Loss, re-figuration and death in Raoul de Cambrai

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Raoul de Cambrai, like many other chansons de geste, portrays a scene of feudal crisis, where the vision of a harmonious homosocial ideal is revealed as flawed and dysfunctional. Yet in Raoul the lack inherent in this utopic vision points to something that lies beyond, to the failure of the paternal function itself, as the social construction of the world along patriarchal lines is shown to be innately flawed and the father-figures of the narrative are found wanting. In place of an inviolable masculine authority founded on the word as law, as imposition - the nom-du-père - we find a world where this masculine investment in the paternal metaphor is troubled and disrupted. The ambivalence that Raoul de Cambrai manifests towards the place of the father is revealed through the text's innate lack of paternal authority and its falling away into violence and death. In contrast to the life of genealogical progression, the repetition and continuation provoked by the father, in particular the dead father, only produce further death. The tension created by this paternal lack can be mapped on to many other epics, which manifest similar patterns of dissatisfaction and attempted recuperation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-310
Number of pages14
JournalFrench Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2003


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