Chapter 1


A Turbulence within Resemblance

Groucho: You look like Emmanuel Rinaldi.

Chico: I am Emmanuel Rinaldi.

Groucho: No wonder you look like him. But I insist, there's still a resemblance.1

I. Resemblance and Old French Romance

The early works of Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze demonstrate in philosophical terms that resemblance and repetition have a history.2 That is to say quite plainly that the cultural articulation of resemblance and repetition changed over time. This rather simple assertion has far-reaching ramifications, if only for the following reason. In the history of Western civilization resemblance has traditionally played an important role in the elaboration of such fundamental concepts as representation, truth-value, meaning, perception, and understanding. This is true for the Middle Ages as much as it is for the modern era. It is perhaps most evident in the medieval philosophical tradition, which held that resemblance occupies the most privileged of positions, since for many writers it served to link the human realm to the divine. In the most general terms it provided the means by which the human mind might be able to ascend through the various levels of creation towards the figure of God. It represented a medium through which the divine revealed itself to the world and the human mind could, up to a limit, perceive and understand the divine.

The present book examines a moment in the history of "likeness" during which the composition and rhetorical status of resemblance was "argued" and redefined at some remove from the erudite discourse of medieval theology. It focuses on texts drawn from the tradition of Old French romance that straddle the seventy-odd years marking the end of the twelfth century and the beginning of the thirteenth, very roughly the period spanning the lifetime of Philip Augustus. It seeks to argue the following hypothesis: that through the rewriting that was imposed by thirteenth-century writers on the romances of the previous century, the notion of resemblance itself was rewritten and as a consequence redefined.

At first glance, this assertion might seem problematic for the same reason that a historical analysis of vernacular poetics might have seemed so a few decades ago. In short, writers of vernacular romance rarely, if ever, indulged in systematic analyses of abstract philosophical notions.3 Theoretical concerns were by and large reserved for the culture of the highly educated and were addressed in Latin texts. The interests of an "unlettered, but not necessarily unintelligent" aristocratic audience may well have inhibited the detailed elaboration of such subjects in romance.4 Nevertheless, resemblances were invoked in these texts at strategic moments, both within the diegesis and in short, extradiegetic authorial comments that addressed such concerns as poetics and narrative authority. These glimpses of likeness were articulated in such a way as to imply that resemblance had a nature or a function that would have a bearing on historical representation, remembrance, demonstration, and proof. As the pages that follow show, specific resemblances were often associated with the grounding of narrative authority and the demonstration of truths.

Resemblance was thus portrayed as having attributes and implications, which were less elaborate than those found in theological discourse perhaps, but which are nonetheless pertinent to our enterprise. The relation of each to a more abstract sense of resemblance will become apparent as the analysis progresses. It must suffice for now only to suggest that through recomposing this picture of likeness, resemblance was redefined in the context of thirteenth-century romance. Along with resemblance, the portrayal of historical representation, remembrance, and proof, which had been laid out in relatively schematic terms by such authors as Marie de France and Chrétien de Troyes, underwent a shift that sought to undermine the authority claimed by twelfth-century romance. As shall be seen, the rewriting of resemblance was an integral component of the rhetorical strategies adopted by thirteenth-century romancers in an effort to supplant with new versions of the past the supposedly authoritative, historico-poetic narratives of the previous century.

Before turning to the Old French romances in question, certain terms and assumptions will need to be discussed at some length. Towards that end, our introduction attempts to address the following questions. Given the relatively abstract nature of the notion of likeness, what might allow resemblance to be redefined or "rewritten"? What motivates the use of the critical metaphor of rewriting in a medieval context? On what grounds could medieval rewriting be characterized as a form of argumentation? What is the status of resemblance in the process of argumentative rewriting?

II. An Overture to Rewriting: Metaphorical Characterizations of Resemblance

Gilles Deleuze opens his critique of representations of difference by asking a provocative question: "Faut-il représenter la différence?"5 By his account, the history of philosophy manifests an overwhelming tendency to define difference as mediated by likeness. It is as if historically likeness were thought to have subdued difference in the way Noys dominates Silva or Hyle in the twelfth-century Cosmographia.6 For Deleuze, philosophical discourse has thus sought to "characterize" difference, as though difference had assumed certain traits, adopted a mode of dress and expression, and behaved in a strangely consistent manner in relation to likeness. Add a measure of personification and difference could have become a character in an allegorical poem like Faux Semblant in the Roman de la rose, Silva in the Cosmographia, or the waters of Genesis 1.3.

1 Animal Crackers, Victor Heerman, Paramount, 1930.

2 See Michel Foucault, Les mots et les choses (Paris: Gallimard, 1966) 15, where the author characterizes his work as "une histoire de la ressemblance." See also Gilles Deleuze, Différence et répétition (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1968) passim.

3 Douglas Kelly, The Art of Medieval French Romance (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992) 228.

4 Kelly, Romance, 228.

5 [Must difference be represented?] See Deleuze, 43_45 and 405.

6 Cosmog, 97_104, 118_19, 121_23. Wetherbee, 67_74, 88_89, 90, 93. For the distinction between Silva and Hyle see Brian Stock, Myth and Science in the Twelfth Century: A Study of Bernard Silvester (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972) 97_118.

To Paul Rockwell's Home Page