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A Chorus of Laughing People: Bakhtin’s Subversive Voices in Tirant lo Blanch

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posted on 09.01.2017, 05:40 by Patrick Campion
This thesis argues that Tirant lo Blanch is a subversive text that undermines various forms of authority. Subversion is understood to be that which transgresses or restructures an accepted centre, or official discourse, and forces the reader to reconsider new perspectives, recalibrating the old and challenging the new. In my reading of Tirant, I contend that the use of multiple social voices in the text creates a divergent perspective to the unitary view that was prevalent in society during the fifteenth century. I read Tirant in its fifteenth-century context to draw out the subversiveness of these divergent literary techniques. This kind of approach takes up Giambattista Vico’s suggestion that context is indispensable to criticism, because a set of universal ideas pertain to groups of people at certain times in history.
       These universal ideas must be taken into account so that we can read the text both with new eyes and in its context. To draw out how certain thematic antagonisms in Tirant destabilise an authoritative, canonical view of the world, I read Tirant through Bakhtin’s theories of the novel: unraveling a fifteenth-century chivalric novel through twentieth-century literary theory. The reasoning behind this is that Bakhtin’s theories allow us a better understanding of the function of subversion in the text.
       In Chapter One, I contend that the intertextuality in Tirant undermines canonic texts. This contention is undertaken through Bakhtin’s dialogic and polyphonic theories. Here I discuss the use in Tirant of Enric de Villena’s Los dotze treballs d’Hèrcules and Ramon Llull’s the Libre de l’orde de cavalleria. The intertextual subversion that occurs is a function of simultaneous convergence and divergence between different literary voices. In Chapter Two, I show how eroticism undermines existing hierarchies in the text. Bakhtin’s carnivalesque and grotesque provide models through which to interrogate this, especially in relation to the challenge to power and the creation of a new reality. The four main subversions discussed are the challenge to political authority, religious hierarchy, the sexual/gender order in society, and against the institution of chivalry.
       Therefore, the main finding of the thesis is that subversion is a driving force in Tirant. While Rafael Alemany Ferrer and Josep Lluís Martos Sánchez previously hinted at a possible subversive intent in the use of Ramon Llull in Tirant, this point was never elaborated upon in great detail. This thesis breaks new ground and contends that subversion occurs throughout the whole text. The subversive voice should be read as a major factor, especially in relation to hierarchy and power structures, which are almost always undermined. Hierarchies are treated ironically in Tirant, as literary tools that can be used to attenuate existing structures. This extends to the authority of the text and the author-function, which are also threatened by the constant intrusion of multiple social languages. In this way, Tirant is like the ouroboros, devouring its own tail. The subversive voice is an undermining of both the external world and the text itself. The lawless, razed space that remains, where free behaviour and polyphonic language reign, is a space where the traditional centre cannot hold, due to the constantly changing nature of polyphony.


Principal supervisor

Stewart King

Additional supervisor 1

Paul Bowker

Additional supervisor 2

Sarah McDonald

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Literary and Cultural Studies

Campus location



Faculty of Arts