The rhetoric of interlacing in 13th century Arthurian prose romances and Jacques Roubaud's "Le Grand Incendie de Londres"

Date of Completion

January 2004


Literature, Medieval|Literature, Modern|Literature, Romance




Jacques Roubaud is a contemporary mathematician and poet, but also a scholar of medieval literature. In the last thirty years, he has extensively studied Troubadour poetry, Arthurian romances, and has written a number of fictional works informed by the medieval system of re-writing and adopting motifs and stories already written. The pseudo-autobiographical cycle of Le Grand Incendie de Londres borrows a medieval technique of dispositio and inventio, of textual organization and motivation: the “entrelacement”, or intertwining. This technique interweaves various episodes, which follow their own way while crossing other narrative threads in a composition virtually without beginning nor end. These intertwinings are the focus of this dissertation, for they reveal the medieval literary influences on Roubaud's work, and attest the relevance of medieval literature in our contemporary world in general. ^ As the medieval prose romances dedicate numerous threads to the definition and narration of their actual and imaginary sources, Roubaud's cycle, too, keeps its readers abreast of its sources and textual constraints, and of the obstacles that prevent him from writing for several months at a time. These blocks are related to personal issues revealed in the autobiographical sections of the cycle. They are also the direct consequence of the vast project at the basis of this cycle: Le Grand Incendie de Londres narrates the origins and developments of this research project that ambitiously combines mathematics, poetry, and the art of memory. Memory and its representations is a model for the textual entrelacements of Roubaud's cycle; the narrator immerses himself in the time and space of his intertwined memories, and reminds us of Arthur's knights errant losing their paths in the forest, while in search of extraordinary deeds that will reveal their identity and their valor. The multiplication of narrative threads results in a complex text struggling with the death of loved ones the way Arthurian prose romances deal with the Grail: they elude the void by braiding the narrative around it, acknowledging the neant (nothingness) while keeping its destructive power at a safe distance as long as they can. ^