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B o o k R ev iew s R. Howard Bloch. T h e Sca n d a l o f t h e F a b lia u x . Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986. Pp. 156. The Old French narrative genre of the fabliaux has been the center of sustained scholarly attention in the last few years, as witnessed by M.-T. Lorcin’s Façons de sentir et de penser: les fabliaux français (Paris: H. Champion, 1979), P. Ménard’s Les Fabliaux. Contes à rire du moyen âge (Paris: PUF, 1983) and, most recently, D. Boutet’s Les Fabliaux (Pans: PUF, 1985). The thrust of R. Howard Bloch’s The Scandal of the Fabliaux must be assessed against this critical background. The author seems not to have read Boutet which is regrettable. But he certainly read the “classics” on the topic (Brunetière, Bédier, Nykrog, Rychner), and with a vengeance. Bloch’s Scandal is a provocative and idiosyncratic essay. Deconstructionist and psychoanalytic techniques of textual commentary mingle in an attempt to define the essence of the poetic project under way in the medieval comic tale. The “Introduction” deftly defines the issues mishandled in traditional scholarship and their consequences for the modern perception of the genre: “The fabliau’s historical status as the literary form of social history has, on the one hand, worked to deny the importance of theory for their interpretation, while on the other hand, it has (unwittingly?) contributed to the theory of ‘the natural text’ ” (p. 6). Bloch counters these misconceptions with the claim that the unity of the genre lies less in a single origin, thematics, intention or form than in the reflection upon literary language, so pervasive in the rhymed comic tale “whose subject, mimetic representation notwith­ standing, is the nature of poetry itself” (p. 19). Chapter I, “The Ill-Fitting Coat of the Fabliaux,” defines the comic tale as a "narra­ tive of lack” (p. 22). Having taken “Du Mantel Mautaillé” as a prototype of the story­ telling in the genre, Bloch explores in this chapter the idea of “coat as a representation and of representation as a coat” (p. 24) in medieval literature. He then concludes that the magic coat of the Arthurian court stands in fact for the “robe of fiction,” which is always “empty,” and “inadequate to cover the whole body” (p. 35). Thefabliau as genre thus appears to Bloch as clearly scandalous in its project. What is less clear at times to Bloch’s reader is the point of reference with respect to which the comic tale should be so deemed. The amalgam of Latin references (Macrobius, Alain de l’Isle) and vernacular texts (Chrétien de Troyes, the Roman de Silence) blurs the issue at this point. Bloch disentangles himself somewhat when he states on p. 35 that: “The scandal of the comic tale is not that which traditionally is associated with ‘l’esprit gaulois’ .. . but that they expose so insistently the scandal of their own production.” The issue reappears on pp. 50, 60, and 101. Bloch equates this production with an act of “theft” (p. 35), the poet thus becoming a “rober and a robber” (pp. 30, 37, 50), and the theme of “the stolen stole” (pp. 35, 36, 70) a recurrent narrative element. Chapter II, “The Body and Its Parts,” concentrates on the body under the coat, a body which—like the coat—is, in thefabliaux, never whole. Psychoanalytic concepts such as “castration” and “fetishism” serve at this point to account for the recurrent theme of dismemberment and reification of bodily parts in the comic tale. This dismemberment of the body is directly related, says Bloch, with the modes of linguistic disruption that are the essence of the genre. He makes this point with excellent analyses of poetic devices such as phonologic, onomastic and semantic misunderstandings, elaborate use of proverbs and extended metaphors, verbal automatism and bilingualism (pp. 70-83). This “deflected speech” engenders desire. If there is sexual pleasure in the fabliaux, such pleasure derives less from the “natural” body than from this deferral in speech (p. 90). The “Conclusion,” “The Fabliaux, Fetishism and the Joke,” raises important issues a 126...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 126-127
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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