Initially nervous about returning to my long neglected blog with this somewhat experimental post, I reminded myself that with a blog there are no real threats, only opportunities. I lose nothing by experimenting with ideas I may never return to, but I just might gain some constructive criticism, so why not risk it? That said, I would also like to preface by acknowledging the influence of Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism & Schizophrenia on the content and style of this post. It only felt natural that after attempting to think in their erratic, elliptical and recursive syntax, I should want to write in such a manner as well; that’s just how I grok!
The titular character of Marie de France’s 12th century lai, Yonec, is hardly the hero or primary protagonist of the tale. Engendered midway through the narrative, Yonec has just one real function in the story: to carry out the revenge plot conceived coeval with his own conception. If the lai has a hero at all, it is the unnamed shape-shifting figure who rescues the story’s damsel in distress, it is the magical being whose significations transverse the organic and the inorganic, a becoming-hawk, becoming-desire, becoming-seed, becoming-blood, becoming-ring, becoming-sword. A preponderance of evidence signals his association with Breton lai fairy cultures (animal-being, city through a hill, towers of precious metal, magical weapons and accessories); however, as the text does not explicitly define the unnamed character as “fairy,” the hero becomes that which escapes definition, something that exceeds boundaries, a series of intensities, a rhizomatic figure, a body without organs.
From its inception, Yonec records the desiring-production of its own generic tradition. The lord of Caerwent locks his wife in a tower, à la persecuted maiden motif, as an act of jealousy, of worry she will go astray. Is it not his own desire that will go astray if she is two-become one, if the marriage union is completed in love and trust? The tower defers and displaces desire in order to maintain that which he cannot have, just as the narrative must continuously defer our desire for resolution in order to justify the plot, the middle, the plateau. The narrative records and produces desire by disconnecting the wife-machine from the social order. The wife-machine withers, disconnected from other machines, from other flights and flows. The wife-machine desires to reconnect to a body without organs, a hero, a hawk, a reader.
The unnamed rhizomatic hawk-man-machine (given the kaleidoscopic performance of this character within the text, I deploy various appellations throughout essay to designate the ineffable protagonist) does not initially rescue the confined damsel (that would consummate and thus eliminate the desire that nourishes the plot), but instead repeatedly visits the wife-machine to plug into her (the text is fairly explicit about the frequency with which sexual intercourse is engaged). “Desire constantly couples continuous flows and partial objects that are by nature fragmentary and fragmented. Desire causes the current to flow, itself flows in turn, and breaks the flows” (Anti-Oedipus, 5). Excesses produced by desiring-machines flow into other desiring-machines, and the spilling over of intensities from the hero-machine force a coupling with the partial object of the disconnected wife-machine, engendering further desire and extending the narrative of production.
The result of this excessive coupling and flowing is the restoration of the wife-machine’s beauty which had initially faded as a result of her being disconnected from all other social flows in her isolation. The spilling forth of the lust-hawk-machine into the wife-machine, like the oiling of a rusty motor, produces discernible changes and thus spoils the flow by introducing new intensities into the narrative; their passions are discovered and the hawk-man who has been parasiting the lord of Caerwent’s wife (in an act of metaphoric substitution by which the lord’s desire is being consummated by the hero-machine and thus rendering the lord impotent) is mortally wounded by a spike left in the window by the lord.
This violence, this interruption of the hero’s flows, introduces new desire into the narrative: desiring-revenge. The retributive desire is only possible because the means of its execution has already been produced: Yonec. After receiving his mortal wound from the spike, the hero-machine tells the wife-machine that she is carrying his child and that “[s]he was to call him Yonec, and he would avenge both of them and kill his enemy” (Lais of Marie de France, 90). Yonec is being already spilled forth from the hawkman, he is a surplus of information, a recording/production. Sperm is a flow, “produced by partial objects and constantly cut off by other partial objects, which in turn produce other flows, interrupted by other partial objects” (Anti-Oedipus, 6). The lust-flow from the hero-machine produces the retribution-machine in the form of Yonec, who in turn produces desiring-revenge which will be interrupted by the consummation of that desire and the resolution of the narrative.
At this point the narrative further develops the multiplicities and bodily excesses of the hero-machine. The mortally wounded knight, the desiring-sex-machine (a seemingly cancerous body without organs, sedimented in a strata of sex and rivalry; see A Thousand Plateaus, “How Do You Make Yourself A Body Without Organs?” 163) is made becoming-map, is a cartographic machine which leaves a trail of blood, a sanguine flow which produces a new desires in the wife-machine: the desire for death, in the figure of the bleeding hero-machine, and the desire for freedom from the boundedness of being-human. “The map is open and connectable in all of its dimensions; it is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification” (A Thousand Plateaus, “Introduction: Rhizome,” 12). A wounded hawk is a bleeding man is a trail to freedom is a desiring-escape. Blood is a flow, a spilling forth of intensities; it is deferral of desire, a reversal of fortune and a new channel through the narrative. It is a path to becoming-fae, a change in valence, an abandoning human discourse (again, although it is not explicitly stated in the narrative, the text does associate the knight with many of the motifs of the medieval fairy). Although a path signals a trajectory, a definable wholeness, it is merely a single tracing on the hero-map-machine. “Is it not the essence of the map to be traceable?” (A Thousand Plateaus, 13). If his hero-machine-being is the map, is cartography itself, his blood is one path, one trace, one iteration (from Latin iter, itineris: journey, road, route); it is a guide to otherness, to an Other’s symbolic realm, the valence where fairy logic transposes and disrupts anthropocentric discourse and cultivates the desire for annihilation.
The rhizomatic nature of the hero-machine is developed further when the wife-machine locates his bed chamber and receives two magical objects from him: a ring of forgetfulness and a sword of vengeance. “The knight…gave her a ring, and told her that as long as she kept it her husband would remember nothing that had happened and would not keep her in custody. He gave and commended to her his sword, then enjoined her to prevent any man from ever taking possession of it, but to keep it for the use of her son” (Lais, 91). The objects are valences, flows, traces on the cartographic machine. The knight-as-desire-deferred is becoming-ring and becoming-sword, and the ring and sword are becoming-knight, becoming-desire-deferred. The objects connect, conspire, engage, assemble, all to produce desire, to compel the narrative forward by enabling the inevitable reprisal that will eradicate desire and conclude the plot. (Although this reading of objects seems anthropocentric, an orientation I vehemently shun, I argue that although the ring and sword are purposive and ready-to-hand for human consumption, it is only one valence of their machinic-being by which they lend their agencies to the wife-machine, hero-machine and reader-machines of the tale, evidencing a lack in the human characters, a need for object-relations.)
The knight is a rhizome; each division of himself is still the same machinic identity, wholly indivisible yet multiplicative beyond a parts-to-whole relationship. He is an ever reaching and endlessly connected assemblage of hawk, man, fairy, ring, sword, blood and semen. Thus, Yorec, the excess and flow of the hero-machine, who is himself an excess and flow of animal (human and non-human) and inorganic objects, is simultaneously a new machine, a desiring-production retribution-machine, and a trace, a valence, an iteration of the coupling of the rhizomatic knight and the wife-become-mother-machine. The flows of vengeance, the desires of the readers and the trajectory of the narrative have been indelibly recorded in Yonec, the retribution-machine. When the mother-machine inevitably discloses to Yonec the truth of his parentage and the cruelty of the lord of Caerwent, Yonec slays the lord with his father’s sword, manifesting the desires of the hero-machine, the wife-machine, and the narrative itself. Thus, with vengeance enacted and order restored, the flows of desire which sustained the plateau of the text are extinguished and the lai reaches an end; there is nothing more to be desired.