Response to “Song of Roland”

by on February 20, 2013

Responses Takes
Illustration by Sally ScopaIllustration by Sally Scopa

In the medieval French epic La Chanson de Roland, Charlemagne’s Christian Franks battle Marsile’s pagan Saracens in Spain. The latter have feigned defeat to trick the invaders into leaving; the formermustnowavenge themselves. This is not simply a battle between kings or nations, but between competing world views. Allegiances and actions are clear; the world is full with meaning.

Turn now to the modern United States of Bufo’s story—an empty place, hollowed of significance. Characters communicate in sentences devoid of not only goodness but wit. They speak in present-tense conjugations of “to be”, as if even language has been stripped of richness. Every action seems petty, vengeful, corrupt, or—perhaps most horrifying—free of any significance at all.

I love that this story invokes the Song of Roland, if only immediately to invert it—probing and dissecting the diseased cornersof a mind attempting to concentrate in itself all the meaning-seeking of the world. I love how time and perspective, as in the original epic, are treated as interchangeable fragments—how one is trapped inside the chamber of a gun, rattling between extremes, past and present and future compressed and explosive. I even love the way in which horror slowly accretes, genre-laced in Southern gothic detail—one sees the rictus grins, smells the decay—as Roland’s intentions become clear.

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