The process of identity formation during the central Middle Ages [10th-12th centuries] among the warrior aristocracy was fundamentally centered on the paired practices of gift giving and violent taking, inextricably linked elements of the same basic symbolic economy. These performative practices cannot be understood without reference to a concept of the sacred, which anchored and governed the performances, providing the goal and rationale of social and military action. After focussing on anthropological theory, social history, and chronicles, the author turns to the "literary" persona of the hero as seen in the epic. He argues that the hero was specifically a narrative touchstone used for reflection on the nature and limits of aggressive identity formation among the medieval warrior elite; the hero can be seen, from a theoretical perspective, as a "supplement" to his own society, who both perfectly incarnated its values but also, in attaining full integrity, short-circuited the very mechanisms of identity formation and reciprocity which undergirded the society. The book shows that the relationship between warriors, heroes, and their opponents (especially Saracens) must be understood as a complex, tri-partite structure - not a simple binary opposition - in which the identity of each constituent depends on the other two. ANDREW COWELL is Associate Professor of the Department of French and Italian, and the Department of Linguistics, at the University of Colorado.
Subjects: Language & Literature
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