Reticent Romans: Silence and Writing in La Vie de Saint Alexis, Le Conte du Graal, and Le Roman de Silence
By Evan J. Bibbe
PhD Dissertation, Louisiana State University, 2003
Abstract: Apart from discourse and yet somehow part of it, silence is a powerfully ambiguous linguistic phenomenon that blurs the lines between presence and absence. Eluding the material aspects of oral and written language, it is only perceptible as the gaps or spaces between words. Nonetheless, it plays a role in all linguistic productions: although silence itself cannot be directly communicated, it can influence communication. In a literary text, silence may takes on many different guises, including rhythmic hesitations, rhetorical omissions, and poetic oppositions that mimic the audible gaps of spoken language. The visual, aural, and fictional interaction of all these components ultimately induces otherwise unnamed meanings, meanings that exist as part of the symbolic network of a text, yet beyond the division and difference of signifiers. And while traces of this phenomenon may be found in literature from all historical periods and genres, the three medieval romances in which I have chosen to explore it – La Vie de Saint Alexis, Le Conte du Graal, and Le Roman de Silence – exhibit a particularly strong awareness of the communicative problems and possibilities engendered by silence. Each one demonstrates – albeit in a slightly different way – that silence is more than just omission: within their pages, it becomes an elusive yet create force that shapes thematic development and structures poetics. Ultimately, however, silence’s structuralizing force is not just textual, but also ontological, affecting our existence and perceptions of who we are.