MLA Convention 2004 Special Session

The Rhizome and the Errant Self:
Approaches to the (Neo)Medieval Narrative

Dr. Tamara F. O'Callaghan
Northern Kentucky University

The Latin verb erro, errare means "to wander" or "to err." In medieval romance and pilgrimage narratives, the erring path of the knight and/or pilgrim often conjoins both of these meanings as he/she wanders through various spaces, confronts the Other, and undertakes one or more quests--be they worldly or spiritual challenges. This erring path discloses a rhizome [Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1980; trans. 1987)] in which identities are not rooted in a single origin, myth, or place. Networking plays an important role, whether in the creation of a single identity or in the exploration of alliances and links (between knights, pilgrims, kingdoms and destinations, shared quests, or particular sites where a challenge is presented). As well, the narrative can be interpreted as a kind of rhizome, one that has no beginning or end, but is always in the middle, between things. Narrative techniques include the use of in media res, the episodic "and...and...and" of medieval narrative, or the role of a particular site or motif as a linking structure for various stories, identities, or narrative perspectives.

This special session will explore how the rhizome can be applied both to medieval narratives, such as romance and pilgrimage, and to neo-medieval texts, such as film. The papers will present new readings of medieval literature by applying the theory of the errant self and the rhizome and, in some cases, by also using a neo-medieval text to interrogate the medieval narrative itself. This approach is both novel and extremely promising. Currently, the use of rhizome theory as a means to re-examine medieval narratives is limited. Only D. Vance Smith has attempted a relatively sustained study in relation to the multiple beginnings of Piers Plowman [The Book of the Incipit: Beginnings in the Fourteenth Century (2001)]. The topic remains largely unexplored. The four speakers for this session will present short papers (15 minutes each in order to allow for sufficient discussion at the end) in which each will take a different approach to (neo)medieval narrative in the context of rhizome theory in an effort to investigate the suitability of such a theoretical construct for these texts.

Wendy Knepper (Harvard University)
"Perceval, the Errant Knight: Romancing the Rhizome"
[abstract pdf]
Susan S. Morrison (Texas State University, San Marcos)
"Pilgrimage as Narrative, Narrative as Pilgrimage: The Unfinished Process"
[abstract pdf]
Suzanne Yeager (Cornell University)
"Transforming the Errant Self: The Matrix and Richard, Coeur de Lyon "
[abstract pdf]
Myra Seaman (College of Charleston)
"The Errant Textography of Middle English Romance"
[abstract pdf]

We invite interested individuals to review paper abstracts, all of which are available on this webpage as dowloadable PDF documents. You will, however, need Adobe Arcrobat Reader to access the abstracts. If you do not have Adobe Acrobat Reader on your computer, you can download a free version of the software at the Adobe website:

We hope that you will attend our session at the MLA and look forward to a lively discussion after the presentations.

Revised 5 November 2004
Tamara F. O'Callaghan
Northern Kentucky University