Franks and Saracens Reality and Fantasy in the Crusades By Avner Falk (London: Karnac Books, 238 pages.)

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Daniel Tutt



Avner Falk’s Franks and Saracens: Reality and Fantasy in the Crusades is
presented in the opening pages as the first psychoanalytic study of the Crusades.
The book is written for both a general readership and an academic audience.
The fact that it was published by Karnac Books, one of the premiere
publishers of psychoanalytic theory and practice, leads one to think that the
psychoanalytic community is a particularly important audience. The book’s
opening chapter, “Us and Them,” introduces psychoanalysis as a theoretical
source for helping us to think about cultural identity and conflict, particularly
“us vs. them” identity conflicts. Following this general foregrounding of the
Crusades and psychoanalytic theory, the author turns to how the Crusaders,
namely, the “Franks,” created a larger fantasy that drove their violent engagement
with Muslims, one that was tied to a political effort to build a collective
European identity.
Rather surprisingly, the term fantasy is never defined thoroughly, although
the author’s central claim is that the Crusades functioned as a way to develop a unified cultural identity for Europe, a project that was itself tied to
a fantasy. This project of building a singular Frankish identity, and what
would eventually come to be a European identity, is the focus of the second,
third, and fourth chapters. In them, Falk pays particular attention to the evolution
of the term Saracen, which the Europeans invoked to refer to all of
the different kinds of Muslims they encountered during the various crusades.
The term was initially deployed to specify all Muslims, but by the Third Crusade
it began to connote Eastern European and Baltic Christians as well.
Saracens would later be applied to Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians during
the Baltic crusades, which lasted for four centuries. This word eventually
came to designate anyone who was not European and Christian, and even
Christians like the Basques who had fought the Franks (p. 132).
The etymology of this term, which means “empty of Sarah,” emphasizes
how Hagar is recognized as Ishmael’s mother in the Islamic tradition in distinction
to Christianity. The primary motivation for deploying Saracen was
meant to resolve this outer collective state project of a unified Europe, as well
as to resolve a far more abstract psychological identity conflict that was felt
across Crusader culture. As Falk states: ...

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