“Lobsters,” said Arthur.
“What?” said Sir Kay.
“Lobsters are the only thing most people kill with their own hands,” said Arthur. “In the modern world.”
“Not we,” said Sir Kay. “We smite the enemy.”
“We are different,” said Arthur. “We are professional soldiers. Most people don’t even kill chickens. They buy them at the market, neatly wrapped. The encounter between man and lobster remains, in this civilization, the last direct experience of killing something. Write that down.” (Donald Barthelme, The King, 72)
Kay might have looked to the Chevalier de Papegau (Knight of the Parrot), a romance in which Arthur encounters and kills an enormous knight riding an enormous horse. Usual stuff, you say; so what? Well: examining the corpse after the fight, Arthur discovers that “the knight, destrier, hauberk, helm, shield, sword, and lance were all one and the same thing” (17). The romance’s author, invoking the mappamundi for support, declares that Arthur had fought one of the “Fish Knights,” which are knights all of one piece. Kay might also have–and this is Barthelme, so why not?–cited Anne Berthelet, who observes that armor, on the one hand, substitutes for clothing, but it perhaps joins knights with their clothing to make them “like some kind of lobster, indistinguishable from its carapace” (18). And if Kay was feeling really frisky, he might have turned to our illustrious JJC, who once wrote,
The horse, its rider, the bridle and saddle and armor together form the Deleuzian circuit or assemblage, a network of meaning that decomposes human bodies and intercuts them with the inanimate, the inhuman. No single object or body has meaning within this assemblage without reference to the other forces, intensities, affects, and directions to which it is conjoined and within which it is always in the process of becoming something other, something new. (76)
Ideally it’s in the process of becoming. The knight who never gets out of his armor has ceased to be in motion. As so often, in encountering the monster, Arthur encounters a hypotrophic version of himself, or at least, of a self frozen into its role as a master of violence.
How today’s meandering gets us back to Barthelme’s lobsters I don’t know: but now I’m going to smite me some tofu.
Berthelet, Anne. “Merlin, ou l’homme sauvage chez les chevaliers,” in Le Nu et la Vêtu au Moyen Age (XIIe – XIII siècles) Senefiance No. 47 (2001): 17-28.
The Knight of the Parrot (Le Chevalier du Papegau). Trans. Thomas E. Vesce. Garland Library of Medieval Literature. Garland: New York, 1986.
JJC. Medieval Identity Machines.