to have him pronounce a healthy moral future for him in marriage, Her Trippa's very first pronouncement on Panurge and his future marriage is unequivocally damning: "Tu as la metoposcopie [the facial expression] et physionomie d'un coqu, je dis coqu scandale et diffame. [ ... ] Plus vraye n'est la verite qu'il est certain que seras coqu bien tost apres que seras marie" (461). Again, it takes a devil to know a devil; it takes one to be able truly to read another. And Her Trippa reads Panurge perfectly. Panurge's "septiesme maison," his future "house of marriage," is, Her Trippa assures him, "en aspectz tous malings et en batterie de tous signes portans cornes, comme Aries, Taurus, Capricorne et aultres" (461). The ram, the first sign of the Zodiac standing for the initial impulse through which the potential becomes actual, and the bull, the second sign corresponding to the principle of duality, and the goat, the tenth sign pointing to the abyss and the lack of evolutive possibility, that is, the continual return to the original impulse or motivation, all of these signs are lunar, diabolical, "horned" symbols which point to evil, to the Devil (these associations are all confirmed in, among many other places in the Bible, Genesis 22:13, Daniel 8:6, Psalms 22:12). These diabolical signs are all equated with the moon morphologically, as is the Devil, by virtue of the resemblance of the horns of the crescent moon and the moon's continuous function of waxing and waning. Specifically, the horns of the quarter moon represent the dying moon as the world of darkness, the infernal realm, the evil side of nature and of the human condition mirroring a self-denial of the moral, spiritual life, in short, very apt symbols to describe Panurge. (11)
Panurge, of course, will have none of this divination or diabolic symbolism. He remains obstinate in refusing to listen to Her Trippa, which would amount to listening to one of his own kind--indeed, to himself. It would mean acknowledging his own problem or his refusal of a moral outlook and outcome in marriage. All that Panurge can do is to accuse Her Trippa of behaving worse than "dix-sept diables," and to want to get away from him as soon as possible. Indeed, as Panurge puts it, Her Trippa does not even know the first principle of philosophy, that of Socratic wisdom ("Know thyself"): "Allons, laissons icy ce fol enraige (a diabolical epithet used over and over again by, among others, Frere Jean to refer to Panurge himself) ... avecques ses diables privez. Je croirois tantost que les diables voulussent servir un tel marault. Il ne scait le premier traict de philosophie, qui est : Congnois-toy" (462). Her Trippa eventually asks Panurge if he would like to learn "the truth more fully" through the science of "catoptromancy," that is, divination by means of mirrors. In these mirrors, Panurge would see, as Her Trippa assures him again, his future wife "brisgoutant" (Demerson: "en train de se faire biscoter"; Cotgrave: "to leacher"); or through a sieve, Panurge would see nothing but devils ("ayons un crible et des forcettes, tu voyras diables" ). Confronted by all of the occult and demonic methods of divination proposed by Her Trippa, Panurge's most unusual lucidity recognizes them and Her Trippa for what they really are. They are hitting Panurge very close at home. His only concern is to flee from Her Trippa and his predictions as quickly as possible: "Va (respondit Panurge) fol enraige, au diable. [... ] A trente diables soit le coqu, cornu, marrane, sorcier au diable, enchanteur de l'Antichrist! ... Vray Dieu! comment il m'a perfume de fascherie et diablerie, de charme et de sorcellerie! Le Diable le puisse emporter!" (465).
Lucifer ("enchanteur de l'Antichrist") has indeed seized and taken possession of Her Trippa, just as he has acquired a firm hold on Panurge. Both Panurge and Her Trippa, when it comes to their marital situation, are mirror images of one another. Both are capable of "voyant toutes choses aetherees et terrestres sans bezicles, discourant de tous cas passez et praesens, praedisant tout l'advenir, seulement ..."--in the case of Her Trippa, as we are told at the beginning of the chapter (460-61)--he "ne voioit sa femme brimballante," just as Panurge's future wife is destined to "brisgout[er]." This episode in the Tiers Livre where Her Trippa and Panurge square off face to face is a fictional masterpiece of one devil being outdeviled by another devil, of the one seeing himself perfectly in the other. The fictional evil and (self-)deception portrayed in this chapter are stock, comic sources of infinite readerly delight.
Her Trippa certainly does not "know himself," and while Panurge can utter this Principle, he simply refuses to apply it to himself, refuses to control as far as is humanly possible his own moral, marital destiny. There is no doubt that Panurge does, deep down, recognize the importance of this Principle in his quest and in the outcome of his proposed marriage, but he is not willing, or at least is unable, to come to positive, meaningful terms with it in his own life. Like Her Trippa, as Duval has noted, Panurge is only concerned with and "afflicted with philautia, and that in accusing Her Trippa of philautia Panurge succeeds only in revealing and condeming that same vice in himself" (398). For both Her Trippa and Panurge, their closest kinship with humanity is registered in terms of self-love and egoism; both are a spectacle of personified privative evil at work. Panurge's accusatory stance toward Her Trippa is also most "revealing and condeming" because, as I suggested above, Panurge simply refuses to follow his own advice. It is, to be sure, a question here of irony, but of much more. Since the kind of "self-love" that consumes Panurge is totally antithetical to the true Socratic ethical implication of "self-knowledge," the portrayal of diabolical hypocrisy is what truly energizes the Her Trippa episode.
Another way of stating the position I have been arguing concerning the character (of) Panurge is to say that he "knows himself" only too well, and that he knows what his philautia will lead to in marriage, just as Her Trippa had indicated to him time and again in this central chapter. Panurge wants the impossible, he wants both self-love and a respectable marriage. But both of these together are not possible. One cannot do as one wishes and not suffer the consequences. This explains why the reader is told, much earlier in Pantagruel 34, by none other than its "author" ("La conclusion du present livre et l'excuse de l'auteur"): "Vous aurez le reste de l'histoire ... et la vous verrez : comment Panurge fut marie, et cocqu des le premier moys de ses nopces" (350). And, to be sure, by the time the reader reaches Le Tiers Livre 25, Panurge has indeed gotten married many times, in his mind anyway. He has even given very legitimate moral reasons for getting married, as we hear him profess them in Le Tiers Livre 9. Rebuffing Pantagruel who had told him to remain a bachelor, Panurge retorts: "Voire mais (dist Panurge) je n'aurois jamais aultrement filz ne filles legitimes, es quelz j'eusse espoir mon nomet armes perpetuer; es quelz je puisse laisser mes heritaiges et acquestz ... ; avecques lesquelz je me puisse esbaudir, quand d'ailleurs serois meshaigne, comme je voy journellement votre tant bening et debonnaire pere faire avecques vous, et font tous gens de bien en leur serrail et prive" (402). But Panurge is really more interested, not in joining the company of "all decent people," but in his own philautia, and in legitimizing the pleasure and sexual satisfaction that he really seeks in marriage. In particular, he would like to dominate his wife, but without being cuckolded in the process (as we saw him put it in Le Tiers Livre 7: "Je ne l'ay prins qu'a ce matin [the brown fabric to replace his codpiece], mais desja j'endesve, je deguene, je grezille d'estre marie et labourer en diable bur dessus ma femme, sans craincte des coups de baston. O le grand mesnaiger que je seray!" ).
All of this deception and self-deception really explain why Pantagruel says to Panurge in Le Tiers Livre 19: "L'esprit maling vous seduyt" (437). That is, the Devil has blinded and paralyzed Panurge, has "seduced" Panurge, which are always the primary activities of the Devil. There is a conjunction or reciprocity of demonic and human wills at work in Panurge. The recognition of these qualities and behavior traits explains why Pantagruel also tells him in Le Tiers Livre 29: "[je] congnois que philautie et amour de soy vous decoit" (476); and why Panurge is so bothered by Pantagruel's statement in Le Tiers Livre 9 to the effect that "la sentence de Senecque est veritable hors route exception: ce qu'a aultruy tu auras faict, soys certain qu'aultruy te fera" (400). Finally, Panurge's deception and self-deception also explain why he is so totally undone by Her Trippa's reading of the malign influence and privative being he is suffering from. Panurge will continue to suffer from this condition in his future "house of marriage," destined as it is to be, according to Her Trippa, "en aspectz tous malings et en batterie de tous signes portans cornes" (461).
None of these pronouncements or predictions on Panurge, one must hasten to add, is really offered as a judgment on his character. They are, however, irrefutable proof that Panurge's companions have learned something about this character. All of them recognize that Panurge's enemy or problem is simply the diabolical forces threatening him from within. The speakers are both involved yet detached in their relations with Panurge. In a way, they are letting Panurge judge himself, through his own pronouncements and actions, which they in turn respond to and learn from. The real problem for Panurge is that no one is telling him what he wants to hear, namely that he can do as he pleases and not have to suffer the consequences. Panurge's only recourse is to continue functioning as the Devil, as the master of ambiguity and duplicity that he is. But in the end, all devils in Rabelais's fictional representation of evil must pay up, all hypocrites will be unmasked, and Panurge is becoming only too painfully aware of this outcome for himself. To be sure, though, the fictional discomfort or pain that Rabelais portrays in Panurge becomes a great source of pleasure for the reader as he observes Panurge in the fictional life-games of wants and satisfactions that he is playing with others and especially with himself. (12)
Other fictional constructs of the Devil surface in many of the episodes after that of Her Trippa. In Le Tiers Livre 44, the Devil is reintroduced as "la fraulde du Calumniateur infernal--lequel souvent se transfigure en messagier de lumiere [we have seen this before] par ses ministres, les pervers advocatz, conseilliers, procureurs, et aultres telz suppoz, tourne le noir en blanc, faict fantasticquement sembler a l'une et l'autre partie qu'elle a bon droict" (529, a subverting tactic not alien to Her Trippa and Panurge, as we also have seen). In Le Quart Livre 5, the sheep trader Dindenault asks Panurge: "Qui es-tu? Dont es-tu? O lunettier de l'Antichrist, responds si tu es de Dieu!" (596; "l'Antichrist" was the very same name used by Panurge to designate Her Trippa).
Panurge does not answer these questions concerning his identity and his origin, just as he had ignored answering the same questions put to him by Pantagruel in Pantagruel 9: "Qui estes-vous? Dont venez-vous?" (252). "[Panurge's] unwillingness (or inability) to answer [Pantagruel's questions, as with those later of Dindenault] is completely characteristic of the Devil who usually gives the name 'No Man' to his inquisitors" (Griffin, 333). It is also characteristic of privative evil, of Aquinas' dictum: "Malum est non ens" (cf. note 7). Panurge is very much a nothing masquerading as a something. In his non-Being, he is privative evil or the Devil at its best. Rabelais's portrayal of Panurge not only shows the loss of direction by a character who assumes that disorder or chance determines life, but also points to the general privation of (moral) life in Panurge. Refusing to identify himself, Panurge proposes instead to "ram" Dindenault's wife (which is in itself a kind of answer as to who he is). Dindenault responds to this proposal: "Je te donneroys (respondit le marchant) un coup d'espee sus cette aureille lunetiere, et te tueroys comme un belier" (596; Panurge as the Devil often wears "dark glasses" to shield himself from the sun and light). That is, as we have seen, he would kill Panurge for the "ram" or the Devil that he is. But it is Panurge, in the next chapters, who beats Dindenault in the game of killing. He drowns Dindenault, together with his sheep, to show that he has the "godlike" power to punish ("Mihi vindictam, et caetera. Matiere de breviaire"). Panurge obviously delights in his strategem of revenge and glories in his crime against Dindenault. Frere Jean remarks: "Tu (dist Frere Jan) te damnes comme un vieil diable" (604).
Again, the Dindenault episode does not "tell" us about the horror of senseless, punitive killing. Instead, it shows the reader a particular set of circumstances through which we experience the reality of evil for ourselves. The reader is truly witnessing, as Frere Jean summed up the situation, not a harmless, practical-joking, playful devil bent on petty revenge, and "with" whom the reader laughs as a result of feeling somehow allied with him and his harmless actions, but the "damnable" murderous work of the "Devil," and "at" whom the reader laughs with a sense of detachment and scorn. Seldom is the reader really able to sympathize with Panurge, no more than do the other characters and companions of him in Rabelais's narratives. There are after all limits as to what we can find acceptable in the malevolent antics and deeds of a comic figure. We are shown and recognize these limits in the Dindenault episode, where Panurge as the Devil commits the ultimate diabolic act and violates standards of human dignity and human morality.
One of the devils or associates alluded to by Her Trippa in Le Tiers Livre 25 (he had asked Panurge if he wanted to be counseled "par gastromantie? de laquelle en Ferrare longuement usa la dame Jacoba Rhodogine, Engastrimythe" ) is presented more fully by Rabelais in Le Quart Livre 58. She, or rather it, her "fiendish" possessor, is to be found "en la court de ce grand maistre Ingenieux," the court of Messere Gaster (737). She is the only example given of a class of fortune tellers, the "Engastrimythes" or "Ventriloques," these prophets and enchanters who appear to answer questions and give advice through their bellies, rather than through their mouths. Her voice, we are shown, is that of "l'esprit immonde," and there issues from her belly "cestuy maling esprit" (738). Rabelais is here employing a symbolic device that is found commonly in demonic figures: it consists of taking some part of the body that possesses, as it were, a certain autonomy of character or which is directly associated with a definite bodily function, and portraying it as a face and head, complete with voice and other sensory organs. Such bodily distortion implies demoniacal psychic disintegration and decomposition. This belly or "evil" spirit found in Jacoba can only respond or perform--yet "admirably" so--in relation to things past or present, never in regard to the future: "Si on l'interrogeoit des cas praesens ou passez, il en respondoit pertinemment jusques a tirer les auditeurs en admiration. Si des choses futures, tousjours mentoit, jamais n'en disoit la verite. Et souvent sembloit confesser son ignorance, en lieu de y respondre faisant un gros pet, ou marmonnant quelques motz non intelligibles et de babare termination" (738). We do not need, nor do we have the time and space, to relate the number of times that the devil in Panurge, being confronted with the future, lies, deceives, pretends ignorance, expels gas or worse, or utters some unintelligible diabolical gibberish. For indeed, we would be quoting virtually all of the passages where Panurge appears in Rabelais's books. But there is one episode that is so seductively typical that it begs to be included in the present discussion.
In Le Quart Livre 66, the travelers are trying to decide whether or not to go ashore at Ganabin, the Isle of Robbers. Only Panurge is fearful of doing so, fearful of what might await him there. Frere Jean tells him to go hide below, under the petticoat of Lucifer's wife, which is the proper place for a moral coward of his standing (below is also where Panurge goes during the famous storm episode in Quart Livre 18-24):
Va, ladre verd (respondit Frere Jan) a tousles millions de Diables quite puissent anatomizer la cervelle et en faire des entommeures! Ce Diable de fol est si lasche et meschant qu'il se conchie a toutes heures de male raige de paour! Si tant tu es de vaine paour consterne, ney descens pas, reste icy avecques le baguaige, ou bien te va cacher soubs la cotte hardie de Proserpine, a travers tousles millions de Diables. (761)
Panurge is only too willing to take this advice: "Aces motz Panurge esvanouyt de la compaignie et se mussa au bas, dedans la soutte, entre les croustes, miettes et chaplys du pain" (761). Only at the beginning of the next chapter does Panurge resurface, "comme un boucq estourdy" we are told (762), like a startled goat. Panurge has now assumed all the animal attributes of the Devil: the ram, the bull, the goat, just as Her Trippa identified his demoniacal nature to be in Le Tiers Livre 25.
While below, Panurge believed "qu'il avoit a heure presente veu tousles diables deschainez" (762). He is convinced of it, which he confides to Frere Jean in Le Quart Livre 67: "Aqua, men emy! (disoit-il) men frere, men pere spirituel, tousles Diables sont aujourd'hui de nopces! Tu ne veids oncques tel apprest de bancquet infernal! Voy-tu la fumee des cuisines d'Enfer? ... Tune veids oncques tant d'ames damnees" (763). This is a classic Rabelaisian text that shows Panurge mistaking the nature of everything he sees and responding to the world in exaggerated, uncontrolled, irrational ways. The only "damned soul" in this episode, as in so many others, is Panurge himself, which the rhetorical question he subsequently repeats over and over testifies to: "Que Diable est cecy? Appelez-vous cecy foyre, bren, crottes, merde, fiant, dejection, matiere fecale, excrement, repaire, laisse, esmeut, fumee, estront, scybale ou spyrathe?" (765-66). What Panurge is actually describing is the contents of his own breeches which he has just befouled. (Is not the portrayal of the Devil always that of regression or stagnation in what is fragmentary, inferior, foul?) The reader has just witnessed, once again, the excremental ritual and meaning of the Devil, of the devil in Panurge, a ritual which is not at all a purging of any kind but a concrete, solid confirmation of his continued sordid existence as usual. This is Rabelais's best depiction of the medieval and Renaissance correlation of matter with evil. It points to a privation of being, to the absence of moral, spiritual being, in Panurge. To repeat Screech's words on this episode: "Panurge is "full of the Devil," he is "dominated by l'esprit maling, the Devil who, in the Quart Livre (LVIII, 23) is finally given his commonest New Testament title: l'esprit immonde ... the 'unclean spirit'. The Greek word for unclean in St Paul as in Plato suggests both physical and moral impurity: unclean thoughts and unclean lives; ugliness and dirtiness as associates of evil" (459).
Evil or the devil in Panurge is perfectly brought out in Rabelais's portrayal of Panurge's activity "below," his visit to the "bancquet infernal" where he saw "tous les diables deschainez," where he savored "la fumee des cuisines d'Enfer," and where the reader can truly appreciate Panurge as one of those "ames damnees" wallowing in his own stench, in his own, as he himself puts it, "matiere fecale." Once again, Rabelais is powerfully showing us something about Panurge and evil that could not be obtained by telling us. This kind of "showing" is always part of the aesthetic function of Rabelais's fictional art. Rabelais does not tell us about man and evil like, say, Pico della Mirandola does in his Oration on the Dignity of Man. In this work, mankind, endowed with freedom of choice, is described participating in both the spiritual and material orders of creation, with the possibility of greater participation in either. Opting for his beastly nature, man can degenerate to bestiality through surrender to his animal nature: "If you see [a man] abandoned to his appetites crawling on the ground, ... if you see [a man] blinded by the vain illusions of imagery, ... and, softened by their gnawing allurement, delivered over to his senses, it is a beast and not a man you see." (13) Pico is telling us that there is both physical evil, which is bestial in its surrender to passion and impulse, and moral evil, which is diabolic in its perversion of mind and will which are directed to wrong ends. But it takes a master fictional writer like Rabelais to show and relate all of this evil to reality and to the human condition through the diabolical, "foul" humanity of the character Panurge. Again, the crucial difference is between real knowledge gained by acquaintance versus mere propositional knowledge or familiarity that comes from telling: we can read philosophy on evil but we can only witness for ourselves, and learn more about, evil through a character like Panurge. Rabelais's comic art of privative evil and incongruity always holds the mirror, however exaggerated, up to our own natures et lets the reader be the ultimate arbiter of meaning. That is, Rabelais's narratives on "l'esprit maling" do not pronounce: they probe and portray it, giving the reader a basis for finding, for oneself, understandings and values.
Momus, Picatris the Reverend Father in Satan, Her Trippa, Aries-Taurus-Capricorne, the Engastrimythe Jacoba Rhodogine, and of course Panurge are all creations, in varying degrees, of "l'esprit maling" or the Devil, with Panurge as the central creation connecting them all, intersecting and interacting with them through his own well developed sense of non-Being, of "l'esprit maling." This devil within him remains with Panurge up to the very end, literally to the very end of the Cinquieme Livre. Panurge's "poetic fury" that we witness in Chapter 46 is a final indication of Panurge's satanic character: "Es-tu, dist Frere Jean, fol devenu ou enchantS? Voyez comme il escume; entendez comment il rithmaille. Que tousles diables a il mange? Il tourne les yeux en la teste comme une chevre qui se meurt!" (912; cf. Leviticus 17:7, where the word "devil" is the translation of the Hebrew sair, meaning a "goat"). By now, Panurge has indeed absorbed and given new life to all the devils within himself, and has outdeviled (as he sees it) all the others encountered within Rabelais's fictional narratives.
At the end of this chapter, Panurge is ostensibly addressing Frere Jean one last time. But it is really Panurge who is speaking to himself, Panurge who is addressing one last time the devil within him, his own malign self. As classic interior monologue, the passage profoundly reveals the general malevolent influence upon Panurge and his demonic makeup and motivation in sexual relations, in marriage, in life. Panurge's words here also reveal the real objective of his marital quest, an attitude and objective he has not deviated from ever since the beginning of Pantagruel:
Aussi seras-tu, beste immonde, DamnS[e] comme une male serpe. Et je seray comme une herse Sauve en paradis gaillard : Lors bien sus toy, pauvre paillard, Pisseray-je, je t'en asseure. Mais escoutez : advenant l'heure Qu'a bas seras au vieux grand diable, Si par cas assez bien croyable, Advient que dame Proserpine Fust espinee de l'espine Qui est en ta brague cachee, Et fust de fait amourachee De tadite Paternite, Survenant l'opportunite Que vous feriez les doux accords, Et luy montasses sus le corps : Par ta foy, envoyeras-tu pas Au vin, pour fournir le repas, Du meilleur cabaret d'enfer, Le vieil ravasseur Lucifer? (914)
This last "image" of Panurge is one of Rabelais's finest portrayals of the unrestricted, uncensored flow of consciousness of this fascinating character. It reveals Panurge's continuous becoming, that is, his demonic, privative state of never-being. The passage clearly shows that the significant existence of Panurge is to be found in his mental-emotional processes and not in the outside world. The portrayal's logic of grammar and of psyche belongs to another world, to Panurge's interior diabolical world where he outdevils, in matters sexual (which is all that really matters to Panurge), the Devil himself by sending him to fetch some wine while he has a nice romp with Proserpina. Serving as commentator of this passage, Frere Jean very aptly tells Panurge--Panurge who is really this "beast unclean/[Who] like the wicked serpent [will be] cursed" (14)--where to go, which is where Panurge belongs and where he will be in good company, and where he is sure to satisfy the sexual desire of his "Paternite": "Va, vieil fol, dist Frere Jean, au diable!" (915). As we have seen, the best defense against the appearance of privative evil was, for Rabelais, laughter, which is one of the most effective ways of showing contempt for evil, just as Frere Jean and others show it time and again in summoning Panurge "to the Devil."
As the central character in Rabelais's comedy of privative evil, Panurge as the comic Devil is not the Devil that one encounters in, say, Mephistopheles of the Faustus tradition. (15) Mephistopheles as the Devil is a tragic figure who often elicits from the reader both admiration and pity. Rabelais's reader does at times very much admire Panurge, but pity him the reader is hard pressed to do, for it is clear that only Panurge can help himself and extricate himself from the diabolic existence he chooses to live. In Panurge and in the comedy of evil that he generates, the door of redemption is certainly never completely shut, as it always is in purely tragic fictional constructs of evil. In the latter, the reader knows what destiny, or what the flawed character himself, is sure to bring finally on the character. In Rabelais's comedy of evil, there is always, however slight, the possibility (and thus the expectation in the reader) of a change for the better in Panurge's deviant, diabolical attitude and behavior. It is not accidental or insignificant that Rabelais leaves the story of Panurge incomplete and unfinished as to the outcome of his "quest," of Panurge's marriage. Rabelais is leaving it up to the reader to write the final chapter on Panurge, and this can only be done by carefully considering Panurge's expressed thoughts and actions up to their final appearance in Rabelais's narratives.
But Panurge himself consistently avoids and rejects, as we have been shown, a change for the better and falls back each time into the hellish mire of life. This is what constitutes Rabelais's comedy of evil, the comedy of the Devil as Panurge. This is of course tragic, but to reach that conclusion on Panurge, the reader must first witness, for oneself, the fictional intrigue and implication of Rabelais's comedy of evil. Panurge just missed being, just missed living up to the image of "le meilleur filz du monde" announced in Pantagruel 16 (280), only to become the demonic exemplar of l'esprit maling. Panurge would be good and decent but cannot if he is to give life to his diabolically consuming energies. All of Panurge's comedy, and tragedy, is shown to us in Rabelais's portrayal of this non-Becoming and this non-Being of Panurge, his unreality that runs the gamut from the bestial, Panurge as l'esprit immonde, to the diabolic, Panurge as l'esprit maling. This unreality masquerading as essence (Aquinas: "Malum est non ens") does, however, have a name. The name is "Panurge": "'Le Bon-a-tout', 'le Ruse' (epithete du renard)" (Demerson, 249, note 1). The fox was also of course "a common symbol for the Devil during the Middle Ages, expressive of base attitudes and of the wiles of the adversary" (Cirlot, 108).
As Rabelais's best comic construct of the Devil and privative evil, the clever fictional character Panurge is truly inexhaustible, and full of readerly seduction ("plein de seduction," as Weil put it). His ultimate legacy or deception, like that of the Devil himself, is to be able to convince those around him that he does not really exist. His exceptional deceptive ability is what he is emphasizing early on to Pantagruel in Pantagruel 24, where he reassures Pantagruel that he is quite capable of remaining "unnoticed" in his proposed entry into the enemy city of the Amaurotes for reconnaissance purposes: "Je (dist Panurge) entreprens de entrer en leur camp par le meillieu des guardes et du guet, et bancqueter avec eulx et bragmarder a leurs despens [feast off their tables and ravage their women!], sans estre congneu de nully, visiter l'artillerie, les tentes de tousles capitaines et me prelasser par les bandes, sans jamais estre descouvert. Le diable ne me affineroit pas" (312). The Devil may not "recognize" him, but Panurge is recognized by his creator, by Rabelais, for what he is, and especially for what he, as privative evil, is not. (16) The same comic recognition can be experienced and enjoyed by Rabelais's reader today, who just may laugh Panurge out of existence, which is what Panurge, or rather Rabelais through his narrative art, encourages the reader to do. No finer tribute could be paid to this most comic and most seductive of Rabelais's fictional characters than this recognition: Panurge est non ens.
University of North Texas
(1.) Robert Griffin, "The Devil and Panurge," Studi Francesi, 47-48(1972), 329-36; M. A. Screech, Rabelais (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979), pp. 243ff. on "the role of the Devil." See also, for the very frequent vocabulary concerning the Devil, Paul Imbs, "Le Diable dans l'aeuvre de Rabelais: etude de vocabulaire," in Melanges de linguistique francaise offerts a Charles Bruneau (Geneva: Droz, 1954), pp. 241-61. I shall be using "Devil" for the actual character and also "devil" for the general notion or concept of evil in the present study.
(2.) Not all readers of course view Panurge as the embodiment of evil. For Edwin M. Duval, Panurge "cannot possibly be an evil or entirely negative character." The Design of Rabelais's "Pantagruel" (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), p. 66. As Duval reads him, Panurge fulfills a very positive role as the epic comes or devoted ally of Pantagruel, indispensable to the latter's evolution as the epic hero of Rabelais's narratives (cf. especially pp. 63-84). In his re-evaluation of the character and role of Panurge in the Tiers Livre, Lance K. Donaldson-Evans argues that both "master [Pantagruel] and servant [Panurge] are caught in the same comic impasse" (87), that is, Panurge is no more a flawed or inferior character than Pantagruel. "Panurge Perplexus: Ambiguity and Relativity in the Tiers Livre," Etudes Rabelaisiennes, 15(1980), 77-96.
(3.) Frank Palmer, Literature and Moral Understanding (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), pp. 201, 204. For another, different application of Palmer's reader-response theory to Rabelais, see Jerry C. Nash, "Rabelais et l'environnement moral: une etude sur le bien et le mal fictifs," Etudes Rabelaisiennes, 31(1996), 75-97.
(4.) Simone Weil, "Morale et litterature," Cahiers du Sud, 263(1941), 40-41.
(5.) Quotations are from Guy Demerson, editor, Francois Rabelais, OEuvres completes (Paris: Seuil, 1973). All italics and translations into English in this study are mine, unless otherwise indicated.
(6.) This can readily be verified by consulting the Rabelais Concordance: J. E. G. Dixon and John L. Dawson, editors, Concordance des (Euvres de Francois Rabelais (Geneva: Droz, 1992).
(7.) For the very deep roots of the "unholy alliance" of hell and humor, of the comic principle of evil in art, of "the intimacy of laughter and evil in Christian art" in particular (Origen, Plotinus, Augustine on evil as non-Being, Boethius on the same notion of the "privative" nature of evil, and especially Thomas Aquinas who gives this notion, in his On Being and Essence, its final meaning which was to remain throughout the Middle Ages and well into the Renaissance: "Malum est non ens" ["Evil is not essence"]), see the excellent discussion of Charlotte Spivack, The Comedy of Evil on Shakespeare's Stage (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1978), especially Chapter 1: "Nothing and Iniquity," pp. 13-31. Spivack quotes C. S. Lewis on the subject of laughter and privative evil: "'At that precise point where Satan [non-Being or privative evil] meets something real, laughter must arise, just as steam must when water meets fire'" (p. 26, her italics). Satan (Panurge as non-Being, as privative evil) meets something real very often in Rabelais, and the reader indeed laughs each time, as we shall see. For the comic theory of "ludicrous incongruity" that is always implied in the notion of privative evil, see Neil Schaeffer, The Art of Laughter (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), pp. 3-16.
(8.) In addition to relying on Stoicism, as so many of Rabelais's readers have recognized, Rabelais is here closely following the Bible, which gives to human beings the freedom to direct their own "hearts" and "minds," their own "will," for good or evil. See, among other places, Exodus 8:15, Jeremiah 18:12, Ezekial 18:31, Zechariah 7:12. Diane Desrosiers-Bonin is right when she says that for Rabelais, evil "tire sa seule origine du libre arbitre de l'homme assujetti aux passions." Clearly, the devil or evil in Panurge is a consequence of his "exercice deviant de la volonte." Rabelais et l'humanisme civil (Geneva: Droz, 1992), p. 44.
(9.) Raymond C. La CharitY, "Devildom and Rabelais's Pantagruel," The French Review, 49(1975), 48.
(10.) Edwin M. Duval, "Panurge, Perplexity, and the Ironic Design of Rabelais's Tiers Livre," Renaissance Quarterly, 35(1982), 390.
(11.) For a general discussion of the above demoniacal attributes and symbolism, see J. E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols (New York: Philosophical Library, 1962). For their particular meaning in Rabelais, consult Jerry C. Nash, "Further Reflections on the Character Portrayal of Panurge as the Devil," in Gerard Defaux and Jerry C. Nash, editors, A French Forum: Melange de litterature francaise offerts a Raymond C. et Virginia A. La Charite (Paris: Klincksieck, 2000), pp. 77-85.
(12.) Picrochole is another demonic, truly mad character whom Rabelais also depicts, as he does Panurge, possessed by "l'esprit maling" (as observed by Gargantua in Gargantua 31, 132) and motivated by his own philautia and the domination of others. Whereas Panurge's own "esprit maling" (as recognized by Pantagruel in Le Tiers Livre 19, 437) leads him to desire sexual domination, that of Picrochole leads him to disaster in his desire of brutal conquest and political domination. Like Panurge, Picrochole has his own kind of "affection perverse," which also results from him listening to "l'esperit calumniateur [which], tentant a mal [le] tirer, eust par fallaces especes et phantasmes ludificatoyres mis en [son] entendement ..." (Gargantua 31,138). Demerson notes: "Selon saint Thomas, le demon pouvait combiner fantasme et espece de facon a deformer la perception de la realite chez les humains" (138-39). This is Panurge's true calling, too, in Rabelais's works. Rejecting "l'esprit munde" for "l'esprit maling," Panurge works to deform the perception of reality, of life, of moral understanding or dignitas hominis on the part of those he encounters, including the reader. He very comically and successfully fails, for the reader recognizes him for what and who he is, or rather who he is not as privative evil, and laughs at him.
(13.) In E. Cassirer, P. O. Kristeller, and J. H. Randall, Jr., editors, The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969), p. 226.
(14.) Translation of J. M. Cohen, The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1972), p. 708.
(15.) See Horst S. and Ingrid Daemmrich, Themes and Motifs in Western Literature (Tubingen: A. Francke Verlag, 1987), pp. 224-27.
(16.) Panurge was also very much recognized by his English Renaissance readers. They had little trouble "imagining" or interpreting Panurge (as name and as clever fictional character) as the devil. Among other examples, Thomas Heywood's The Hierarchie of the Blessed Angells (1635) will "conclude with that Pannurgist Sathan, ... to whom not unproperly may be given these following characteristics: Fontem nosca boni bonus ipse creatus / Factus at inde malus fons vocor ipse malus. / Of Goodness I the Fountaine am, / Bee'ng good at first created; /
But since made Evill, I the Well / Of Ill am nominated." See Anne Lake Prescott, Imagining Rabelais in Renaissance England (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 87.…
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Publication information: Article title: Fictional Evil and the Reader's Seduction: Rabelais's Creations of "L'esprit Maling". Contributors: Nash, Jerry C. - Author. Journal title: The Romanic Review. Volume: 93. Issue: 4 Publication date: November 2002. Page number: 369+. © 1998 Columbia University. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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