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2 - Sacred Spaces: the Syntagmatic and Paradigmatic Construction of Narrated Space in Chrétien’s Conte du Graal

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 April 2021

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Summary

Contemporary theoretical discussions of the spatial constitution of narrative texts are often founded on the assumption of a kind of contextual framework, which can ‘describe a mental store of information about the current context, built up from the text itself and from inferences made from the text’. It is absolutely not the case that narrated space – in either contemporary or medieval texts – is conceptualized according to a generalized conception of spaces. Instead, information given by the contextual framework ‘provides “episodic” information about a configuration of characters, location and time at any point in a narrative’. Specific information about individual characters and individual places within the space–time continuum is embedded in this contextual framework and linked to individual episodes.

The spatial ‘reality’ described in fictional narrative texts by no means automatically maps on to the conceptualization of space in contemporary lived experience. In the medieval context, anything that might be called an ‘ordinary’ human understanding of space is also largely beyond our grasp. With the exception of some isolated examples of maps, our only option is to turn to the surviving corpus of written texts: as such, we nearly always deal with a narrated space. This state of affairs means in turn that our analysis must focus on how the narrated space is produced by the text and its narrating voices.

Yet – in the context of this collection – it is necessary to differentiate between places (or locations) and spaces (or realms). Broadly speaking, places are to be understood as clearly defined spatial entities concretely located in space (and potentially in time), which are conventionally described in precise terms. Spaces, in turn, are characterised by a kind of expansion on what we might think of as a spatial ‘axis’, or an area within the narrated space, for example, the entirety of a text, as a whole, if imagined in cyclical terms. The role of such spaces in written texts – in this case, Arthurian romance – is normally linked to the largely linear movement of the protagonist, who passes through a specific space or stays there for a certain period of the narrated time.

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Arthurian Literature XXXVI
Sacred Space and Place in Arthurian Romance
, pp. 31 - 56
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2021

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