The Interrogation of Joan of Arc

The Interrogation of Joan of Arc

The Interrogation of Joan of Arc

The Interrogation of Joan of Arc

Synopsis

The transcripts of Joan of Arc’s trial for heresy at Rouen in 1431 and the minutes of her interrogation have long been recognized as our best source of information about the Maid of Orleans. Historians generally view these legal texts as a precise account of Joan’s words and, by extension, her beliefs. Focusing on the minutes recorded by clerics, however, Karen Sullivan challenges the accuracy of the transcript. In The Interrogation of Joan of Arc, she re-reads the record not as a perfect reflection of a historical personality’s words, but as a literary text resulting from the collaboration between Joan and her interrogators.

Sullivan provides an illuminating and innovative account of Joan’s trial and interrogation, placing them in historical, social, and religious context. In the fifteenth century, interrogation was a method of truth-gathering identified not with people like Joan, who was uneducated, but with clerics, like those who tried her. When these clerics questioned Joan, they did so as scholastics educated at the University of Paris, as judges and assistants to judges, and as pastors trained in hearing confessions.

The Interrogation of Joan of Arc traces Joan’s conflicts with her interrogators not to differing political allegiances, but to fundamental differences between clerical and lay cultures. Sullivan demonstrates that the figure depicted in the transcripts as Joan of Arc is a complex, multifaceted persona that results largely from these cultural differences. Discerning and innovative, this study suggests a powerful new interpretive model and redefines our sense of Joan and her time.

Excerpt

What does it mean to question? The Latin term quaestio,from which our word “question” derives, indicates an act of seeking and, by extension, an act of seeking truth. It suggests, through its linking of seeking and truth, that truth is something that must be sought and, hence, something that is not already present or not already evident among us. Because the process of questioning assumes that truth lies not in the self who seeks it but, rather, in an other outside that self, it is inherently modest and unassuming in its approach and inherently sensitive to the dangers of proclaiming too quickly or too confidently that truth has been found. From Socrates to Heidegger, a tradition of Western philosophy has identified the wisest of men, paradoxically, with those who allege that they themselves possess no wisdom, that wisdom is to be found in the other to whom they appeal, and that wisdom is to be elicited from this other only through such an act of questioning. Yet if inquiries are distinguished by their location of the truth they seek in an other, why is it that they are so often suspected of planting in their words the seeds of the truth they later profess to find? If inquiries are marked by their respect for the object that they address, why is it, then, that the quaestio signifies not only the verbal utterance that the interrogator performs but also the physical torture that has so often . . .

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