This article proposes a comparison between the ethics of rebellion developed in recent publications by Julia Kristeva and in the medieval poetry of Bertran de Born. Both Kristeva and Bertran see revolt as a continuous and crucial process of transformation and questioning, of renewal and regeneration, rather than mindless, nihilistic rejection and destruction. Neither has a purely political conception of revolt; instead, they define it as an ethical, artistic, and psychic activity that is the ultimate guarantee of man's dignity, integrity, independence, and creative capacities. In both writers' works we see an ambivalent relationship to father figures and a desire to challenge the Oedipal pact demanded by the symbolic by means of a literary act of defiance that involves a move beyond meaning and sense. Moving away from her earlier focus on poetry, Kristeva turns to Louis Aragon, Roland Barthes, and Jean-Paul Sartre for examples of this defiance. Yet Aragon himself looked to Bertran de Born as a poet in revolt, and the poetic form remains a better venue for the expression of what Kristeva terms the semiotic—that is, the rhythmic bodily forces that resist reduction to the symbolic. Bertran envisages a vital and bellicose society in which violent impulses are given free rein. His poems earned him a place in the medieval imagination as a highly dangerous figure bent on provoking uprisings: thus Dante placed him in Hell, carrying his own severed head. Bertran's oeuvre, then, demonstrates the role literature can play within a culture of revolt. Ultimately, the article argues that a politics of resistance to dominant cultural forces transcends differences in time and form and suggests a new “use” for the Middle Ages within modern theory.

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