The Chansons De Geste in the Age of Romance: Political Fictions

By Sinclair, Finn E. | Medium Aevum, January 1, 1997 | Go to article overview

The Chansons De Geste in the Age of Romance: Political Fictions


Sinclair, Finn E., Medium Aevum


Sarah Kay, The Chansons de Geste in the Age of Romance: Political Fictions (Oxford Clarendon Press, I995). xii + 273 pp. ISBN 0-19-815192-6. L35.00.

Essentially a re-evaluation of the chansons de geste in relation to verse romance, this is the first book-length work in English to attempt a study of this nature. Sarah Kay argues clearly and convincingly for a recognition of the synchronic and dialectical relations between the two genres, shifting our perception of the chansons de geste from their traditional role as inferior antecedent of the romance to a complementary position where each genre reflects and foregrounds the `political unconscious' of the other, an argument which draws on Fredric Jameson's The Political Unconscious. The subtitle, Political Fictions, indicates the lines of Kay's overall argument: chansons de geste and romance narratives each respond to differing ideological and generic discourses, which foreground or repress certain aspects of their historical context. The two genres are thus seen to engage with social and political issues in different ways, the political (taken in its widest sense) relations at the forefront of each being related to the non-dit, to the political unconscious, of the other.

Kay engages critically with a range of theoretical approaches, the predominant influences being those of psychoanalysis and feminist anthropology. Freud provides the concept of the `family romance', while the studies of Marilyn Strathern provide that of an `economy of the gift' versus a `commodity economy'. Kay applies this anthropological opposition to the chansons de geste (gift) and the romance (commodity), the transfer of women in marriage serving as illustration of the function or repression of a different type of economy within each genre. The study is then divided into three sections: `Genre and Narrative', `Social Organization and Meaning' (essentialized as kinship, hierarchy and companionship), and `Political Critique'. …

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