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The ten thousand things and the one true only.

by Kip Manley

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of romance.

When, in the twelfth century, this kind of social isolation is overcome and the feudal nobility becomes aware of itself as a universal class, with a newly elaborated and codified ideology, there arises what can only be called a contradiction between the older positional notion of evil and this emergent class solidarity. Romance may then be understood as an imaginary “solution” to this contradiction, a symbolic answer to the question of how my enemy can be thought of as being evil, that is, as other than myself and marked by some absolute difference, when what is responsible for his being so characterized is simply the identity of his own conduct with mine, which—challenges, points of honor, tests of strength—he reflects as in a mirror image. In the romance, this conceptual dilemma is overcome by a dramatic passage from appearance to reality: the hostile knight, in armor, his identity unknown, exudes that insolence which marks a fundamental refusal of recognition and stamps him as the bearer of the category of evil, up to the moment in which, defeated and unmasked, he asks for mercy and tells his name: “Sire, Yidiers, li filz Nut, ai non” (Erec et Enide, 1042), at which point he becomes simply one knight among others and loses all his sinister unfamiliarity. This moment, in which the antagonist ceases to be a villain, is thus what distinguishes the use of the category of evil in romance from that to be found in the chanson de geste or the classical western: but it has other, more positive consequences for the development of the new form as well. For now that the experience of evil can no longer be invested in any definitive or permanent way in this or that human agent, it must be expelled from the world of purely human affairs in a kind of foreclosure and projectively reconstituted into something like a free-floating and disembodied realm in its own right, that baleful optical illusion which we henceforth know as the realm of sorcery or of magic, and which thus completes the requirements for the emergence of romance as a distinctive new genre. Yet as a literary device, this vision of a realm of magic superimposed on the earthly, purely social world, clearly outlives the particular historical and ideological contradiction which it was invented to resolve, thereby furnishing material for other quite different symbolic uses as the form itself is adapted to the varying historical situations described above.

Fredric Jameson

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