Academic journal article Arthuriana

The Object and the Cause in the Vulgate Cycle

Academic journal article Arthuriana

The Object and the Cause in the Vulgate Cycle

Article excerpt

MIRANDA GRIFFIN, The Object and the Cause in the Vulgate Cycle. London: Legenda-Modern Humanities Research Association and Maney Publishing, 2005. Pp. ix, 170. ISBN: 1-900755-67-X. $69.

This stimulating study springs from its author's observation of the striking parallels between psychoanalytic theories of human desire and the centuries-older Vulgate Cycle's complicated narration of the Arthurian Grail quest. Like her mentor Sarah Kay, who likewise used the work of Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Zizek to good effect in Courtly Contradictions: The Emergence of the Literary Object in the Twelfth Century (Stanford, 1001), Griffin, in this revision of her Cambridge University Ph.D. thesis, argues less for a psychoanalytic reading of the Cycle than for a mutually illuminating reading of the medieval and modern quests for ever-elusive origins and for the objects to which such quests assign the simultaneous (and thus deeply vexed) roles of initial cause and final goal. Taking no previous knowledge for granted on the part of her readers-something that those new to either the Cycle or to psychoanalytic theory will especially appreciate-Griffin uses her introduction to lay out the complicated history of the Cycle's composition and to review in brief the psychoanalytic concepts that structure and support the rest of her study. This introduction is followed by four more chapters and a brief conclusion that focus in distinct but equally compelling ways upon orality and textuality, beginnings and endings, and books and bodies; at the same time, each chapter ultimately centers, quite appropriately, on the crucially absent center that is the Grail itself.

Chapter 1, 'Letters and Logical Time,' examines the way the Cycle makes use of both linear and circular time as a way to account for its own writing and to extend its narrative into 'the time of the reader' (p. 18-19). Particularly notable here is the way Griffin aligns the Lancelot's revelatory but mutable epitaph for its hero with Lacan's idea of the 'future perfect as the tense which most closely expresses...the temporal oscillation between past and future states within the frame of the present' (p. 26). Also thought-provoking is her use of Lacan's theory of the 'letter that always arrives' to read the Queste's Ship of Solomon as itself a giant, always-already-arrived letter. …

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