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A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature.

This essay will look at three Old Norse texts which, despite their significant historical disparity both of composition and manuscript compilation, as well as their formal and topical heterogeneity may nevertheless be read sui generis for their treatment of fatalism and their reflexive preoccupation with modes of artistic production in the creation of the textual object. They are, the Vlusp, a vatic cosmogony written in the fornyrislag metre characteristic of Eddaic mythological verse; Nornagests ttr, a framed narrative detailing heroic action of the Migration period and sharing the dynastic topoi of the MHG Nibelungenlied and the ON Vlsunga saga; and the Darraarlj, the supernatural lausavsur, also in fornyrislag, that irrupt the 157th episode of Brennu-Njls saga.1 Not only are these texts divergent between themselves, they are significantly discrete from surrounding material in their manuscript contexts; particularly Nornagests ttr and the Darraarlj. The Vlusp, as both cosmogony and eschatalogy describes an enclosed teleological system, which stands before, wraps around and underscores the rest of the poems in the Codex Regius: it provides an epistemological framework for the texts which follow, as well as to take the measure of their ontology.2 Nornagests ttr lodges an example of fornaldarsaga narrative within the konungasaga of lf Tryggvasson, and is but one of over thirty such interpolated ttir (threads, strands, tales) that comprise the Longest Saga found in the Flateyjarbk MS.3 The Darraarlj similarly forms a quasi-independent semiotic loop: its composition long predates that of the Njla text and its integrity with
1

Vlusp, preserved in Codex Regius (GKS 2365 4to) and in Hauksbk (Codex AM 544 4to); all references to Dronkes edition (Oxford, 1997) as V with stanza number(s) in parenthesis in text. Nornagests ttr, intercalated in lfs saga Tryggvassonar in the Flateyjarbk MS (GkS 1005 fol); all references to VigfssonUnger edition (Christiania, 1860) as Ng with page-number(s) in parenthesis in text. Darraarlj, intercalated in Brennu-Njls saga MSS Reykjabk, Oddabk, Mruvallabk and Grskinnuauki; all references to slenzk Frnrit edition (Rekjavk, 1954) as F, volume, and page number(s) in parenthesis in text. 2 Heidegger writes that [m]ans dwelling depends on an upward-looking, measuretaking of the span between the earth and the sky in ...Poetically Man Dwells... trans. Hofstadter (1984). 3 See Carol Clover, Medieval Saga, (Ithaca, 1982), 81-83.

A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature. that narrative is questionable, while the febrility of its drives seems radically to propel it through and beyond the potential of symbolic discourse, as well as the domain of the sign. To paraphrase Derrida, its invagination within the textual object creates an internal pocket larger than the whole; and the outcome of this division and of this abounding remains as singular as it is limitless.4 These latter two units (Nornagests ttr and Darraarlj), embedded within textual frameworks of largely coherent, more or less plausible, predominantly descriptive pseudo-historical prose (lfs saga Tryggvassonar and Brennu-Njls saga) enact a mythic reflex (and reflux), enfolding (and flowing back to) a plane of fatalism consisting before and behind historical time as it obtains in saga-narrative. Such points of contact and rupture between the discrete realms of linear causal time and fatewhich has no operation as such, but to exist through itself, an always already, and ineluctable, givenwitness the shattering of commonsense representation and give place to a mode of artistic reflexivity in which the skeletal structure of the signifying practice is suddenly, if ephemerally, thrown into relief. Insofar as these structurally sub-dependent units (ttr and lj) trace out the contours of an exchange with uncanny agents of fatalism (nornir and valkyrjur) they are essentially transgressive. Yet Gestrs sublime trajectory underscores the limits of an ideologically normative discourse in which the ethics of heroism, martial prowess and dynastic virtue are valorised, even as the social and political value of narrative in itself is enshrined by the device of oral performance within which the semiotic loop is framed. Drrurs experience of voyeuristic abjection on the periphery of the gynceum at Caithness is stretched across the boundary between the mundane and fantastic; a site through which the oscillating drives of desire and disgust are drawn. As the weaving song unfolds it radically disrupts the mechanism of representation: the terror of the real overwhelmingly threatens the imaginary-symbolic
The Law of Genre, trans. Avital Ronell, in Critical Inquiry, vol. 7 no. 11, (Autumn, 1980), 55-81, 59; from Glyph 7(Spring, 1980).
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A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature. continuum as the Death-drive is cathected through a moment of production into a product by which it cannot be accommodated. In the Vlusp the disembodied vlva stages a traumatic parturition from a gestative state to the genesis of earthly phenomena and participation in the symbolic order, describing a process by which signification itself is inaugurated. Psychoanalytic theory will provide the intellectual framework of this essay. Conceptssuch as sublimation, abjection, the maternal object, the symbolic, the real and the objet petit aderived from Lacan, and developed by Kristeva, will be employed in order to unpeel some of the tissues of meaning that cohere in representations of fatalism in the primary texts. Moreover these concepts will provide particular insights into the way such representations reflect the very process and product of representation back upon itself. What seems to be at stake, when fatalism is adduced in Old Norse literature, is nothing less than meaning in its totality, for every member of the discursive matrix: whether composer, audience, or critic. Lacanian analysis provides a powerful tool for understanding how such meaning is generated and recirculated, for it is a theory in which language, before all, gives place to the subject. Furthermore, as developed by Kristeva, its interdisciplinary potential has been demonstrated as the psychoanalytic model can be seen to cut across methodological and experiential boundaries, whether social, political, historical, theological, ontological, or poetic. It is an implicit aim of this paper to articulate these registers and their interpenetrations as they bear upon the creation of the textual object. In what follows then psychoanalytic concepts will briefly be introduced and explained and tested against the primary textual evidence. It is hoped that the theoretical and literary discourses may be engaged in collaboration: for texts are not the dumb objects of analytic practice but may be regarded as witnesses that are themselves capable of illuminating the analytic process in which they participate.

A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature.

The Vlusp provides an auspicious point of departure for it is a poem, in its early phase, of beginnings: an opening and unfolding of the cosmos. Yet when this composition is viewed in its historical context now generally agreed to have been around the turn of the eleventh centuryit is possible to witness the dialectical tension from which these extraordinary verses spring.5 As Germanic polytheism was systematically displaced by the advent of Christianity at the dawn of the newand twilight of the oldmillennium, participants of Scandinavian culture experienced both loss and renewal; energies reflected in the cosmogonic and eschatological patterns of the Vlusp.6 Implicit in this dynamic and giving place to the very media which enable us to assess it are the adoption of the Roman alphabet and the institution of scriptoria which the Church had brought. Ironically it was only by dint of conversion to Christianity, as a religion of the Book, that material preconditions for the textual expression of the pagan mythos were satisfied.7 This dialectic is tautened by the historical gaps between the composition of the Vlusp and its textual emergence in the sources now extant; first in the Codex Regius MS (GKS 2365 4to) c.1270 and then in the Hauksbk MS (Codex AM 544 4to) c.1330.8 Thus the extent to which Christian doctrine has impinged upon native beliefs as available to us in these texts is still an open site of conjecture and debate.9 Julia Kristeva observes that crises of social structures and their ideological, coercive, and necrophilic manifestationshave occurred at the dawn and decline of every mode of production, arguing that such
On dating Vlusp, see John Lindow, Mythology and Mythography in Clover and Lindow (eds.), Critical Guide, (Toronto, 1985; 2005), 48. 6 On the millenial conversion period, see Jenny Jochens, Late and Peaceful in Speculum, vol.74, no.3 (Jul., 1999), 621-655. 7 On the advent of alphabetic literacy in Iceland, see Judy Quinn, From orality to literacy in Clunies-Ross (ed.), Old Icelandic literature and society, (Cambridge, 2000), 30-31. 8 On dating the Codex Regius see Harris, Eddic Poetry, (Toronto, 1985; 2005), 75. On Hauksbk, see Sveinsson, Dating the Icelandic sagas, (London, 1958), 12. 9 A brief summary of some key positions in this debate is provided by Lindow in Mythology and Mythography (1985; 2005), 40-41.
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A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature. crises are the midwives to an exhaustive turn in the signifying practice.10 With the paradigm shiftsreligious, cultic, and textual transpiring around the millenial period, and repercussing throughout succeeding centuries, Icelandic self-expression within the new institution and technology of literature was fringed with the trauma of parturition. The Mirror Stage identified by Lacan is the phase during which the infant develops understanding of the relation duelle, not only between the body and the Ego, but between the imaginary and the real:
[the] jubilant assumption of his specular image by the child at the infans stage...would seem to exhibit in an exemplary situation the symbolic matrix in which the I is precipitated in a primordial form, before it is objectified in the dialectic of identification with the other, and before language restores it, in the universal, its function as subject.11

The moment of subject-formation precipitates abjection from the hitherto dyadic relationship with the maternal object: where [t]here is language instead of the good breast...[d]iscourse is being substituted for maternal care.12 To enter discourse then is to be driven at once by desire and disgust: the subject is driven against its abjection from the maternal object by desire, but at once militates, in disgust, against the dissolution of its subjectivity that such a return would entail.13 Through the Vlusp one may trace a trajectory of parturition, from the primordial pre-symbolic to object-relations, the preliminary acquisition of meaning, and the issue of textuality as a bounded set. The language of negation that structures the third stanza reads like the primordial ur-state that obtains a priori language-acquisition: a formless void, the pre-symbolic semiotic chora:14
Revolution in Poetic Language, trans. Roudiez, (New York, 1984), 15; Kristeva argues for a particularly explosive manifestation of this tendency in modernity but acknowledges that it punctuates cultural history all the way back to Homer and Pindar. 11 Lacan, crits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan, (New York, 1977), 1-7, (2). 12 Kristeva, Powers of Horror, (New York, 1982), 45.
10 13

Kristeva adapts this term from the Platonic Timus. In her discourse the chora is the vessel through which the drives, undefined and inarticulate, pour and are emptied out: a nonexpressive totality formed by the drives and their stases in a
14

A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature.

r var alda, ar er Ymir byggi: vara sandr n sr n svalar unnir. Ir fannz va n upphiminn: gap var ginnunga, en gras hvergi,

It was in the early ages when Ymir made his dwelling there was not sand nor sea nor chill waves. Earth was not to be found nor above it heaven a gulf was there of gaping voids and grass nowhere

(V 3) Interwoven with and seeding these images of primordiality are tropes of gestation and fashioning:
r Burs synir biom um ypo, eir er migar mran skpo. Before Burrs sons lifted up seashores they who moulded glorious Migarr.

(V 4) Chronological priority, suggested by the preposition r, segues into the creation-image in the preterite, so that cosmogonic inertia is evoked through a backward glance upon events that have yet to although foreordained tocome into being from the vatic perspective of an I whose vision encompasses the patterns of fate and time in their totality. The translation moulded for skpo is somewhat reductive for skapa (v, inf.) has a semantic plurality that cuts through and shapes events on the physical, linguistic, and fatalistic planes.15 The metaphor for the drawing up and shaping of Migarr as a shoreline against the primordial waveless Ginnungagap, describes the moment of articulation where formlessness resolves into form, and this shaping and measure-taking, of space, meaning, and fate as the middle-yard stakes out the teleological enclosure of human agency.
motility that is as full of movement as it is regulated, Revolution, 25-30, (25); see also Desire in Language, trans. Gora, Jardine, Roudiez, (1981; 1989), 133. 15 For examples see Cleasby-Vgfusson, (Oxford, 1847), 537-38.

A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature. Ursula Dronke observes that the Vlusp synthesizes three independent myths of origin: that of the giant birth of the world tree...that of the lifting of the first earth out of the primordial ocean... [and] that of the primordial giant-corpse from which the earth and sky were fashioned.16 Returning later to the topos of the world-ash Yggdrasill, let us first make the transition between the second and third of these mythic metaphors. The Codex Regius text of the Vlusp, in fact, does not elaborate the conceit by which corporeal details of the giant Ymirs physical existence provide the prima materia for the cosmogony.17 The primary extant evidence of this myth is provided by the Gylfaginning section of the Snorra Edda:
r Ymis holdi var jr of skpu en r sveita sjr, bjrg r beinum, bamr r hri, en r hausi himinn; en r hans brm geru bl regin Migar manna sonum, en r hans heila vru au hin harmgu sk ll of skpu.
18

From Ymirs flesh was earth created, and from blood, sea; rocks of bones, trees of hair, and from his skull, the sky. And from his eyelashes the joyous gods made Migard for mens sons, and from his brains were those cruel clouds all created.19

Ymir, the monadic ur-form of humanity and first in the race of hrmursa (frost-giants) is himself generated by a synthetic contamination of the Ginnungagap with the heat of Muspell and the cold of Niflheim.20 The first phases of this cosmogony then are
The Poetic Edda: Mythological Poems, 2 vols., (Oxford, 1997) II, 32. See Gabriel Turville-Petre, who squeamishly sees this as one of the grotesque motives of pagan mythology in Origins of Icelandic Literature, (Oxford, 1953), 61. 18 Edda: Prologue and Gylfaginning, ed. Anthony Faulkes, (Oxford, 1982), 12. 19 Edda, trans. Faulkes, (London, 1987; 2003), 13. 20 See Edda, (1982), 10, ll.10-15.
16 17

A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature. essentially gestative, consisting in the pure motility of physics and the biological outgrowth of physicality as earthly phenomena that are mapped onto and through the anatomical model. The mode is anaclitic: the universe, in the full range of its natural manifestation geological, arboreal, marine, celestial and meterologicalinheres in the totality of the monadic body-model.21 It is through parturition from this totality that the potential for significance itself is realised. The dyadic prototype is provided by Yggdrasill, the world-ash: the structural axis of the universe and parent of life:
Ask veit ek standa, heitir Yggdrasill, hr bamr, ausinn hvtaauri. An Ash I know there stands, Yggdrasill is its name, a tall tree, showered with shining loam.

(V 19) Yggdrasills species, the Ash, links its materiality with that of the Ask ok Emblo discovered by the three sir of the seventeenth stanza:
Fundo landi ltt megandi Ask ok Emblo rlglausa. They found on land, little capable Ash and Embla, without destiny.

(V 17) The raw material of humanity, here in its unpotentiated pre-symbolic state is of a piece with the material conditions of Yggdrasill, the parentobject. Yet the Ash and the Embla are abjected from the centrality focussed upon the parent, stranded upon a shore which demarcates the outermost extent of Migarrs spatial limits. Immediately supervening upon this splitting off from dyadic integrity is the extraordinary sequence describing language-acquisition and subject-

On anaclisis, see Kristeva, Place Names in Desire in Language, (1980), 271-94 (280-86).
21

A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature. formation through which the object-relations of the cosmos are resolved by restorative entry into the symbolic order:
nd

au n tto,

Breath they had not, spirit they had not, no film of flesh nor cry of voice, nor comely hues. Breath inn gave, spirit Hnir gave, film of flesh Lurr gave and comely hues. (V 18)

au n hfo, l n lti n lto ga.


nd

gaf inn,

gaf Hnir, l gaf Lurr ok lto ga.

The symmetrical antithesis describes, and re-scribes, the state and process of lack and its fulfillment: of abjection and restoration. The human subject, thus rendered, understands itself through its relation to, and difference from, the parent stock. Its separation and invagination in a film of flesh or limit (l) constitutes and reseals its division and release from the anaclitic phase, as breath or animus (nd) and vitality or being-there () confer autonomy. This is now a separate subject in a world of objects, yet one bound up in the very grain of its texture with the biological materiality of its maternal origins. The restorative function of entry into the symbolic redresses the condition of lack (rlglausa). The human subject may now participate in the Law of the Father and address itself to the signifying apparatuses through which human thought, activity, and language are constituted. Bound up in this transition is the prescription of fate as an ontological imperative. The nineteenth and twentieth stanzas dealing with this operation perform a syntagmatic abstraction that mirrors an estranged apprehension of time:
Ask veit ek standa, heitir Yggdrasill,

A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature.


hr bamr ausinn hvtaauri, aan koma dggvar rs dala falla, stendr yfir grnn Urarbrunni. aan koma meyjar, margs vitandi, rjr r eim s er und olli stendr. Ur htu eina, ara Verandi, - skro ski Skuld ina rijo. r lg lgo, r lf kuro alda brnum, rlg seggja.

(V 19-20) In thus far tacitly re-ordering the stanzaic sequence to nineteenseventeen-eighteen I have deliberately situated Yggdrasill a priori the Ask ok Emblo of the seventeenth stanza. However in the surface structure of the text, the parturition sequence occurs before the description of Yggdrasill, the parent-object. This felicitously reflects the sequence of the Mirror Stage model developed by Lacan, for it is indeed necessary for the subject to be abjected from the anaclitic phase as a precondition of the recognition of its parent as an extrinsic object-relation. The text performs a further analepsis, however, in deferring the description of Urarbrunni (Urrs well) and its function until the twentieth stanza. The well of fate nourishes the world-ash, parent-tree of human life. Thus the raw material from which the human form is hewn has ab aevo drawn vitality and growth from the liquor of fatalism. The biological metaphor thus structures the

A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature. profoundly radical integrity of fatalism with the affairs of human agency. Furthermore, in restructuring the timeflow, the double analepsis reflects the human recognition of destiny. The pattern of fate is the abstract ur-plane consisting beyond the limit of language and cognition, yet impinging upon and protracting the events of history and reality, as understood by commonsense empiricism. Human recognition of fate plays strange tricks with time: the discovery of the foreordination of the patterns of causalitywhich consist both before time and outside of time and yet determine how and to which extent time itself will elapse for the subjectis predominantly a post facto experience. We may feel the hand of history on our shoulder, but its destinal operation is never entirely clear, in an imagistic totality, until the thread of life itself is cut. The appearance of the nornir, Urr, Skulr and Verani completes the textual set which describes the cosmogonic phase and which occupies approximately the first third of the poem. Their textual determination of the fate of Migarr (skro ski) completes the trajectory of creation and gives place to the continuum of history by investing it with significance. It is they who consolidate and fulfil the totality of meaning and finalise restorative entry into the symbolic order (r lg lgo / r lf kuro / alda brnum, / rlg seggja). Fatalism thus comprises a form of linguistic and textual agency, as the teleological continuum, in its entirety, from the first resolution of the formless Ginnungagap to the eschatalogical twilight at Ragnark, is patterned by a single utterance in the form of a runic inscription at the dawn of cosmic time. Yet the operation of fate resists linguistic and cognitive apprehension, and instead forms part of the mechanism of the real. The real, in the Lacanian sense is a traumatic residue which infuses speaking subjects with the anxiety that language is not everything but rather breached by a gaping hole.22 It is precisely

Sarah Kay, Courtly Contradictions, (Stanford, 2001), 31; citing Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts, 25-26.
22

A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature. that which is outside the symbolic, and so outside reality as it is represented by the subject to itself.23 The gap thus manifested in the symbolic is conceptualised by Lacan as the objet a: an abstraction of all that underlies our obsessive fabrication of objects...in its imaginary dimension, an endless lure for the subject; at the same time it is a position set up for us by the deceits of the symbolic, a presence summoned to plug the absence behind it.24 The objet a, then, is a vortex at the centre of the symbolic, endlessly stimulating an imperative to generate that which might mask and seal over this void, and so occlude the terrifying penumbra of the real. Such subrogation is endemic in cultureindeed throughout social practice in generalproviding a basis for metaphor and imagery and driving, in essence, the very creation of the textual object. An element of contradiction thus obtains in the textual reflexivity with which the Vluspas well as the next two texts under discussionframes the topic of fatalism: their expression of the mechanism of fate in terms of, and as, a significative object or textual event, both excavates and fills in that space in which fate itself is inscribed and worked through. Nornagests ttr survives in only one manuscript, the Flateyjarbk: the most imposing textual object in the Old Icelandic corpus. Lavishly illuminated (by Old Norse standards) and extending to over 220 single folio vellums, this is also a manuscript which is uniquely privileged with a full codicological history.25 The compilatorial zeal with which the kings sagas were copiously amplifiedto the point, practically, of the distortion of their narrative fabricattests to and is perhaps the high
Increasingly, Lacan becomes preoccupied with the incapacity of the symbolic to take account of what is there in reality; this lack in the symbolic both reflects and generates a sense that reality has a profoundly traumatic dimension which exceeds language. Thus although the symbolic orchestrates all the resources of language, it also itself stands in a relation of negation, and contradiction, to the real, Kay, ibid, 29-30. 24 Kay, ibid, 33. 25 Codex Flatiensis MS GkS 1005 fol.
23

A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature. point of the antiquarian impulse animating the Icelandic literary culture of the fourteenth century. With the extensive intercalation of ttir into the larger textual frameworks of the konungasgur, the scribecompilators Jon prestr rarson and Magns prestr rhallzson, under the aegis of the books patron Jonn Hakonarson, performed the generous conservation of an extensive range of material that would otherwise have been lost to obscurity; including, and not limited to, Orkneyinga saga, Freyinga saga, Eirks saga raua and Grnlendinga saga. That an acute awareness of the shape and function of the textual object should have obtained during the undertaking of such an ambitious cultural project is in no way surprising. It is equally to be expected that such reflection would work its way into the text itself. In marking out the limits of the textual subset, and attempting its suture to the larger narrative frame, the compilator(s) controlling the inclusion of Nornagests ttr foregrounded its textuality through tropes of authentication that ironically disclose its outstanding artificiality. In the manuscript witness the limits of the textual subset are defined by its own rubricationher hefr aatt af NornaGestiand that of the following taleaatr Helga orissunar (Ng 346, 359). Sidling up against these paratextual signifiers are the framing terms of the text itself in which Gest is warmly brought into the circle of lafr Tryggvassons court (Konungr tok honum uel) and the final reflection upon this guests worth and the validity of his story (otti konungi ok mikit mark at sgum hans ok otti sannazst um lifgada hans sem hann sagde). The trajectory of Nornagests ttr thus describes an arc of great promise fulfilled and is lodged with a truth-claim that belies the fantasmatic excesses of its heroic mythological topoi. It is a narrative that fully embraces those characteristics defined by Kristeva as inhering in le texte clos (the bounded text): for it is, as ideologeme, closed and terminated in its very beginnings.26 The ideologeme is
26

See The Bounded Text in Desire in Language, (1981; 1989), 36-63, (41).

A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature. that intertextual function read as materialized at the different structural levels of each text, and which stretches along the entire length of its trajectory, giving it its historical and social coordinates.27 The difficulty remains of squaring this ideologically normative anchorage with the circle of uncanny diegesis that Gestr relates in his romantic account of the fornaldarsaga narrative, and the acceptance of its truth-claim by lafr Tryggvasson; a genuine historical character deposited within and in relation to a patent fabrication. In order to resolve this quandary it will be valuable to return to Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. Within and beyond the textual and paratextual markers already mentioned, which outline the limits of the textual subset, is a framing trope which although only disclosed in the final stages of the ttr determines, in itself, the trajectory and extent of Gests ontology. I refer of course to the vlurs prophecy, and the candle as the object in which the fatal curse of the norn is invested:
Kallar hon a hatt ok ridiliga ok bad hinar htta sua godum ummlum uit mig. uiat et skapa honum at at hann skaligi lifa leingr en kerti at brennr er upp er tendrat hea suininum. Eftir etta tok hin ellri uoluan kertit ok slokti ok bidr modur mina uardueita ok kuikia igi fyrr en a sidazsta degi lifs mins....a er ek er at nu med mer roskinn madr fr modir minn mer kerti etta til uarduitzslu. hefui ek suarar. (Ng 358) She called out fiercely and in anger, commanding them to desist in their good prophecies for me, declaring instead that I should not live longer than that candle shall burn. After this the eldest vlur took the candle and snuffed it out and gave it to my mother for safekeeping, telling her not to light it till the last day of my life. Once I had fully come of age, my mother gave me the candle to look after. I have it with me now.

In Lacans seventh seminar (1959-60) he formulates a model of sublimation as that fulfilment of jouissance that transpires in the zone
27

Kristeva, ibid, 36.

A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature. between two deaths.28 Sarah Kay writes that the sublime results from lethal destructiveness, and yet it also occludes the reality of death, into the uncanny form of the victims preternatural beauty or ethical significance.29 The whole of Gests lifeseveral centuries of it is suspended in the anticipation and holding at bay of the death which will inevitably supervene upon the final extinction of this enchanted candle. He thus occupies a charmed existence, which is simultaneously, and continually, circumscribed by a deathly halo. The conservation of this object thus enacts a displacement and deferral of the real and gives place to the trajectory of sublimation in which the ever-threatening aura of the death-drive is cathected and redistributed into a symbolic-imaginary representation of superlative magnificence. Gest is unequivocally admitted to the inner sanctum of the royal court where he evinces prowess and beauty: Konungr suarar. Gestr muntu her uera huersu sem u hitir [the king said you shall be a guest here, whatever your name is]...rifligr madr ertu egir kongungr. Gestr sia uar diarfr j ordum ok miri en flestir menn adrir sterkligr ok nokkuat hniginn j efra alldr [You are a handsome man, said the king. Gest was forthright in speech, more so than previous men, and strong and seemed older] (Ng 346). His accomplishments, at playing the harp and storytelling, are similarly valorized and he is deemed, in all respects, a singular hirmar: er honum skipat utar fra gestum. Hann uar sidsamr madr ok latadr uel. uar hann ok okkasamr af flestum monnum ok virdizst uel. [he was seated away from the other guests. He was a polite man and behaved well. He was beloved of many and highly thought of] (Ng 347). His noble status is consolidated by the wager in which he proves that his fragment of a golden saddle-ringgold being so often the index of valour in romance as in later saga literatureis of exemplary value (allgott gull) (Ng 348). Having thus enshrined this character with a full range of courtly
First published as Lthique de psychanalyse, (1959-60); translated as The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, (London: Routledge, 1992). 29 Courtly Contradictions, (2001), 218.
28

A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature. virtues, and legitimated his authenticity the stage is set for his own voice to take over the narrative and lodge its mythic history within the larger textual frame: o uilium uer heyra segir konungr med ui at u hefir oss adr hitit sgu inne [Now, said the king, Id like to hear the story of how you came by that gold in your possession] (Ng 349). Nornagests affiliation with the population of the mythic NifelungVlsung dynasty (J essi ferd uar med Sigurdi Hamundr brodir hans ok Reginn duergr. Ek uar ok ar ok kolludu eir mig a Nornagest. Uar Hialpreki kunnliki a mer a er hann uar Danmork med Sigemunde Uolsungssyne) simultaneously affirms and denies the authenticity of the narrative (Ng 350). Its affirmation consists in Gests empirical value as an eyewitness to these events, even as the historical impossibility of the subjective analepsis denies its affiliation to the real and underscores its significative function as process and product of sublimation. Upon producing forensic evidence of the particularly implausible narreme of the lock of horse hair, seven ells in length, (var hann .vik. elna harr) the narrative diegesis is punctured, the frame hoves in, and Gests audience unanimously communicate their approval: Lofudu nu allir frasagnir hans ok frklik (Ng 354). In its staging of the performance of oral texts, and particularly in the dialectic mode which structures the latter phase of the Saga Gestz, Nornagests ttr provides some of the only contemporary, or at least near-contemporary, evidence we have for the way that narrative art may have circulated prior to the advent of alphabetic literacy.30 Its normative coordination of enjoyment in a narrative with multiple points of intertextual imbricationwith lfs saga Tryggvassonar, Vlsunga saga and Reginsmal, as well the Meleagros cycle as found in Hesiod, Homer, Appollodorus and Ovidunderscores the political value of sublimation as a socially cohesive force. The antiquarian project which furnished this text for posterity sets the textual object between the reading subject and the traumatic exertion of the real as it is revealed
30

See ars Lnnroth, The Founding of Migarr in Paul Acker and Carolyne Larrington (eds.) The Poetic Edda, (New York, 2002).

A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature. in history. In like manner Gests frame narrative posits a lustrous syntagmatic structure that becalms anxieties of origin through its privileged assertion of heroic value and dynastic affiliation. The reward for which is an effortless admission to, and integration with, a higher power, through baptism, that renders the value of the sublime object of the candle nugatory as Gest is cathartically laid to rest at the close of the textual set (Ng 359).

The verses of the Darraarlj are thought to have been composed as early as the tenth century but survive through their inclusion in Njls saga, a text composed some three to four hundred years later, as a lausavsur in its one-hundred-and-fifty-seventh episode. Its situation in the narrative frame is late then, occurring some way beyond the central praxes that reach crisis at the deaths of Njll orgeirsson and Gunnarr Hmundarson. Once again a brush against the supernatural intervention of the destiny of human agents powerfully re-inflects our understanding of the foregoing narrative, which has consistently been framed in terms of the operation of fate. A synchronic design of deterministic fatalism is the structuring principle of the sagas. Carol Clover has demonstrated how stranding and simultaneity are employed as a technique of binding together the narrative mass by a system of forecasts and concordances.31 Both Njlls characterisation as langsnnr ok langminnigr, meaning far-sighted and with good memory is part of such an organisational system: his prophetic agency directs and coordinates reader-response to the narrative, which is understood, as it were in the totality of the round, or as single, and complete, image. The reception groups of the Njla would have had a substantial command of the historical facts of these stories, and certainly of their main action. This grants the original saga audience a privileged perspective on the orchestration of events and the patterning of narrative causality within the diegesis. The expression of fatalism in the textual object then, accords with a

A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature. narrative blueprint that will not admit of significant deviation. And yet, when the mechanism of fate is luridly disclosed in the horrific activity transpiring within the weavers gynaecium, the schismatic rupture of the signifying fabric attests to nothing less than an outrageous excess in the capacity of the symbolic to circumscribe and contain the terror of the real. The twelve valkyrjur determine the outcome of the battle through the medium of song as they weave a visceral fabric upon a warpweighted loom with human heads for weights and entrails for the warp and the weft. This mythological conceit, organising the activities of weaving, wordcraft and warfare, simultaneously describes the energy of violent prolapse, as the domestic limit of the skinitself a fabric of significationis hideously breached to expose the abject viscerality which it encloses and masks off. The extraordinary kenningar oscillate between the limits of subjective interpretation and the performance of fatalism as operant through time and human agency: N er fyrir geirum grr upp kominn vefr verjar Now, with the spears a grey woven fabric of warriors is formed32

This wordplay characteristically compresses multiple meanings into a single poetic image. The warriors in their grey metal armour, swarming in lines, are imaged as the threads of grey piece of fabric. The pattern repeats itself closer to the action, with the interlocking spears similarly envisaged as forming a type of grey cloth. The opposition of the grr...vefr verjarto the rauum vepti[red weft] (116), enacts a dizzying foveation as the imagery sustains a simultaneous awareness of the structuring patterns determining both the array of human agents engaged in international warfare, and the matrices binding blood vessels and muscle tissue together at the most

A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature. intimate level of biological interiority.33 This fantasmatic weaving of fate as a universal activity, a deterministic force, informs the centripetal energy of the Darraarlj which, with the illocutionary force of its refrain vindum, vindum, winds together feminine with masculine, creative with destructive, organic with synthetic, and domestic with international spheres of agency. Nature itself comes under the sway of the looming, with the conventional meteorological tropes of blood rain, (116, 118) and the vllr roinn [the field dyed red] (118) which are respectively identified with the hanging warp, and the resulting crimson fabric. The centripetal tendency undergoes a spectacular reversal, however, when the valkyrjur tear their gory cloth to pieces and gallop their separate ways. Non-accommodation of the cathexis of the death-drive is explosively revealed through this violent disruption of the textual object, and the dissolution of geospatial parameters: a centrifugal sequence of supernatural visitations occurs simultaneously in the Faeroes, Iceland, the Orkneys, and the Hebrides, conveying a sense that the pattern of fate has violently unfurled itself throughout the North Atlantic region (F 12: 459).34 In Old Norse literature representations of fatalism consistently give place to a reflexive consideration of the signifying practice. The advent of alphabetic literacy and the institution of scriptoria had inaugurated the conditions of a novel and vibrant textual culture. The chiliastic crisis of social structures and their ideological manifestations witnessed the shattering of the planes and surfaces of representation and stimulated the analytic self-reflection that we have traced through the tropes of subject-formation and object-relations in the Vlusp. The shape of the textual object, as a bounded set with its own teleological parameters bears structural affinity with the concept of fate as an utterance that preconditions the shape and extent of events in history. The trope of fate, moreover, is coordinated by the subrogation of a narrative object that plugs the terrifying void of the

A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Intersections of Fatalism and Textuality in Old Norse Literature. objet petit a located at the empty heart of the symbolic order: a runestone, a candle, a fabric made of mens intenstines. These diegetic subrogations themselves mirror the intervention of the textual object itself between the reading subject as a participant of the symbolic order and the truth of the real as it is revealed in history. In Nornagests ttr the sublime object of the fantasmatic discourse seals over the terror of the real, and provides an ideologically normative cohesion of the social and political order. Conversely, the explosive transgressions of the Darraarlj run up against the very limits of symbolic discourse and are thus freighted with the horror of abjection and the trauma of the real. In seeking to give an expression to the mechanism of fate, the writers of these texts were concerned to define the limits of meaning in its totality; the ramifications of the textual objects which emerged from this project, cut a swathe right through to the very heart of the nature of the subject in its relation to the universe. Bibliography Primary (a) Flateyjarbk: (Codex Flateyarensis) MS No. 1005 fol., (facs. edn.), intr. Fnnur Jnsson, (Cophenhagen: Levin and Munksgaard, 1930). Mruvallabk: AM 132 Fol., diplomatic edition transcribed by Andrea van Arkel-De Leeuw van Weenen, 2 vols. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1988). (b) Brennu-Njls saga, ed. Einarr lafur Sveinsson, (Reykjavk: slenzk Fornrit, 1954).

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