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GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 6.2 (2000) 287-319



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Eternal Flame:
State Formation, Deviant Architecture, and the Monumentality of Same-Sex Eroticism in the Roman d'Eneas *

Noah D. Guynn


. . . fire everliving, kindled in measures and in measures going out.

--Heraclitus, The Cosmic Fragments

The other is the phantasm of historiography, the object that it seeks, honors, and buries.

--Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History

This essay will examine allegories of state formation in the Roman d'Eneas (c. 1160-65), an anonymous Anglo-Norman "translation" [translatio] of Virgil's Aeneid, one of the earliest examples of vernacular romance, and a precursor to the modern novel. 1 I will show that the Eneas uses rhetorical, narrative, and allegorical strategies to consolidate power in an incorporated, patriarchal, and dynastic model of the state and, as its corollary, a procreative, phallocentric, and heteronormative sexual regime. 2 The allegorical production of the polity suggests, on the one hand, a coherent system of rigidly constructed, multiply articulated levels of meaning in which timeless truths of political order are predicated through hypostatized metaphors. But on the other hand, the polysemic configuration of allegorical meaning might be understood to repudiate absolute structure and point instead to a multiplicity of possible semantic and phantasmic investments and to the potential disruption of metaphors of power through an anarchic or disordered production of political and sexual meaning "otherwise." 3

Gordon Teskey identifies in the etymology of allegory "an oscillating movement" between a negative, intolerable otherness ("the chaotic otherness of the world," or discursive difference generally) and a positive, transcendent otherness (the supernal realm of unchanging essences). He suggests that intolerable otherness is not subsumed to the transcendent perfection of essences in allegory (as [End Page 287] phenomenal reality is subsumed to the archetypal Ideas in Platonic metaphysics) but instead relentlessly resurges in the ongoing production of allegorical meaning, resulting in fragmentation and disorder rather than utopia and political idealism. 4 While allegory may actively sustain ideological order (by signifying the naturalness and universality of the dominant fiction), it also exposes the contingency of ideology, which can command collective belief only through the repetition and renegotiation of political fictions. 5 Similarly, the pleasure associated with allegory (the unrequited and ever-revivified desire to discover truthful meaning in metaphorical representation) is, on one level, produced through an identification with the ruling ideology and an unquestioning replication or miming of its rhetorical and representational structure; but it is, on another level, activated, as all desire must be, by the failure of identification and ideological interpellation. 6 As an unpredictable, unmasterable form of persuasion, desire resists the formality of rhetoric and thwarts logocentric, essentializing modes of representation; it seduces, in the sense of leading aside, away, or astray. As a result, it constitutes both a privileged site of discipline and an imminent threat of disruption; it is a nexus of conflicting tendencies where we can begin to identify the coercive or antagonistic operations of normative political and sexual codes.

There is a profound irony in reading the Eneas as a mise-en-scène of the imminent disruption of its normative order, first because it is a text that carefully and conspicuously seeks to regulate political and sexual identifications, and second because it has long been read as a product of a period of political consolidation and incorporation and therefore as participating in the incipient phases of medieval state formation. That the violent imposition of political and sexual order takes place in rhetorical and allegorical figures would appear, on one level, to guarantee a certain universality and indisputability and to confer stability and integrality on the state. Rhetoric adheres to precisely codified rules, while allegory predicates the unchanging essence of the thing it represents. On another level, however, historicity in the Eneas (particularly the history of Eneas's voyage from Troy to Carthage to Rome) is itself figured rhetorically, as supposedly determinate instantiations of universal paradigms and representational codes. 7 In this sense...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9375
Print ISSN
1064-2684
Pages
pp. 287-319
Launched on MUSE
2000-03-01
Open Access
No
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