Academic journal article Mythlore

Hearkening to the Other: A Certeauvian Reading of the Ainulindale

Academic journal article Mythlore

Hearkening to the Other: A Certeauvian Reading of the Ainulindale

Article excerpt

Explorations of the Detailed geography of Arda have focused primarily on the impact that the detail, supporting documents, and layers of story have had on readers of Tolkien's fiction. That is, the rich descriptions regarding landscapes and geographical places with particular (and multiple) names offer the reader a sense of "'depth,' the literary quality Tolkien valued most of all" (Shippey 308), and result in readers' beliefs that Tolkien's Secondary world contains all elements of the Primary world: language, culture, history, artifacts, conflicts, and so on. Such readings offer vital insight into the relationship between the text, its created Secondary World of intricate "depth," and its readers, who experience this Secondary World as fully realized or otherwise believable. (1) With the posthumous and ongoing publication of The Silmarillion as part of The History of Middle-earth, readers and scholars can now see that Tolkien was vitally concerned with rendering his world as fully realized and as residing/partially surviving in vast, complex and at times conflicting artifacts accounting for Arda's cosmology and long history.

Just as readers, the more they read and are familiar with the numerous extant accounts of Arda, (2) feel a greater connection and sense of depth between the ancient past and the events, names, and peoples moving through Tolkien's Third Age narratives, so too inhabitants of the Secondary World develop a greater wisdom the more glimpses of past times-places they encounter through tales or ancient artifacts. I have noted elsewhere the textual care taken to insert First Age references into Third Age events so as to allow a character or an event to take on greater cosmic significance. (3) I would like to argue here that it is also vital to consider the First Age materials themselves as complex, layered documents of cultural practices particularly concerned with space, geography, boundaries, and movement. Consistently, the accounts of Arda offer up intricate layers, detailing landscape and geography not merely to render a world "real" for readers, but firstly to reify the very processes of creation itself for those within Arda. (4) Viewing the storehouse of Elven material as glimpses of Arda's ancient past, the accounts reveal both an impulse to narrate and an impulse to map out; in other words, they often narrate or create story, even as they also locate and fix in time and space. In the movement between these modes--narrating and mapping--the textual concern with naming, positioning, and detailing past cultural episodes-in-places points to the unfolding of cultural systems as well as to the centrality of artifacts that seek to preserve those cultural systems. At the same time, the texts (Tolkien's as well as those of the imagined series of compilers or narrators) work to suggest a residue orality and sense of "tales being told," even as the texts inscribe these moments, events, and beings into a quasi-historicity.

Several of the foundational concerns in the theories of French philosopher and influential cultural critic Michel de Certeau offer fascinating portals into these negotiations and tensions underpinning the First Age accounts of The Silmarillion and in particular, the Ainulindale. (5) In The Writing of History, for example, Certeau interrogates historiography to expose the ways in which it codifies past events into a knowledge system (episteme) that can never fully capture the voices, people, and intricacies of the past: "effectively the problem facing historians," Certeau observes, is "what can we apprehend from the discourse of an absent being?" (Writing of History [WH] 244). Largely unaware of its own position and techniques, historiography orders and privileges according to what Certeau calls a "scriptural economy" (Practice of Everyday Life [PE] 132), while claiming or assuming a kind of distanced objectivity from its subject, the past. To counter such distancing, Luce Giard notes that "[Certeau] showed how the historian always produces the writing of history from the standpoint of the present, from his or her relation with governing powers" (ix-x). …

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