Wajih Ayed deposited Somatic Figurations of the Saracen in Sir Thomas Malory’s _Le Morte Darthur_ on Humanities Commons 6 years ago
The Saracen is the master trope of alterity in English literature of the Middle Ages.
No matter how traumatising it can be, perception of otherness is a foundational
prerequisite for identity formation. Edward Said credibly argues that human cultures
“spin out a dialectic of self and other, the subject ‘I’ who is native, authentic, at home,
and the object ‘it’ or ‘you,’ who is foreign, perhaps threatening, different, out there”
(After the Last Sky, 40). There is no escape from alterity, but, as Said lucidly explains,
representation of the Other is usually skewed because it “operates as representations
usually do, for a purpose, according to a tendency, in a specific historical, intellectual,
and even economic setting” (Orientalism 273). From this analytic stance, I contend
that the religious expediencies of “racial purity” and “racial apartness” (Goldberg 72)
in late Medieval British culture bracketed the normality of the Saracen body and made
it a paradigm of deviancy against which the standardised morphology of the Christian
was validated. Radical sequestration of racialised adequacy distanced the ethnically
marked Saracens from the sphere of normalised humanity and represented them
negatively to demarcate a fictive borderline between Christians and non-Christians.
My purpose is to show that the alterity of the Saracen was not a fixed construct, but a
fluid concept which was variably deployed or withdrawn depending on the failure or
success of religious investment in the normalisation of the Other.