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Common Knowledge 9.1 (2003) 164
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Karen Sullivan, The Interrogation of Joan of Arc (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 204 pp.
As Steven Justice has pointed out, historians dealing with inquisitorial texts have to ask themselves where they stand: with the defendant or with the prosecutors? In this case, we already know our position. Joan—legend in her own lifetime (the first pop star?), endlessly remythologized, and with a passing resemblance to Milla Jovovich—is of course our heroine. Sullivan enters the fray with a keen intelligence, analyzing the contours of the trial that condemned Joan to death. Sullivan cautions us to think of the documents, not as a "transparent representation" of Joan, but as a product of the conflict between Joan's speech and the literate, academic discourse of her interrogators. It is they who "opened the space within which Joan was allowed to speak" in order to condemn her speech. Sullivan nicely maps the cultural context of clerical discourse and points to the tensions between Joan's mode of thinking (intuitive, synthetic, subjective) and her interrogators' (logical, analytical, objective). If the overall drive of this intelligent book is to present the clerical interrogators as prisoners of their learned discourse and to valorize Joan's heroic and heteroglossic vocality, we should perhaps not be surprised. Although Joan (as Sullivan shows) was ultimately led to obedience and interpellated into the confessional discourse proffered by her captors, it is in history that, with one paratactic bound, our heroine once more springs free.
John H. Arnold
John H. Arnold, author of History: A Very Short Introduction and Inquisition and Power: Catharism and the Confessing Subject in Medieval Languedoc, is a lecturer at the University of East Anglia.