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Silence in the Interstices: Epic Cliché and the Editorial Poetics of the Chanson de geste (Couronnement de Louis 736-739) Edward A. Heinemann T HE CHANSON DE GESTE has a long and venerable tradition of “editorial” intervention, from the presumably illiterate oral per­ formers, quite possibly improvising before their audiences, in the eleventh century (if not earlier), through the literate, interventionist scribes of the twelfth to fourteenth centuries, to the erudite philologists, Lachmannian or Bédierist, of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We shall look at a few brief moments in those nine centuries, the composi­ tion of the A, B, and C versions of the Couronnement de Louis, and the Langlois and Lepage editions of that poem.' We shall define some of the poetic components of the genre and examine the effect of an editorial intervention on a seemingly minor detail. In her contribution to this issue, Mary B. Speer distinguishes between the anonymous and changing text and the text of a known author whose œuvre reveals clearly defined characteristics. The notion of an “editorial grid” applies to the work of Chrétien de Troyes, that is, to a single creator’s production preserved in relatively stable texts.2 Speer wonders how far such a personality-oriented grid can apply to an anony­ mous text in two markedly different versions. The chanson degeste, even more alien to the “authorial” grid than is the Roman de Sept Sages, extends over many generations, many sensibilities, and ever-changing versions of the “same” text. The genre does, however, display certain characteristics which the editor must take into account. One such trait, the “epic cliché,” has long been recognized by critics. The epic cliché is a piece of metric filler, a cheville, useful primarily for bringing enough syllables into the line to reach the rhyme or assonance, as in the second hemistich v. 544 of Raoul de Cambrai:3 Emmi la place qi tant fist a loer 544 Cil chevalier commencent a jouer 545 Jean Rychner prints a sample text from the Couronnement de Louis with 24 Spring 1987 H e in e m a n n and without second hemistichs to illustrate how little they contribute to the story line.4Joseph Duggan, charitably calling hemistichs of this sort “ornamental,” says of them: “The ornamental hemistichs do not harm the narrative, but for a modern reader they slow it down considerably.”5 The metricalsentence—Perhaps this slowing down should not be seen as pejorative, and Duggan’s sentence should be understood to mean “The ornamental hemistichs do not harm the narrative; rather, they slow it down.” The speed of the narrative is an element of rhythm. In this perspective, second hemistichs of the epic cliché variety, being seman­ tically light, provide modulation in the narrative rhythm by contrasting “weak” moments, during which the story slows down, to the “strong” ones, during which the story line advances. A low degree of semantic weight in a hemistich and a low degree of semantic cohesion between the two halves of the line of verse, two of the principal characteristics of the epic cliché, are elements in a general system of semantic rhythms in the chanson de geste, a system deriving from the marriage of meter and syn­ tax evoked by Paul Zumthor: On n’a pas ici le banal découpage d’une matière (discours) selon un patron rythmique. Mais, entre discours et rythme se produit un échange vital, engendrant une forme nouvelle, à la fois rythme et discours: le vers (p. 770).6 This “échange vital,” in which meter and syntax fuse, makes rhythm into one of the components of meaning. Indeed, rhythm structures the very substance of the fictive universe. The strong semantic pause at the line end not only breaks discourse into discrete units of ten syllables, it molds the fictive universe into a series of equal components, into so many “referential molecules.” The silence between lines is the void between molecules across which narration throws its bonds. The weaker pause at the cesura breaks the metric sentence into two halves and the narrative molecule into a pair of bonded atoms. In the silence at the cesura, in the void between “semantic atoms...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 24-33
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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