Excerpt from Jeanne Darc / Joan of Arc

by Nathalie Quintane; translated by Cynthia Hogue and Sylvain Gallais

Jeanne Darc is a series of fifty untitled prose poems on the subject of Joan of Arc by the experimental French writer and performance poet, Nathalie Quintane. Joan of Arc is not biographical, even though its eponymous character had a short, vivid life fighting the English on behalf of the French heir to the throne, Charles VII. The dramatic outlines of her brief life and terrible end are well-known, and Quintane sees no reason to reiterate them. Rather, she writes from the margins and in the interstices of the well-known story, focusing on the overlooked or insignificant aspects of Joan’s life, which opens up our imaginations to questions about her lived life. She shepherded her father’s sheep in her earlier life. How, then, would she have learned to wear armor, ride a horse, plan a battle? How did the shepherdess Jehane become the symbol of France, Joan of Arc (what’s in a name)?

The first two poems included here are apostrophes to Joan, St. Catherine addressing the shepherd-girl, and as such, represent the moment in which “Joan of Arc” is “conceived” by St. Catherine, whose voice Joan claimed to hear first. It is St. Catherine who instructs Joan to defeat the English and crown the Dauphin the King of France (also to speak of the Catholic faith to the men she will lead!). The sequence moves from that voice to specifics about becoming Joan of Arc. To approach the subject of Joan of Arc in a fresh way, actually to humanize her palpably, Quintane writes imaginatively from inside Joan’s embodied experience, mining the marginalia of the legend, evoking sensory impressions and existential reflection. Quintane is not trying to replace one narrative with her own corrective, but to deconstruct the narrative process, which simplifies a complex history, altogether.

From an opening sequence that places Joan in her original quotidian context, Jeanne Darc weaves its sections in fragments among the components of the received narrative. Joan plans her first campaign and sews a button. She had always been an excellent seamstress. She contemplates military strategy and considers the challenge of inventing new modes of assault. Worth noting is that the title in the original comes from the fact that Joan herself spelled out “Darc, patron of angels” when she could write. Joan is portrayed less as a spiritual visionary in Jeanne Darc than as a remarkable (and cross-dressing) military strategist. The two parts of Joan’s life, warrior on the surface but austere virgin underneath, comprise a trope for contemporary feminist self-performance that would subvert dominant nationalist narratives that use the image of Joan of Arc as pawn to power.

Jeanne Darc © P.O.L éditeur, 1998



                                                Je suis la sainte qui émet

                    Catherine te parle

                                                        Par Jeanne en seront conçus autres






               Jeanne, tu es exceptionnelle

               mais il te faut rester modeste.

Quand des hommes te suivront

n’oublie pas de leur parler de la foi catholique



                                                I am the saint who transmits

                    Catherine speaks to you

                                                        Through Joan will others be conceived






               Joan, you are exceptional

               but you must remain humble.

When men of arms follow you

do not forget to speak of the Catholic faith

                                                 tes genoux guideront des chevaux

         Catherine conçoit Jeanne Darc

                                                     tu ne peux pas durer ici


Jeanne, tu dois aller à Vaucouleurs, rencontrer

       Robert de Baudricourt, être conduite auprès de

          Charles VII, le convaincre de ta mission, être

          mise à la tête d’une petite troupe armée, obliger

        les Anglais à lever le siège d’Orléans, et faire

    sacrer le roi à Reims.


                                 Par tes oreilles va ta vie

                                                 your knees will guide horses

         Catherine conceives Joan of Arc

                                                     you cannot last here


Joan, you must go to Vaucouleurs, meet

       Robert de Baudricourt, gain audience with

          Charles VII, convince him of your mission,

          be put at the head of a small army, compel

        the English to lift the siege of Orleans, and have

    the king crowned at Reims.


                                 Through your ears so goes your life

Pour quelle raison elle debout les bras ballants la contourne-t-on, alors qu’assise à traire ou à tirer un fil d’un bouton, on s’arrête pour le seul recul de la voir faire; il n’y a qu’un bout de son propre passé surpris à l’œuvre chez un autre qui emporte à ce point?

Pourquoi, en quoi, l’action de base (bouchonner, fourbir) ne suffisait pas?
Pourquoi, en quoi, la contemplation de base (bruit de la pluie, poussière de pissenlit) ne suffisait pas non plus?
Que faire pour que l’action soit encore plus agis-sante, et pour que la contemplation soit encore plus contemplante?

Sûr que parvenu à ce stade de la question de la contemplation et de l’action, n’importe qui songeait, d’emblée, à se défoncer.

La militante de l’humilité boit la soupe dans laquelle d’abord on a craché.

Le jeune moine bêche sans retenue.

Prête ni à cela, ni à attendre davantage, c’est la bouche des anges à l’oreille et le coursier sous les cuisses qu’elle cumulerait, copulant action et contemplation, jusqu’à la débandade.

Why do people give her, standing with arms dangling, a wide berth, whereas when she’s seated milking or sewing a button, they stop just far enough away to watch her : there’s only a bit of her own past caught working for someone else that matters at this point ?

Why, in what way, was a basic action (to rub down, to furbish) not enough?
Why, in what way, was a basic reflection (sound of rain, dust of dandelion) not enough either?
What could make the action be even more active, and reflection be even more reflective?

Of course, having reached this stage of the question of the reflection and the action, anyone would think, right away, of working flat out.

The militant of humility sips the soup someone spat in.

The young monk labors without stint.

Neither ready for this, nor for waiting anymore, she would hold in the balance the voice of angels in her ear and her charger between her thighs, copulative action and reflection, until the rout.

Elle songe à de nouvelles formes d’assaut.

— Malheureusement, le nombre des ruses militaires est restreint ; on n’obtient, au mieux, qu’une nouvelle association de ruses anciennes, l’emboîtement d’une ruse dans une autre, ou un enchaînement inattendu.
— Telles qu’elles sont construites, les villes ne peuvent être abordées, voire prises, que de 7 manières : par la porte, porte ouverte, par la porte fermée défoncée, en escaladant les murs, en abattant les murs, en pratiquant une brèche, par le haut en projetant armes, objets, l’incendie, par le bas en creusant une galerie.
— En agitant au-dessus des créneaux des têtes, piquées dans des lances, 8 manières.

Pyramide de bras bourguignons aux portes d’Orléans
Confection d’un sarcophage pour stopper l’infection

— Je ne désespère pas d’ajouter au répertoire des ruses celle qui portera mon nom
Car la préparation à la guerre me donne le goût de l’invention.

Il s’agit de rendre les choses concrètes par l’action.

Plus les batailles s’accumulent, plus ma virginité s’étend.


— Pour le moment, je suis plutôt radicale et spontanée :
si tu n’aimes pas la guerre, change de guerre.

She thinks of new forms of assault.

— Unfortunately, the number of military ruses is limited; one gets, at best, only a new combination of old ruses, one ruse fitted into another, or an unexpected sequence.
— The way they are built, cities can only be approached, even captured, in 7 ways : by the gate, an open gate, by the closed but staved-in gate, by scaling the walls, by knocking the walls down, by making a breach, from the top by throwing weapons, objects, fire, from below by digging a tunnel.
— By brandishing above the crenels heads stuck on spears, 8 ways.

Pyramid of Burgundian arms piled at the gates of Orleans
Fashioning a sarcophagus to halt the stench

— I do not despair of adding to the repertory of ruses one that will bear my name
Because the preparation for war gives me a taste for invention.

It’s a matter of making things concrete through action.

The more the battles mount, the more my virginity expands.


— For the moment, I’m pretty radical and spontaneous :
if you don’t like war, change wars.

Passer des noms incertains de Tarc, Dare, Daire, de celle qu’on aurait pu ne pas nommer — elle aurait été la bergère, la fille de son père, une domrémique, une partisane — , à l’immunisé Darc Jeanne, qu’on apprend à reconnaître D.A.R.C. et





Darc dupliquer, enfin au surnom, celui qu’on se rêve : Ange Bienfaiteur, Exterminateur, Blonde Protectrice, Gai et Patient Pourvoyeur, Aide au Salut, Lys Combattant, Fidèle Etendard, Indéfectible Adjuvant, Fleur Linéaire et Sage, l’Œil et l’Oreille, Autel de la Clairvoyance, Bonne Entreprise, Prudente Victoire, Image, Creatrice d’Evidence, Lame Miroitante, Fléau de Dieu.

To go from the uncertain names of Tarc, Dare, Daire, of a girl who could have been unnamed — who would have been the shepherdess, her father’s daughter, a Domremian, a partisan —, to the immunized Joan of Arc, whom one learns to recognize from A.R.C. and





Arc to duplicate, finally as moniker, that which one dreams oneself : Angel Benefactor, Exterminator, Guardian Blonde, Gay and Patient Provider, Aide to Salvation, Soldier Lily, Faithful Standard, Unfailing Adjuvant, Linear and Wise Flower, Eye and Ear, Altar of Clairvoyance, Kind Enterprise, Prudent Victory, Image, Creatrix of Evidence, Gleaming Blade, Scourge of God.

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