Giulia Boitani: 'The Origins of Sin: Foucault, History, and Genealogy in the Prose Tristan'


OCT 16, 2020

Session: 29th October
Giulia Boitani (University of Cambridge)
'The Origins of Sin: Foucault, History, and Genealogy in the Prose Tristan'

The initial section of the Tristan en prose has been the subject of multiple critical investigations mostly devoted to pinpointing its teleological purpose or figurative function in relation to the rest of the romance. This paper proposes to reframe the question by reading the
narrative of incest that dominates the ‘prehistory’ of the Tristan against two key concepts that inform Michel Foucault’s 1971 essay ‘Nietzsche, la généalogie, l'histoire’. Firstly, Foucault’s focus on the succession of discursive formations allows for a re-interpretation of the ‘guerre des récits’ that traverses the Tristan; within this critical
framework, Foucault’s work on juridicial forms permits to identify the ‘points of emergence’ of new power/knowledge relationships within the
prehistory, with the advent of ecclesiastical authority embodied by Saint Augustine. Secondly, Foucault's reading of the body as the surface of inscription of discursive conflicts sheds light on the ways in which the Saint’s discourse re-writes the bodies of the two protagonists, Apollo and Chelinde. The narrative of ‘origin’ imposed by Augustine is revealed as chimera: because Tristan’s Arimathean lineage is founded on Apollo and Chelinde’s incest, the ecclesiastical concept of unbroken continuity and ordered descent within “lineage” itself is revealed as an illusion.