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Saturday, 05 August 2006


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Alex Leibowitz

It's a shame, because the passage itself is quite clever, and one could do some deconstructive work on it -- i.e. by taking the fox's words from his own mouth (even literally), the cock gets the fox to affirm them, but just as the fox *signs* his own speech, its signified is lost in the iteration...

That's clumsily written, but I think it works. Now of course one can't draw metaphysical conclusions from any of that...

[swift delurk]

Isn’t the Chaucer text a little confused too? The cock appears to be in the fox’s mouth and on its back at the same time. Seriously: maybe it’s a crap reading of Chaucer, or maybe it isn’t, but could you tell us a bit more about the person’s general argument and the context of the statements, so we can judge for ourselves, rather than plucking out two sentences, garlanding them with "grrr! grrr! harumph! harrumph!" and asking us to nod in agreement? ("terrifying" "monstrous" "brute" "horrors" "nonsense" "shock tactics for puerile minds"..."Chill, my friend, chill.")

Scott Eric Kaufman

Alex, I certainly think there's a good deconstructive reading to be had here, this just isn't it.

S.D., the fox has Chauntecleer slung over his shoulder, like a hunting with a duck, I imagine. As for the overall argument, it's a fairly straightforward, mid '80s artifact, with a thesis along the lines of "you can tell Chaucer's smart and worth reading because he's a proto-Derridian." Some more quotes:

The comic errors [in NPT] have come to exemplify the dangerous nature of signs for Chaucer.


Ths scene of the need situates language at its threshold, as if it has just emerged from animal sound, with need itself an origin for language. In the sense, then, that "the more rational" a language is, "the better it expresses need" (Derrida, Grammatology 242), Chauntecleer's argument for the truthfulness of dreams "expresses" his plight before the "glowynge eyen tweye," expands and justifies the groaning, supplements its deficient ability to control.


'There is nothing outside the text' (Derrida, Grammatology 158) is a possibility already latent in medieval sign theory itself.


In short, the Tale threatens to show that supplementation has, in the phrase Derrida owes to Heidegger, always already begun.


The multiple oppositions within the poem ... may remain hinged, with no ontologically proven side able finally to reduce its opposite, for the reason that such doubling inheres in the sign itself.

The author's obviously a bright guy, but his article's really of its time.

Alex Leibowitz

Who knew Chaucer was a nominalist?

[swift delurk]

Thanks for the context Scott - I can see what you mean, and the reason for the irritation, more clearly now. The guy knows where he wants to go and there's no stopping him; I wouldn't like to get between a hungry deconstructionist and his (sous rature) dinner. A lovely phrase I read somewhere about the latter-day decons came to mind: "the jejeune logophobia of the epigoni" - not quite what's going on here, but I love the phrase so much, I'll use any excuse to quote it. I had thought about the slung over shoulder thing, but is that how foxes really carry things they've caught? I'm finding it hard to visualize it (wouldn't his head be twisted around too much?), but what do I know about foxes.

Luther Blissett

Scott, not to defend this critic's silly reading, but S.D. is right: the cock is at first slung over the fox's shoulder. But in order for the cock to "brak from [the fox's] mouth delyverly," we have to assume that at some point either (a) the fox put the cock into his mouth or (b) Chaucer isn't keeping track of where he put his cock.

I don't think (b) is the case. Pardon my transcultural ahistorcism for a moment, but these sorts of all-important ellisions are all over Native American "trickster" tales, especially Coyote stories. As Anne Doueihi has argued in "Inhabiting the Space Between Discourse and Story in Trickster Narratives," these ellisions appear to be moments where the *way* of telling the story mimics the shape-shifting and craftiness of the character.

In any case, the cock says "cock" from within the mouth of the fox. Which allows the cock to escape.

Did cock even have the sexual meaning in middle English?

Scott Eric Kaufman

The Little Womedievalist informs me that "cock" doesn't have the sexual meaning at that time. (So spake the MED.)

S.D. and L.B., here's where the fox grabs him:

And by the gargat hente chauntecleer, And on his bak toward the wode hym beer

He has him by the "gargat," or throat, so presumably the rest of Chauntecleer's on his back. I'm trying and failing to find a picture of this, but having grown up around hunters, I know that when dogs have animals by the neck, they're trained to sort of sling them on their back. (Not fully, mind you.) However, the narrative doesn't make sense if the cock's transfered from mouth to back to mouth, as the second he's released from the fox's grip, he alights.

All of that said, L.B., you're right that the word cock comes from the mouth of the fox via the cock, but that seems different than it coming from his throat ... or maybe I'm just disinclined to give this scholar the benefit of the doubt (a likely scenario).

[swift delurk]

OK here’s my shot:

The cock invokes not just his own name but mimics the fox calling on God ("I’ll eat him, by my faith") to grant final affirmation of the fox’s consumption of the signified (its very meatiness seeming to emphasize its extra-linguistic reality.) The fox then repeats, not the name of the to-be-eaten, but rather the final guarantor of meaning, the signifying currency-of-last-resort, God’s name. "God" (the Signifier and the "faith" in the world He has created) in a crescendo of significatory authority, goes from (mentioned parenthetically) to being-part-of-a-mimickry to appears-‘authentic’-to-the-subject-but-is-in-fact-unbeknownst-or-overlooked-by-him-
just-a-mimicry-of-a-mimicry. And the result of all this reaffirmation, this reauthorization of the whole process of that the (so-called) signified flutters away, never to be consumed in all its satisfying plenitude.

(The 80s fashion-victim scholar is on to something but doesn't see Just How High Up This Thing Goes...(think of the Donald Sutherland scene by the Lincoln Memorial in "JFK"))

So...everything depends upon how you read what’s in the brackets. Is it a genuine little aside by the cock, muttered under his breath, a private prayer at the moment of danger, or is it just a shammed moment of the "fox's" interiority still within the cock’s performance and so just a further thin layer of falsehood which paradoxically lends credence to his impersonation of the fox? If you had to read the piece aloud, you would have to decide one way or another, but with print's mute textuality, you get not to choose. Hurray!

Where does it flutter to? Above, upwards, in the direction of the Transcendental, only to alight, to skim the upper surface of...a "dark wood." But the wood is not fully dark: it has light enough to allow us (who?) to discern the sign-tree on which the sign-cock briefly rests. (The endless chiarascuric play of the sign-system...By saying the "dark wood", GC is simultaneously saying the "not-dark wood"...) And then some more: the cock and the fox only exist within a social system – the cock is not just an unmarked object-in-the-world, but is already owned (by the "presumptuous peasants"), and this mark of ownership must be erased before it can be eaten. And...that social system, the cock, the fox and all are surrounded (circum-scribed, if you will) by the aforementioned dark woods of signification. This immanent Lichtung which we inhabit, this place within the woods, is not a set of correspondence-truths, but rather a place where we humans can find brief dominion over the animals and the signs, long enough to eat our dinner. Bon appetit.

Luther Blissett

I get it now. I had a cartoon image of the rooster actually speaking while within the fox's comically oversized mouth. Too much Warner Bros. growing up. What was is you were saying about close reading? I could certainly use some practice with it.

Luther Blissett

On third thought, what this beast fable *really* is is Homi Bhabha avant le lettre. The cock subverts the fox by mimicking his voice. Omigod! Or maybe Chaucer was the medieval Zizek: the interior voice of conscience is really the Real Voice we confront from the Outside. The Real is the Voice of the Cock.

In all seriousness, I hadn't noticed, despite my comment about Tricksters, how similar this story is to the tale of the signifying monkey. If Chauntecleer isn't black, he's certainly part of the African-American signifyin(g) tradition. But maybe this is just Norman Mailer speaking through my own White Negro gargat: even mentioning a Black Cock is enough to rejuvenate Western culture (Or as Saint Jack would say, "Go man go, Charlie Parker is the Mute Beat Chicken Buddha of the Long Dark American Night of the Soul").

I need to sleep:

Alex Leibowitz

My hopelessly naive question was censored! Here it is (was):

If Derrida has already proved his theories in his works, what's the point of finding that they are also true of various works of literature?


Well, the idea would be to apply his ideas in order to reveal specific interesting things in the particular work, not just to show that you can apply them.

Alex Leibowitz

It's just a cock, for God's sake! This isn't James Joyce...

Scott Eric Kaufman

But Alex, sometimes a cock isn't just a cock ... now please, someone get me a gun. I have a suicide to attend to.

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