Rebecca Courtier: Revolutionary Love, Radical Poiesis: Cultural Reversals in French Literature


JUN 9, 2021

Session: 10th June
Rebecca Courtier (University of Cambridge)
'Revolutionary Love, Radical Poiesis: Cultural Reversals in French Literature'

This paper sets a medieval chantefable, Aucassin et Nicolette (12th c.-13th c.), and a recent work by Houria Bouteldja, Les Blancs, les Juifs et nous : Vers une politique de l'amour révolutionnaire (2016), in dialogue, offering an alternative critical reflection on hierarchies of difference across the ages, within and beyond Francophone frameworks. The medieval text traces the trials and tribulations of the titular young couple, whose romantic involvement challenges their faith-based, patriarchal, Western European culture by reaching across religious, gender, and class divisions. In turn, Bouteldja’s work marks a manifesto to dismantle white, Western systems of oppression, wed to a campaign for revolutionary love: a different kind of global, cross-category solidarity. Comparing various constructions of ‘culture wars’, this paper interrogates power structures and structural relations (vis-à-vis social systems and systems of thought) across time, with application to the academic context and Western culture, at large. In response to Bouteldja’s question, then, ‘Comment envisager l’amour entre nous, si les privilèges des uns reposent sur l’oppression des autres ?’ [How can we envision love between us if the privilege of the one relies on the oppression of the other?], this paper re-examines the love-affair between Aucassin and Nicolette as a visualisation of resistance. It moves into ongoing issues within and beyond this nonreciprocal relationship, which figure the limits of tolerance and acknowledged culpability when implicated in Western systems. I close with thoughts on how limits on tolerance of intolerance might be established, and how a radical poiesis can give voice to the BIPOC community. This paper thus considers cultural reversal not only as a theme of or narrative technique for the works explored but also for a different critical methodology, and above all, a different form of relation.