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Fortune's Faces

The Roman de la Rose and the Poetics of Contingency

Daniel Heller-Roazen

Publication Year: 2003

Arguably the single most influential literary work of the European Middle Ages, the Roman de la Rose of Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun has traditionally posed a number of difficulties to modern critics, who have viewed its many interruptions and philosophical discussions as signs of a lack of formal organization and a characteristically medieval predilection for encyclopedic summation. In Fortune's Faces, Daniel Heller-Roazen calls into question these assessments, offering a new and compelling interpretation of the romance as a carefully constructed and far-reaching exploration of the place of fortune, chance, and contingency in literary writing. Situating the Romance of the Rose at the intersection of medieval literature and philosophy, Heller-Roazen shows how the thirteenth-century work invokes and radicalizes two classical and medieval traditions of reflection on language and contingency: that of the Provençal, French, and Italian love poets, who sought to compose their "verses of pure nothing"in a language Dante defined as "without grammar," and that of Aristotle's discussion of "future contingents" as it was received and refined in the logic, physics, theology, and epistemology of Boethius, Abelard, Albert the Great, and Thomas Aquinas.Through a close analysis of the poetic text and a detailed reconstruction of the logical and metaphysical concept of contingency, Fortune's Faces charts the transformations that literary structures (such as subjectivity, autobiography, prosopopoeia, allegory, and self-reference) undergo in a work that defines itself as radically contingent. Considered in its full poetic and philosophical dimensions, the Romance of the Rose thus acquires an altogether new significance in the history of literature: it appears as a work that incessantly explores its own capacity to be other than it is.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and Society


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

This work has benefited from the thoughts and comments of many readers, and it is a pleasure to be able to thank them here. My greatest debt is to the two scholars who codirected the doctoral dissertation that lies at the origin of this book, Jacqueline...

Note on Citations

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pp. xiii

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Introduction: The Sense of a Book

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pp. 1-10

Among its collection of French manuscripts, the National Library of Paris possesses an early-fourteenth-century codex containing the text of a poem divided in two parts. At the point in the manuscript in which the two sections of the text are joined, the...

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1 Inventio Linguae: The Language of Contingency

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pp. 11-28

At the opening of De Interpretatione Aristotle defines the nature of speech in terms that are both logical and metaphysical and which, to a large extent, determine the ancient, medieval, and many of the most modern theories of language and its operation...

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2 The Nameless Lover, or The Contingent Subject

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pp. 29-62

It would be difficult to find a figure that has attracted more attention among historians and critics of medieval literature than the one in the poem that, with an apparently simple gesture, says “I.” Since Leo Spitzer’s early essay “Note on the Poetic and..

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3 Fortune, or The Contingent Figure

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pp. 63-99

Form is not the only element of the Roman de la Rose defined by the power of mutability and metamorphosis that the medieval philosophers and theologians called “contingency.” The capacity to be otherwise marks what is perhaps the most fundamental register of the work’s language, which defines the poem as...

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4 Through the Looking-Glass: The Knowledge of Contingency

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pp. 100-131

Toward the end of the Roman de la Rose Nature, encouraged by Genius, gives her “confession” (v. 16696), which the narrator of the romance, in turn, recounts “word for word, just as she said it” (mot a mot, si conme el l’a dite, v. 16698).1 Nature’s first...

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Conclusion: Diverse Verses

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pp. 132-138

Close to the center of the Roman de la Rose a new figure emerges on the scene of the medieval psychomachia: “False Seeming” (Faussemblant, v. 10429), son of “trickery” (Barat) and “hypocrisy” (Hypocrisie), clothed in the “habit of religion” (v. 10444) and...


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pp. 139-180

Works Cited

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pp. 181-200


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pp. 201-206

E-ISBN-13: 9780801881558
E-ISBN-10: 0801881552
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801871917
Print-ISBN-10: 0801871913

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2003

Series Title: Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and Society