“All the World’s a Mimetic Stage…” – Some Revealing Comedy

The following is a collection of (tragic) comical references to some of the cornerstones of René Girard’s mimetic theory, especially its analysis of the reality of mimetic desire and rivalry in human relationships. They appeared on Mimetic Margins throughout the years.

Have fun with the short videoclips from Mr Bean, Chris Rock, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Seinfeld and The Big Bang Theory!

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MIMETIC MR BEAN

It’s all there below, in this classic piece of British humour – some of the basic elements of René Girard’s mimetic theory: mimetic desire, mimetic competition or rivalry and the haunting nightmare of the mimetic double. Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean really is the master of ceremonies here. Indeed, we often take more than we need when there are other people circling around the same buffet.

Moreover, mimetic dynamics generally are at work in the development of our eating habits. It would be very interesting to create an intensified dialogue between Paul Rozin’s research on the acquisition of likes and dislikes of foods and René Girard’s mimetic theory. Although some scholars already made some connections between the two (for instance in Culinary Cultures of Europe: Identity, Diversity and Dialogue, ed. by Darra Goldstein & Kathrin Merkle, Council of Europe Publication, 2005), much promising work remains to be done. Click here for a previous post on the subject, Mimetic Food Habits.

Enjoy this clever excerpt from Mr Bean in Room 426 (first broadcast 17th Feb 1993):

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CHRIS ROCK ROCKS MIMETICALLY

American comedian Chris Rock refers to yet another example of mimetic dynamics (in the TV Special Never Scared, 2004), the potential rivalry between two good friends over the same potential partner:

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WILL SMITH’S FRESH PHILOSOPHY

“I hate all this philosophical mumbo-jumbo! It just doesn’t make any sense!”

I’ve experienced reactions like these from my students quite often while trying to teach them some philosophy. They express the normal frustration people get when they just don’t seem to succeed in mastering the issues they’re facing. To be honest, I more than once imitated their feelings of despair by getting frustrated and impatient myself about their inability to understand what I was trying to say. The story of students blaming teachers for not explaining things well enough, and of teachers responding that their students just don’t try hard enough, is all too familiar. But, at the end of the day, having worked through some negative emotions, I somehow always manage to sit down at my desk and try to improve upon my part of communicating. I can only hope it stays that way.

The writings of Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas are not always easy to understand, let alone agree with. Roger Burggraeve, one of my professors at the University of Leuven, has proven to be an excellent guide to introduce me to the philosophy of Levinas (click here for an excellent summary by Burggraeve). But explanations at an academic level are not always easily transferable to a high school level. Regarding Levinas I’m faced with the challenge to explain something about his thoughts on “the Other” and “the Other’s face”. Although Levinas’ musings often appear to be highly abstract for someone who didn’t receive any proper philosophical training, his thinking springs from very “earthly”, even dark realities and experiences – especially the experience of the Holocaust. Levinas’ response to the threat of totalitarianism is actually very down to earth, but because it wants to be “fundamental”, I can imagine it indeed sometimes comes across as mumbo-jumbo to sixteen year olds.

Luckily enough for me, as a teacher, an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (season 3, episode 12 The Cold War) can help to make clear what “the encounter with the Other” could be like in a particular situation. Moreover, it also serves as a good way to connect René Girard’s mimetic theory with some of Levinas’ main insights. Here’s the story:

Will and his nephew Carlton have a crush on the same girl, Paula. Carlton had been the first to date Paula, but after introducing her to Will, she also becomes Will’s object of interest. Will imitates the desire of Carlton and, upon noticing this, Carlton in turn reinforces his desire for Paula by imitating his new rival Will. This is a prime and archetypal example of what Girard has labeled mimetic (or imitative) desire, which potentially leads to mimetic rivalry. Will and Carlton become each other’s obstacles in the pursuit of an object (in this case a person, Paula) they point to each other as desirable. They become jealous of each other and try to out compete one another. They both fear the other as a threat to their self-esteem and independency. Ironically however, as they try to differ themselves from each other by unwittingly imitating each other’s desire, they resemble each other more and more. In fact, their sense of “being” becomes truly dependent on the other they despise. They end up dueling each other in a pillow fight, trying to settle the score.

At one moment, near the end of Will and Carlton’s fight, something happens which indeed illustrates what Levinas means with “response to the Other’s face” (click here for some excerpts from Levinas’ Ethics as First Philosophy). Will pretends to be severely injured (“My eye!”), whereon Carlton totally withdraws from the fight. Carlton finds himself confronted with Will’s vulnerability, and is genuinely concerned for his nephew’s well-being. The Other he was fighting turns out to be more than his rival, more than the product of his (worst) imaginations. Indeed, before being a rival the Other “is simply there“, not reducible to any of our concerns, desires or anxieties. Carlton is not concerned for his own sake: he doesn’t seem to fear any punishment, nor does he seem to desire any reward while showing his care for Will. He abandons all actions of self-interest “in the wink of an eye”.

This is an ethical moment, as Levinas understands it. It goes beyond utilitarianism which, as it turns out, justifies itself as being “good” by arguing that self-interest (i.e. what proves useful for one’s own well-being) eventually serves the interest (well-being) of others as well. Putting forward the effect on the well-being of others as justification for utilitarianism is telling, and shows that utilitarianism in itself doesn’t seem to be “enough” as a foundation for ethics. Moreover, utilitarianism serves the interests of “the majority”, which threatens to overlook what happens to minorities “other than” that majority. Sometimes sacrificing a minority might seem “logical” from this point of view. By contrast, in what is “the ethical moment” according to Levinas, one fears being a murderer more than one’s own death. In other words, provoked by the Other’s “nakedness” and “vulnerability” (the Other’s face which lies beyond our visible descriptions and labeling of the Other), OUR FEAR OF THE OTHER IS TRANSFORMED IN FEAR FOR THE OTHER. The mimetic rivalry between Will and Carlton is thus interrupted until, of course, Will reveals he was only joking about his injury… and the pillow fight continues.

CLICK TO WATCH:

Eventually, Will and Carlton quit fighting and start confessing their wrongdoings towards one another. They no longer imitate each other’s desire to assert themselves over against one another, but they imitate each other in being vulnerable and forgiving, recognizing “each Other”. They imitate each other’s withdrawal from mimetically converging desire and rivalry. It is by becoming “Other” to one another that they paradoxically gain a new sense of “self”, as an unexpected consequence…

Enjoy that grand twist of humor in Will Smith’s unexpected philosophy class…

CLICK TO WATCH:

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SHAKESPEARE MUSTA LOVED SEINFELD

In the book Evolution and Conversion – Dialogues on the Origins of Culture (Continuum, London, New York, 2007), René Girard talks about popular culture and discusses the power of mass media. His approach is very nuanced, as he distinguishes between positive and negative aspects of these phenomena. He even dares to compare television series Seinfeld to the works of William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Girard develops his thoughts in a conversation with Pierpaolo Antonello and João Cezar de Castro Rocha. The seventh chapter, Modernity, Postmodernity and Beyond, reads the following (pp. 249-250):

Guy Debord wrote that ‘the spectacle is the material reconstruction of the religious illusion’ brought down to earth. Could we consider the expansion of the mass-media system, and the ideological use of it, as a ‘kathechetic’ instrument as well?

Of course, because it is based on a false form of transcendence, and therefore it has a containing power, but it is an unstable one. The conformism and the ethical agnosticism induced by media such as television could also produce forms of mimetic polarization at the mass level, making people more prone to be swayed by mimetic dynamics, inducing the much-feared populism in Western democracies.

Do you agree, however, that movies, TV and advertising draw heavily on mimetic principle, therefore increasing our awareness on this score?

Yes and no, because the majority of Hollywood or TV productions are very much based on the false romantic notion of the autonomy of the individual and the authenticity of his/her own desire. Of course there are exceptions, like the popular sit-com Seinfeld, which uses mimetic mechanisms constantly and depicts its characters as puppets of mimetic desire. I do not like the fact that Seinfeld constantly makes fun of high culture, which is nothing but mimetic snobbery, but it is a very clever and powerful show. It is also the only show which can afford to make fun of political correctness and can talk about important current phenomena such as the anorexia and bulimia epidemic, which clearly have strong mimetic components. From a moral point of view, it is a hellish description of our contemporary world, but at the same time, it shows a tremendous amount of talent and there are powerful insights regarding our mimetic situations.

Seinfeld is a show that gets closer to the mimetic mechanism than most, and indeed is also hugely successful. How do you explain that?

In order to be successful an artist must come as close as he can to some important social truth without inciting painful self-criticism in the spectators. This is what this show did. People do not have to understand fully in order to appreciate. They must not understand. They identify themselves with what these characters do because they do it too. They recognize something that is very common and very true, but they cannot define it. Probably the contemporaries of Shakespeare appreciated his portrayal of human relations in the same way we enjoy Seinfeld, without really understanding his perspicaciousness regarding mimetic interaction. I must say that there is more social reality in Seinfeld than in most academic sociology.”

Maybe a small example can lift a tip of the veil. I chose a short excerpt from Seinfeld’s episode 88 (season 6, episode 2, The Big Salad). Jerry Seinfeld is dating a nice lady. However, when he finds out his annoying neighbor Newman is her former lover, his face darkens… One doesn’t have to watch the whole episode to know what will happen next. Indeed, Jerry eventually breaks up with his date, imitating what Newman did and ‘ending it’. The reason Jerry’s desire for his girlfriend diminishes precisely lies in the often imitative or, as Girard would call it, ‘mimetic’ nature of desire. Jerry just doesn’t desire his date directly all the way, but he is – like all of us – sometimes heavily influenced by certain models who point out what he should or should not desire. In this case, Newman turns out to be a model who negatively influences Jerry’s desire…

This scene is fun, because it’s all too recognizable and it mirrors some aspects of our tragic comic behavior – good, refined humor as it should be!

Click to watch:

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MIMETIC BIG BANG THEORY

Sometimes, just sometimes, quite revealing scientific insights slip into popular culture. I was watching a rerun of an episode of The Big Bang Theory sitcom on Belgian television. More specifically, I found out, I was watching The White Asparagus Triangulation (episode 9, season 2 ).

Mimetic DesireThe title itself can already be connected to a basic concept of René Girard’s mimetic theory, namely mimetic desire. As it turns out, “triangulation” indeed refers to the triangular nature of human desire (beyond instinctive needs) as described by Girard: the desire of a subject towards a certain object is positively or negatively influenced by mediators or models (click here to watch an example of negatively mediated desire from another popular sitcom, Seinfeld). Humans imitate others in orienting their desires – their desire thus is mimetic.

In the case of this episode from The Big Bang Theory: Sheldon tries to positively influence the desire of Leonard’s new girlfriend, Stephanie. After all, she is the first of Leonard’s dates to meet Sheldon’s high intellectual standards, so Sheldon does everything to increase Stephanie’s desire for Leonard. At some point he tries to persuade the girl next door, Penny, to present herself as a rival/model for Stephanie. Here’s the script for this scene.

Scene: Outside Penny’s door.

Sheldon (Knock, knock, knock) : Penny (knock, knock, knock) Penny.

Penny: What?

Sheldon (Knock, knock, knock) : Penny. Zucchini bread.

Penny: Oh, thank you.

Sheldon: May I come in?

Penny: No.

The White Asparagus Triangulation Penny and Sheldon Zucchini

Sheldon: I see. Apparently my earlier inquiry regarding you and Leonard crossed some sort of line. I apologize.

Penny: Well, thank you.

Sheldon: So, have you and I returned to a social equilibrium?

Penny: Yes.

Sheldon: Great. New topic. Where are you in your menstrual cycle?

Penny: What?

Sheldon: I’ve been doing some research online, and apparently female primates, you know, uh, apes, chimpanzees, you, they find their mate more desirable when he’s being courted by another female. Now, this effect is intensified when the rival female is secreting the pheromones associated with ovulation. Which brings me back to my question, where are you in (Penny slams door). Clearly, I’m 14 days too early.

Female Chimpanzee Sexual Swelling KanyawaraSeveral lines of evidence indicate some female competition over mating. First, at Mahale, females sometimes directly interfered in the mating attempts of their rivals by forcing themselves between a copulating pair. In some cases, the aggressive female went on to mate with the male. At Gombe, during a day-long series of attacks by Mitumba females on a fully swollen new immigrant female, the most active attackers were also swollen and their behaviour was interpreted as ‘sexual jealousy’ by the observers. Townsend et al. found that females at Budongo suppressed copulation calls when in the presence of the dominant female, possibly to prevent direct interference in their copulations. Second, females occasionally seem to respond to the sexual swellings of others by swelling themselves. Goodall described an unusual incident in which a dominant, lactating female suddenly appeared with a full swelling a day after a young oestrous female had been followed by many males. Nishida described cases at Mahale in which a female would produce isolated swellings that were not part of her regular cycles when a second oestrous female was present in the group.
The White Asparagus Triangulation eventually gets its title from another scene in the episode. Sheldon tries to establish Leonard as “the alpha male”. Sheldon will pretend that he is unable to open a jar of asparagus. If Leonard then opens the jar he will have won the mimetic competition over the question “who is the strongest?”, resulting in an increase of his sex appeal. Of course, for the sake of comedy, things go terribly wrong :). Here’s the script for this scene.

Scene: The apartment.

Leonard: All I’m saying is if they can cure yellow fever and malaria, why can’t they do something about lactose intolerance?

Steph: Leonard, you’re going to have to let this go. You had a little cheese dip, you farted, I thought it was cute.

Sheldon: Oh, hi Stephanie.

Steph: Hi.

Leonard: Want some more wine?

Steph: Yeah, I assume I’m not driving anywhere tonight. (Sheldon lets out a loud noise).

Leonard: What are you doing?

Sheldon: I have a craving for white asparagus that apparently is destined to go unsatisfied.

Leonard: Excuse me. What the hell is wrong with you?

Sheldon: I’m helping you with Stephanie.

Leonard: By making constipated moose sounds?

The White Asparagus Triangulation Big Bang Theory

Sheldon: When I fail to open this jar and you succeed it will establish you as the alpha male. You see, when a female witnesses an exhibition of physical domination she produces the hormone oxytocin. If the two of you then engage in intercourse this will create the biochemical reaction in the brain which lay people naively interpret as falling in love.

Leonard: Huh? Would it work if I just punched you in the face?

Sheldon: Yes, actually it would, but let’s see how the lid goes. I’m not strong enough, Leonard, you’ll have to do it.

Leonard: Oh, for god’s sakes.

Sheldon: Go ahead, it’s pre-loosened.

Steph: Do you want some help with that?

Leonard: No, no, no, I got it.

Sheldon: No, yeah, yeah, he’s got it, and that’s not surprising. This is something I long ago came to peace with in my role as the beta male. Open it. (Leonard tries again. Then taps jar on counter. Jar breaks.)

Steph: Oh my god, are you okay?

Leonard: No, I’m not. I’m bleeding.

Sheldon: Like a gladiator!

Steph: Oh, honey, you’re going to need stitches.

Leonard: Stitches? With a needle?

Steph: Well, yeah, I mean, just a few.

Leonard: Oh, okay, yeah, hang on a sec. (Throws up in sink)

Sheldon: FYI, I was defrosting a steak in there.

(A)theist Killers and the Picture of a Happy Man

[KLIK HIER VOOR SAMENVATTING IN HET NEDERLANDS – PDF]

Skepticist Brian Dunning sharply observes the following:

“Who has been the worst throughout history: atheist regimes or religious regimes? Obviously the big numbers come from the 20th century superpowers (China, Russia, Germany) so the answer depends on how you classify those. And this is where the meat of these debates is usually found, splitting hairs on which regime is atheist, which is merely secular, which is non-Christian and thus fair game to be called atheist. […] In summary, the winner of these debates is the one who can convince the other that the big 20th century genocidal maniacs were motivated either by religion or by a desire to destroy religion. The entire debate is the logical fallacy of the excluded middle.

[…]

I’m convinced that arguing either side is merely an opportunistic way to tingle sensitive nerves and sell a lot of books. And, I’m convinced that any discussion of the religious causes of genocide is a divisive distraction from the more worthwhile investigation into the true cultural and psychological causes. We are human beings, and we need to understand our human motivations.

So I am no longer going to participate in the childish debate of what religion has killed more people in history, because it doesn’t matter. The way I see it, you might as well debate what color underpants are worn by the largest number of killers, and try to draw a causal relationship there as well. Religion does not cause you to kill people, and it certainly doesn’t prevent you from killing people. Let’s stop pretending that it does either.”

Dunning, B. “Who Kills More, Religion or Atheism?” Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 27 Nov 2007. Web. 7 Nov 2017. http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4076

See also: http://worldwithoutgenocide.org/

It is strange, indeed, how some people express their outrage about “violent Islam” or “violent religion” on Facebook after an ISIS terror attack in New York that killed eight people (November 3, 2017), while those very same people remain silent about the mass killer in Las Vegas who slaughtered 58 people (October 1, 2017). Makes you wonder if the victims are a primary concern. Maybe victims are primarily used to make political statements?

The problem of violence lies within man himself and in his tendency to deify human preoccupations. Man’s addictive attachment to wealth, pleasure, power and/or honor often creates a deadly cocktail of (self-)destructive behavior. The deification of wealth, pleasure, power and/or honor means that they are considered as ends in themselves. It means that they are considered as goals of mimetically driven desires; as parts of a love for a mimetically constructed psychosocial (self-)image, and not as means to or consequences of a love for one”self” (a self that is, paradoxically maybe, always “relational”) and one’s neighbor.

The deification of wealth, pleasure, power and/or honor prevents the (truly divine) reality of neighborly love. For instance, a capitalist who accepts cheap child labor in his factories is not concerned with his neighbors (in casu the children), but only in the fulfilment of his (mimetically driven) desire for, and love of wealth and social status (“honor”) because of that wealth. Equally, a child molester, like a pedophile priest, is not interested in loving children, but in the fulfilment of his love for pleasure and power. Or another example: a student who is only interested in courses when they are “not boring” is primarily interested in the fulfilment of the desire for pleasure. True love is a learning process, though, which is not always and automatically accompanied by “good feelings”. If, for instance, you want to develop the freedom to play whatever piano piece, you will at first have to develop the discipline to obey certain rules about music theory and piano playing techniques. Which might be boring at times, but you will never learn to enjoy the reality of certain music as a player if you are simply driven by a desire for pleasure. The fact that love is more than “feeling good” also appears when you are sad because of the death of a dearly beloved – and yet you are willing to bear sadness because of love (and not, in a masochistic way, because of sadness itself).

Throughout history, there have been numerous attempts to create a utopian peace that could fully satisfy any one of those aforementioned addictions, or a combination of them. The attempts have always led to large numbers of despair, oppression and bloodshed. Utopias turn to dystopias. It’s a law of human history. Those utopias have been religious as well as secular. Indeed, the addiction to wealth, pleasure, power and/or honor is a universal human temptation, which has nothing to do with defining yourself as a theist or an atheist. Theists as well as atheists sometimes deify wealth, pleasure, power and/or honor.

So, it is no coincidence that:

  • Human history has witnessed the temptation to deify the pursuit of wealth and pleasure. Remember, for instance, the war between Mexican drug cartels?
  • Human history has witnessed the temptation to deify a cultural religious and ethnic identity in order to defend or expand one’s honor and power over against others. Remember, for instance, the Yugoslav wars (1991-2001)? It’s religion and nationalism gone mad.
  • Human history has witnessed the temptation to deify the pursuit of wealth and capital through power. Remember, for instance, colonialism (15th – 20th century)? Or remember, for instance, the so-called “Great Leap Forward” in China (1958-1962)? It’s socioeconomic relations gone mad.
  • Human history has witnessed the temptation to deify an ethnic identity and a so-called “natural order of racial competition” in order to defend or expand one’s honor and power over against others. Remember, for instance, the Holocaust (1933-1945)? It’s nationalism and pseudo-Darwinian ideology gone mad.

It’s in light of these facts that we can reconsider the beginning of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20, 3-5a):

2commandment“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them…”

In other words, nothing should be deified. Deification (whether of a material object, an ideological system or a combination of both) leads to slavery and all kinds of mental and physical violence. Expressed paradoxically: in a Jewish sense, to love God means refusing to consider anything as divine (in order to become “children of God”, which is “deification” in a totally different sense!). It is the paradoxically absolute refusal of absolutism, totalitarianism and idolatry, in order to make way for the reality of love. There is no middle ground here. Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth embodied the absolute refusal of absolutism. That’s why, for instance, Matthew the Evangelist let’s Jesus proclaim (Matthew 12:30a): “Whoever is not with me, is against me…”

[Note: I could have made the following considerations perhaps from a different spiritual tradition, or at least I could have made similar ones. To me, Judeo-Christian tradition is not an end in itself. It is a starting point. So I don’t want to absolutize this religion. On the other hand, I accept that I am a historical creature and I also don’t want to absolutize a so-called self-sufficient a-historical identity. The Judeo-Christian tradition is the woman I coincidentally met and have a relationship with. I don’t need to see all other women first to have an inspiring relationship with this one, enabling me to creatively meet other people as well, men and women.]

Love ultimately is a concern for the reality of the (human and non-human) other because of the other, which is only possible if people are concerned with… their own freedom! In the words of Robert Barron: “Love is not a sentiment or feeling. It is actively willing the good of the other.” Only if you are not fully defined by and attached to your biological need for survival, or your mimetically driven psychosocial desire for safety from potential rivals (power), for entertainment (pleasure), or for approval (honor), can you become free to experience reality more fully (no longer approaching it from any particular need). A scientist is truly a scientist when he is interested in reality because of reality itself, and not, for instance, because of his biological need for survival or because of a psychosocially mediated desire to become famous for his discoveries. What is true is true apart from whatever “need” or “desire”. Truth transcends those circumstances. Moreover, the refusal to deify yourself (which is, in other words, to love God) means that you might lessen the temptation to sacrifice others to or use them for your mimetically driven desire for approval, as you learn to love the reality of who you are. This is “the logic of Jesus” in his conversation with a lawyer (Matthew 22:35-40):

A lawyer asked Jesus a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

A Depiction of Jesus and the Woman taken in Adultery (Vasily Polenov)Jesus often confronts people with their narcissistic tendencies, or, in other words, with their tendency to deify themselves. For instance, when he is surrounded by people who are about to stone a woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11), Jesus awakens a sense of reality in each individual. He asks people to consider whether they themselves are “without sin”. After which he decides that “whoever is without sin may cast the first stone”. At first sight this is merely a clever trick that allows Jesus to take control of the situation. Indeed, no Jew would claim to be perfect. That would mean that he claims to be like God, and then he would trespass the first of the ten commandments. So no one can cast the first stone, because that would be one of the greatest sins in the light of Jesus’ saying. At a deeper level, it is precisely Jesus’ constant “iconoclasm” of false self-concepts that, apart from the social position Jesus himself receives for doing so, opens up possibilities for new relationships between people. If you don’t deify yourself, if you don’t surrender to idolatry (of illusionary ideas of yourself), then you become able of accepting yourself more realistically (with your limits and mistakes), and then you might also be more able to accept others (with their limits and mistakes). In other words, if you “love God” (i.e. refuse to deify anything, including yourself), then you open up the possibility of “loving yourself”, which is the condition to “love others”.

Jesus is convinced that the source from which he lives “desires mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). The consequences of this conviction are paradoxical. It implies that Jesus refuses to merely sacrifice the existing worldly structures to establish his own rule. Jesus acts non-dualistically. Hence he says (Matthew 5:17):

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

The priority of love implies that existing laws, structures and rituals should be tested against the extent to which they help to avoid making victims and to which they allow for authentic human lives. Man should not live according to rules, as if preserving a social system and its rules would be an end in itself, but rules should be means at the service of individual human beings and society as a whole. When Jesus and his disciples are criticized for doing things that are, strictly speaking, forbidden on the rest day – the Sabbath – Jesus answers (Mark 2:27):

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Again, this is a refusal to deify any worldly or human reality. It is a refusal to deify religion, in this case the Jewish one.

BeatitudesOne of the most impressive summaries of the teachings of Jesus is, without a doubt, the Sermon on the Mount. Father Robert Barron makes some very inspiring observations about the eight beatitudes, especially about the four seemingly more “negative” prescriptions (all the following fragments from Robert Barron are taken from Barron, Robert. Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith. New York: Image Books, 2011, pp.43-47):

“Thomas Aquinas said that the four typical substitutes for God are wealth, pleasure, power, and honor. Sensing the void within, we attempt to fill it up with some combination of these four things, but only by emptying out the self in love can we make the space for God to fill us. The classical tradition referred to this errant desire as ‘concupiscence,’ but I believe that we could neatly express the same idea with the more contemporary term ‘addiction.’ When we try to satisfy the hunger for God with something less than God, we will naturally be frustrated, and then in our frustration, we will convince ourselves that we need more of that finite good, so we will struggle to achieve it, only to find ourselves again, necessarily, dissatisfied. At this point, a sort of spiritual panic sets in, and we can find ourselves turning obsessively around this creaturely good that can never in principle make us happy.

And so Jesus says: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 5:3). This is neither a romanticizing of economic poverty nor a demonization of wealth, but rather a formula for detachment. Might I suggest a somewhat variant rendition: how blessed are you if you are not attached to material things, if you have not placed the goods that wealth can buy at the center of your concern? When the Kingdom of God [love, mercy, grace] is your ultimate concern, not only will you not become addicted to material things; you will, in fact, be able to use them with great effectiveness for God’s purposes [love]. Under this same rubric of detachment consider the beatitude ‘Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted’ (Mt 5:4). Again, this can sound like the worst sort of masochism, but we have to dig deeper. We could render this adage as how blessed, how ‘lucky’… you are if you are not addicted to good feelings. Pleasant sensations – physical, emotional, psychological – are wonderful, but since they are only a finite good, they can easily drive an addiction, as can clearly be seen in the prevalence of psychotropic drugs, gluttonous habits of consumption, and pornography in our culture. Again, Jesus’s saying hasn’t a thing to do with puritanism; it has to do with detachment and hence with spiritual freedom. Unaddicted to sensual pleasure, one can unreservedly follow the will of God, even when such a path involves psychological or physical suffering.”

I wrote an earlier post on this blog about the religious vows (click here for more). It joins the previous considerations by Father Barron:

Saint Francis of AssisiBefore I got to know the Christian faith I always thought the three religious vows were an abomination. Why would anyone deliberately choose a seemingly masochistic way of a life in “poverty, chastity and obedience”? Only after I saw a documentary on the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in New York and only after I delved into the Gospels more carefully I discovered that these vows were not ends in themselves, but should actually be understood as means to seeming antitheses of those very vows. It turns out that the three religious vows are anything but masochistic. They should be based on the paradox of the Gospel:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it… What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:24a-25).

Concerning the vow of poverty: For whoever wants to save their life will lose it… translates to For whoever wants to become rich will become poor… Indeed. Ever met those people who “wanted it all” – perhaps in the mirror? Those who want to enjoy as much parties as possible? If you want all the clothes in the world and go out shopping all the time you won’t ever fully enjoy any of your clothes. If you want to attend ten parties in just one night you will not have enjoyed any of them, because you will constantly worry about the next party you might be missing. If you want to love all the women in the world, you won’t have loved any of them in the end.

The challenge is to choose life where it’s present. As a present. To quote John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” The challenge is to live in the here and the now. To choose quality instead of worrying about quantity. Intensity. NON MULTA SED MULTUM. Epicurus (BC 341-270) already warns against discomposing desires: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” If you stop trying to possess what others have (which is the same as no longer surrendering to mimetic desire), you will become aware of the things you do have and discover that there’s a world of plenty in one single moment, at one place.

Saint Francis of Assisi (Regina Ammerman)Imagine what this attitude of “having enough” could mean for the natural environment! It’s no surprise Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) deeply respected and enjoyed the riches of nature… If only we could follow his example a little better.

Concerning the vow of chastity: For whoever wants to save their life will lose it… translates to For whoever wants to love everyone will not be able to love anyone… If you are a heterosexual bachelor who tries to develop a friendly relationship with a woman, you might soon find out that the woman herself or others fear you’re friendly because you want “something more”. This fear might prevent the possibility of more intimate relationships. On the other hand, when people know you’re married or that you took another voSaint Francis and the Sultanw of chastity, they will not have to fear you’re “after something more than friendship”. This opens up the possibility of more authentic and intimate relationships. It opens up the possibility of meeting the other as “other”, of true personal care – CURA PERSONALIS. Of course, we all know that in human relationships there is no black and white. There’s lots of colors in between the limits of a “grey zone”.

In yet other words, using another formula from the Gospels (the aforementioned “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”):

Wealth is there for man (in service of neighborly love – considering wealth as a means to help our neighbor), not man for wealth (we shouldn’t exploit our neighbor to become wealthy – considering wealth as our goal, and not our neighbor). That’s why Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven [the reality of love]” (Mt 5:3).

The development of a sexual relationship might be a consequence of our love for the other, as it is not the end of our relationship. The other should not be a means to satisfy our sexual desires, but our sexual desires are, in ideal circumstances, consequences of a very intimate friendship. True love accepts to bear sadness when beloved others are unhappy, it does not seek pleasure at the expense of others (a child molester, for instance, doesn’t care about the brokenness of his victim as he is addicted to pleasure).

If you don’t flee sadness because of the loss of a dearly beloved by “drinking away ‘bad feelings’ with alcohol”, you might allow the source of your sadness, which is the reality of the love for the person you lost. And by allowing that love, you also allow the comforting gratitude for what that person gave you and meant to you. That’s why Jesus says: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Mt 5:4).

Father Barron again:

“Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land’ (Mt 5:5). I don’t know of any culture at any time that would be tempted to embrace this beatitude as a practical program of world conquest! Meek people don’t come to positions of political or institutional influence. But once more, Jesus is not so much passing judgment on institutions of power as he is showing a path of detachment. How lucky you are if you are not attached to the finite good of worldly power. Many people up and down the centuries have felt that the acquisition of power is the key to beatitude. In the temptation scene in the Gospel of Matthew, the devil, after luring Christ with the relatively low-level temptations toward sensual pleasure and pride, brings Jesus to the top of a tall mountain and reveals to him all of the kingdoms of the world in their glory and offers them to Jesus. Matthew’s implication is that the drive to power is perhaps the strongest, most irresistible temptation of all. In the twentieth century, J.R.R. Tolkien, who had tasted at first hand the horrors of the First World War and had witnessed those of the Second, conceived a ring of power as the most tempting talisman in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. But if you are detached from worldly power, you can follow the will of God, even when that path involves extreme powerlessness. Meek – free from the addiction to ordinary power – you can become a conduit of true divine power to the world.

The last of the ‘negative’ beatitudes is ‘Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 5:10). We must read this, once again, in light of Thomas Aquinas’s analysis. If the call to poverty holds off the addiction to material things, and the summons to mourn counters the addiction to good feelings, and the valorization of meekness blocks the addiction to power, this last beatitude gets in the way of the addictive attachment to honor. Honor is a good thing in the measure that it is a “flag of virtue,” signaling to others the presence of some excellence, but when love of honor becomes the center of one’s concern, it, like any other finite good, becomes a source of suffering. Many people who are not terribly attracted to wealth, pleasure, or power are held captive by their desire for the approval of others, and they will accordingly, order their lives, arrange their work, and plot their careers with the single value in mind of being noticed, honored and endowed with titles. But this again involves the attempt to fill up the infinite longing with a finite good, and it produces, by the laws of spiritual physics, addiction. Therefore, how lucky are you if you are not attached to honor and hence are able to follow the will of God even when that path involves being ignored, dishonored, and, at the limit, persecuted.”

agape loveTo gain social recognition often means that you’re accepted not for who you are, but for the image you’re presenting of yourself. Indeed, you’re losing your life while trying to “gain the whole world”. This process might also imply that you’re sacrificing others to protect that socially acceptable image. The apostle Peter denies knowing Jesus when the latter is arrested, instead of defending Jesus. Fearing that his association with Jesus will make him socially unacceptable as well, Peter presents an untruthful image of himself. From this angle Jesus rightfully says: “But whoever loses their life for me will save it…” (Luke 9:24b). If you lose your socially acceptable image to defend the one who is socially deprived, you will gain a truer identity as an unexpected and surprising consequence. To (re)establish relationships with the excluded is to take part in the dynamic of agape (love for one’s neighbor). It is making the “Body of Christ” – which is a body of Love – transparent. In short, if you lose the love for your image, then you gain love for yourself and others.

Faces of Christ (Body of Christ)

Concerning the vow of obedience: For whoever wants to save their life will lose it… translates to For whoever wants to be free will be imprisoned… Oh yes, we tend to listen to the ones who are promising us a great future, a beautiful career, happiness etc. – in one word: “paradise”. But if a workaholic keeps on listening to his boss, he will remain a puppet of a degrading work ethic. If a drug addict keeps on believing the drug dealer who tells him that he doesn’t really have any problem, he will remain an enslaved human being for the rest of his life… In contrast, the vow of obedience means that you will try to obey to the Voice of a Love that wants what’s best for you. It means listening to a Voice that liberates you and enables you to be who you are… Only if you’re capable of accepting and loving yourself, you will be capable of loving others as well. The drug addict is so in need of drugs that he will approach others because of this need. He will use others to satisfy his needs and he won’t be able to approach them as ends in themselves. But if he frees himself from these needs and takes responsibility for himself he will be able to take responsibility for others as well. FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY are twin brothers, or sisters…

Father Barron has the last word:

Thomas Aquinas (Gentile da Fabriano)“Thomas Aquinas said that if you want to see the perfect exemplification of the beatitudes, you should look to Christ crucified. The saint specified this observation as follows: if you want beatitude (happiness), despise what Jesus despised on the cross and love what he loved on the cross. What did he despise on the cross but the four classical addictions? The crucified Jesus was utterly detached from wealth and worldly goods. He was stripped naked, and his hands, fixed to the wood of the cross, could grasp at nothing. More to it, he was detached from pleasure. On the cross, Jesus underwent the most agonizing kind of physical torment, a pain that was literally excruciating (ex cruce, from the cross), but he also experienced the extreme of psychological and even spiritual suffering (‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’). And he was bereft of power, even to the point of being unable to move or defend himself in any way. Finally on that terrible cross he was completely detached from the esteem of others. In a public place not far from the gate of Jerusalem, he hung from an instrument of torture, exposed to the mockery of the crowd, displayed as a common criminal. In this, he endured the ultimate of dishonor. In the most dramatic way possible, therefore, the crucified Jesus demonstrates a liberation from the four principal temptations that lead us away from God. […]

But what did Jesus love on the cross? He loved the will of his Father [Love]. […] What he loved and what he despised were in a strange balance on the cross. Poor in spirit, meek, mourning, and persecuted, he was able to be pure of heart, to seek righteousness utterly, to become the ultimate peacemaker, and to be the perfect conduit of the divine mercy to the world. Though it is supremely paradoxical to say so, the crucified Jesus is the man of beatitude, a truly happy man. And if we recall our discussion of freedom, we can say that Jesus nailed to the cross is the very icon of liberty, for he is free from those attachments that would prevent him from attaining the true good, which is doing the will of his Father [Love].

One of the most brutally realistic and spiritually powerful depictions of the crucifixion is the central panel of the Isenheim Altarpiece painted in the late fifteenth century by the German artist Matthias Grünewald. Jesus’s body is covered with sores and wounds, his head is surrounded by a particularly brutal crown of thorns, his hands and feet are pierced, not with tiny nails, but with enormous spikes, and, perhaps most terribly, his mouth is agape in worldless agony. The viewer is spared none of the horror of this most horrible of deaths. To the right of the figure of Jesus, Grünewald has painted, in an eloquent anachronism, John the Baptist, the herald and forerunner of the Messiah. John is indicating Jesus as the Lamb of God, but he does so in the most peculiar way. Instead of pointing directly at the Lord, John’s arm and hand are oddly twisted, as though he had to contort himself in order to perform his task. One wonders whether Grünewald was suggesting that our distorted expectations of what constitutes a joyful and free life have to be twisted out of shape (and hence back into proper shape) in order for us to grasp the strange truth revealed in the crucified Christ.”

Isenheim Altarpiece (Matthias Grünewald)

Original Latin text Robert Barron refers to:

Sancti Thomae de Aquino Expositio in Symbolum Apostolorum (reportatio Reginaldi de Piperno)

(Textum Taurini 1954 editum ac automato translatum a Roberto Busa SJ in taenias magneticas denuo recognovit Enrique Alarcón atque instruxit)

Articulus 4

Passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus et sepultus

[…]

Nam, sicut dicit beatus Augustinus, passio Christi sufficit ad informandum totaliter vitam nostram. Quicumque enim vult perfecte vivere, nihil aliud faciat nisi quod contemnat quae Christus in cruce contempsit, et appetat quae Christus appetiit. Nullum enim exemplum virtutis abest a cruce.

[…]

Si quaeris exemplum contemnendi terrena, sequere eum qui est rex regum et dominus dominantium, in quo sunt thesauri sapientiae; in cruce tamen nudatum, illusum, consputum, caesum, spinis coronatum, et felle et aceto potatum, et mortuum. Igitur non afficiaris ad vestes, et ad divitias: quia diviserunt sibi vestimenta mea, Psal. XXI, 19; non ad honores, quia ego ludibria et verbera expertus sum; non ad dignitates, quia plectentes coronam de spinis imposuerunt capiti meo; non ad delicias, quia in siti mea potaverunt me aceto, Psal. LXVIII, 22.

Dutch Translation – Vertaling:

Artikel 4

Geleden onder Pontius Pilatus, gekruisigd, gestorven en begraven

[…]

Want zoals de zalige Augustinus zegt, de passie van Christus volstaat om de totaliteit van ons leven vorm te geven. Wie volmaakt wil leven, zou niets anders moeten doen dan verachten wat Christus verachtte op het kruis, en verlangen wat Christus verlangde [op het kruis].

[…]

Als je een voorbeeld zoekt van de verachting van aardse dingen, volg dan hem die de koning der koningen is en de heer der heerscharen, in wie zich de schatten bevinden van de wijsheid; op het kruis werd hij ontkleed, bespot, bespuwd, geslagen, gekroond met doornen, en gelaafd met azijn en gal, en is er gestorven. Daarom, wees niet gehecht aan kledij, en aan rijkdommen: want ze verdeelden mijn kleren onder hen, Psalm 21, 19; [wees] ook niet [gehecht] aan eer(bewijzen), want ik heb harde woorden en verwijten ondergaan; [wees] ook niet [gehecht] aan sociale rang (waardigheid, macht), want een doornen kroon wevend plaatsten ze die op mijn hoofd; [wees] ook niet [gehecht] aan genotvolle dingen, want in mijn dorst gaven ze mij azijn te drinken, Psalm 68, 22.

 

 

Mimetic Food Habits

Paul RozinIt would be very interesting to create an intensified dialogue between Paul Rozin‘s research on the acquisition of likes and dislikes of foods and René Girard’s mimetic theory. Although some scholars already made some connections between the two (for instance in Culinary Cultures of Europe: Identity, Diversity and Dialogue, ed. by Darra Goldstein & Kathrin Merkle, Council of Europe Publication, 2005), much promising work remains to be done.

bugpartywormeatingAmong other things, biology and psychology professor Paul Rozin conducted a research with children from 16 months to five years of age. This resulted in a paper first published in Appetite (7: 141-151; June 1986), The Child’s Conception of Food: Differentiation of Categories of Rejected Substances in the 16 Months to 5 Year Age Range (click for pdf). The abstract from the article:

Children (N = 54) ranging in age from one year four months to five years were offered over 30 items to eat. The items included normal adult foods and exemplars of different adult rejection categories: disgust (e.g. grasshopper, hair), danger (liquid dish soap), inappropriate (e.g. paper, leaf) and unacceptable combinations (e.g. ketchup and cookie). We report a high to moderate level of acceptance (item put into mouth) of substances from all of these categories in the youngest children. Acceptance of disgusting and dangerous substances decreases with increasing age, while acceptance of inappropriate substances remains at moderate levels across the age range studied. Although the youngest children accepted more disgust items, the majority rejected most of the disgust choices. Almost all children at all ages tested accept combinations of foods which, although individually accepted by adults, are rejected in combination. No significant differences were observed between ‘normal’ children and those with a history of toxin ingestion, although there was a tendency of ingesters to accept more inedible items. In general, the results suggest that a major feature of the development of food selection is learning what not to eat.

disgust“A major feature of the development of food selection is learning what not to eat.” In other words, disgust is not just a biological thing, a matter of nature. It is a cultural thing too, a matter of nurture. In yet other words, a huge part of our development concerning likes and dislikes of food lies in the imitation of others. If disgust is a matter of nurture it is also a matter of mimesis. Powerful social models have the potential to increase or decrease the disgust for certain foods. For instance, the disgust for organ meat is decreasing since it is increasingly perceived as food served to the beau monde in fancy restaurants. Organ meat thus becomes an object of mimetic desire, while at the beginning of the nineteenth century, it used to be something undesirable for the rich as it was “meat for the poor”.

Further considerations by Paul Rozin on the origin of disgust as a specifically human trait include the possibility that disgust arose around things that were (considered to be) contagious. Which brings us back to René Girard, whose mimetic theory could explain why things that are not actually contaminating on a purely biological, “natural” level are indeed considered disgusting to the extent that they were once associated with “contaminating” violence (on the “cultural” level).

Well, let’s explore!

culinary-cultures-of-europe-identity-diversity-and-dialogue

Mimetic Big Bang Theory

Sometimes, just sometimes, quite revealing scientific insights slip into popular culture. I was watching a rerun of an episode of The Big Bang Theory sitcom on Belgian television. More specifically, I found out, I was watching The White Asparagus Triangulation (episode 9, season 2 – click to watch).

Mimetic DesireThe title itself can already be connected to a basic concept of René Girard’s mimetic theory, namely mimetic desire. As it turns out, “triangulation” indeed refers to the triangular nature of human desire (beyond instinctive needs) as described by Girard: the desire of a subject towards a certain object is positively or negatively influenced by mediators or models (click here to watch an example of negatively mediated desire from another popular sitcom, Seinfeld). Humans imitate others in orienting their desires – their desire thus is mimetic.

In the case of this episode from The Big Bang Theory: Sheldon tries to positively influence the desire of Leonard’s new girlfriend, Stephanie. After all, she is the first of Leonard’s dates to meet Sheldon’s high intellectual standards, so Sheldon does everything to increase Stephanie’s desire for Leonard. At some point he tries to persuade the girl next door, Penny, to present herself as a rival/model for Stephanie. Here’s the script for this scene.

Scene: Outside Penny’s door.

Sheldon (Knock, knock, knock) : Penny (knock, knock, knock) Penny.

Penny: What?

Sheldon (Knock, knock, knock) : Penny. Zucchini bread.

Penny: Oh, thank you.

Sheldon: May I come in?

Penny: No.

The White Asparagus Triangulation Penny and Sheldon Zucchini

Sheldon: I see. Apparently my earlier inquiry regarding you and Leonard crossed some sort of line. I apologize.

Penny: Well, thank you.

Sheldon: So, have you and I returned to a social equilibrium?

Penny: Yes.

Sheldon: Great. New topic. Where are you in your menstrual cycle?

Penny: What?

Sheldon: I’ve been doing some research online, and apparently female primates, you know, uh, apes, chimpanzees, you, they find their mate more desirable when he’s being courted by another female. Now, this effect is intensified when the rival female is secreting the pheromones associated with ovulation. Which brings me back to my question, where are you in (Penny slams door). Clearly, I’m 14 days too early.

Female Chimpanzee Sexual Swelling KanyawaraSeveral lines of evidence indicate some female competition over mating. First, at Mahale, females sometimes directly interfered in the mating attempts of their rivals by forcing themselves between a copulating pair. In some cases, the aggressive female went on to mate with the male. At Gombe, during a day-long series of attacks by Mitumba females on a fully swollen new immigrant female, the most active attackers were also swollen and their behaviour was interpreted as ‘sexual jealousy’ by the observers. Townsend et al. found that females at Budongo suppressed copulation calls when in the presence of the dominant female, possibly to prevent direct interference in their copulations. Second, females occasionally seem to respond to the sexual swellings of others by swelling themselves. Goodall described an unusual incident in which a dominant, lactating female suddenly appeared with a full swelling a day after a young oestrous female had been followed by many males. Nishida described cases at Mahale in which a female would produce isolated swellings that were not part of her regular cycles when a second oestrous female was present in the group.
The White Asparagus Triangulation eventually gets its title from another scene in the episode. Sheldon tries to establish Leonard as “the alpha male”. Sheldon will pretend that he is unable to open a jar of asparagus. If Leonard then opens the jar he will have won the mimetic competition over the question “who is the strongest?”, resulting in an increase of his sex appeal. Of course, for the sake of comedy, things go terribly wrong :). Here’s the script for this scene.

Scene: The apartment.

Leonard: All I’m saying is if they can cure yellow fever and malaria, why can’t they do something about lactose intolerance?

Steph: Leonard, you’re going to have to let this go. You had a little cheese dip, you farted, I thought it was cute.

Sheldon: Oh, hi Stephanie.

Steph: Hi.

Leonard: Want some more wine?

Steph: Yeah, I assume I’m not driving anywhere tonight. (Sheldon lets out a loud noise).

Leonard: What are you doing?

Sheldon: I have a craving for white asparagus that apparently is destined to go unsatisfied.

Leonard: Excuse me. What the hell is wrong with you?

Sheldon: I’m helping you with Stephanie.

Leonard: By making constipated moose sounds?

The White Asparagus Triangulation Big Bang Theory

Sheldon: When I fail to open this jar and you succeed it will establish you as the alpha male. You see, when a female witnesses an exhibition of physical domination she produces the hormone oxytocin. If the two of you then engage in intercourse this will create the biochemical reaction in the brain which lay people naively interpret as falling in love.

Leonard: Huh? Would it work if I just punched you in the face?

Sheldon: Yes, actually it would, but let’s see how the lid goes. I’m not strong enough, Leonard, you’ll have to do it.

Leonard: Oh, for god’s sakes.

Sheldon: Go ahead, it’s pre-loosened.

Steph: Do you want some help with that?

Leonard: No, no, no, I got it.

Sheldon: No, yeah, yeah, he’s got it, and that’s not surprising. This is something I long ago came to peace with in my role as the beta male. Open it. (Leonard tries again. Then taps jar on counter. Jar breaks.)

Steph: Oh my god, are you okay?

Leonard: No, I’m not. I’m bleeding.

Sheldon: Like a gladiator!

Steph: Oh, honey, you’re going to need stitches.

Leonard: Stitches? With a needle?

Steph: Well, yeah, I mean, just a few.

Leonard: Oh, okay, yeah, hang on a sec. (Throws up in sink)

Sheldon: FYI, I was defrosting a steak in there.

WATCH THE WHOLE EPISODE, CLICK HERE

In Memoriam: RIP René Girard (1923-2015)

From the Dominican Republic to Australia, from the United States of America to countries all over Europe, from Brazil to India and South Korea, from the left to the right in political quarters, from the world of science and the humanities, from believers and atheists alike, from media big (e.g. The New York Times) and small (e.g. Provinciale Zeeuwse Courant): René Girard received numerous accolades at his passing. To cite just a few examples, in honor of this “Darwin of the human sciences”:

René Girard portraitRené Girard was one of the leading thinkers of our era – a provocative sage who bypassed prevailing orthodoxies and “isms” to offer a bold, sweeping vision of human nature, human history and human destiny.

The renowned Stanford French professor, one of the 40 immortels of the prestigious Académie Française, died at his Stanford home on Nov. 4 at the age of 91, after long illness.

Fellow immortel and Stanford Professor Michel Serres once dubbed him “the new Darwin of the human sciences.” The author who began as a literary theorist was fascinated by everything. History, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, religion, psychology and theology all figured in his oeuvre.

International leaders read him, the French media quoted him. Girard influenced such writers as Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee and Czech writer Milan Kundera – yet he never had the fashionable (and often fleeting) cachet enjoyed by his peers among the structuralists, poststructuralists, deconstructionists and other camps. His concerns were not trendy, but they were always timeless.

READ MORE:

Many scholars have claimed that René Girard’s mimetic theory is one of the most important insights of the 20th century. This morning brought the news that René has passed away at age 91. “Girardians,” as we are called, have been on social media sharing our sorrow at his passing, but also our profound sense of gratitude for this giant among human beings. We stand on his shoulders. And our vision is all the clearer for it.

READ MORE: Patheos, November 4, 2015

Dans un communiqué, le président de la République, François Hollande, a salué la mémoire du philosophe et académicien français René Girard: «C’est un intellectuel exigeant et passionné, exégète à la curiosité sans limite, théoricien brillant et à l’esprit fondateur, enseignant et chercheur atypique aimant aller à contre-courant, René Girard était un homme libre et un humaniste dont l’œuvre marquera l’histoire de pensée», affirme le chef de l’Etat.

READ MORE: Le Figaro, November 5, 2015

Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque (René Girard)Fondateur de la « théorie mimétique », ce franc-tireur de la scène intellectuelle avait bâti une œuvre originale, qui conjugue réflexion savante et prédication chrétienne. Ses livres, commentés aux quatre coins du monde, forment les étapes d’une vaste enquête sur le désir humain et sur la violence sacrificielle où toute société, selon Girard, trouve son origine inavouable.

READ MORE: Le Monde, November 5, 2015

Dès demain, vendredi 6 novembre, France Culture bouleverse ses programmes et rend hommage dans Les Matins au philosophe et académicien français, René Girard, « éminent théoricien surnommé « le nouveau Darwin des sciences humaines ».

Entretiens inédits, rediffusions d’interviews à partir du vendredi 6 novembre et tout au long de la semaine prochaine.

Réécoutez La Grande Table du 5 novembre : hommage à René Girard

Dossier spécial sur franceculture.fr :«Mort de l’anthropologue et philosophe René Girard»

READ MORE & LISTEN TO: France Culture, November 5, 2015

Quand, à 18 ans, Jean-Marc Bastière entre dans une librairie et tombe sur un livre de René Girard “des choses cachées  depuis la fondation du monde”, après quelques pages,  c’est comme si la foudre lui était tombé dessus. “Une révélation sur la nature humaine” nous dit-il, “une révélation sur l’humanité parce que je trouvais que ce qu’il disait, était limpide”. Chez Jean-Claude Guillebaud, ami de longue date de l’académicien, c’est un retour dans la religion qui l’a marqué: “je lui dois d’être revenu à la foi chrétienne. Je faisais partie de la génération des soixante-huitards , plus ou moins sécularisé comme beaucoup de jeunes de mon âge”. Progressivement en lisant ces livres, Jean-Claude Guillebaud prend conscience de la pertinence du message évangélique et “redevient chrétien”. D’ailleurs Jean-Marc Bastière retient la même chose, un accomplissement de la pensée, qu’il a pu approfondir et qui, aujourd’hui, est arrivé à maturité.

A écouter : René Girard dans notre émission Face aux chrétiens.

READ MORE & LISTEN TO: RADIO NOTRE DAME, November 5, 2015

In de Verenigde Staten is de Franse antropoloog en literatuurwetenschapper René Girard overleden. De Frans-Amerikaanse intellectueel wordt gezien als een van de grootste denkers van de voorbije 100 jaar. Hij schreef over de menselijke begeerte en was de ontdekker van het zondebokmechanisme als het verborgen fundament van religie en maatschappij. Cultuur, godsdienst en geweld staan centraal in zijn werk.

READ MORE: VRT Nieuws, deredactie.be, November 5, 2015

René Girard geldt als een van de belangrijkste denkers over de menselijke cultuur en godsdienstgeschiedenis van zijn generatie. Zijn reputatie vestigde hij met zijn even bejubelde als omstreden studie God en geweld. Elke cultuur gaat uiteindelijk terug op een gewelddaad, zo betoogde hij, en wordt juist cultuur doordat ze dat geweld weet te beteugelen. Het was een klap in het gezicht van ieder die meende dat de (moderne) beschaving juist tegenover het geweld en de religie staat, in plaats van eruit te zijn ontstaan.

READ MORE: NRC Handelsblad, November 5, 2015

La obra de Girard parte del campo de la historia, pero se mueve siempre de forma transversal entre la antropología, la filosofía y la literatura. Parte de una noción central: la de “mímesis” o imitación, que él toma directamente de Platón y Aristóteles para reconducirla en la elaboración de una concepción del hombre que encuentra refrendada tanto en la literatura como en la historia (la pasada y la presente). 

READ MORE: El País, November, 5, 2015

Nascido no dia de Natal de 1923, em Avignon, René Girard escreveu bastante sobre a diversidade e unidade das religiões.

René Girard viva nos Estados Unidos desde 1947. Ensinou em várias universidades, como Duke, Johns Hopkins e, sobretudo, Stanford, onde dirigiu durante muito tempo o departamento de língua, literatura e civilização francesa.

Terminou a sua carreira académica em Stanford em 1995.

READ MORE: RTP, November 5, 2015

O acadêmico francês René Girard, eminente teórico conhecido como “o novo Darwin das ciências humanas”, morreu nesta quarta-feira (4), aos 91 anos, nos Estados Unidos, anunciou a universidade de Stanford, onde lecionou durante muitos anos.

READ MORE: Globo, November 5, 2015

Zum Tod des Kulturanthropologen René Girard – Wolfgang Palaver im Gespräch

LISTEN TO: ARD Mediathek, Deutschlandfunk, November 5, 2015

Vielfach ausgezeichnet, war Girard nach seiner Aufnahme in die Académie Française „unsterblich“. Seine Bücher werden bleiben – als Deutungsschema und Zündstoff im Zwillingskonflikt der Religionen, zwischen denen er keine Gleichheit ausmachen konnte.

La violence et le sacré (1972)READ MORE: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, November 5, 2015

Dank Figuren wie ihm hatten die Gegenstimmen zur “French Theory” das letzte Wort. Es waren Stimmen, die sich als die des “Realen” verstanden, gegen jene der Generationsgenossen Lévi-Strauss, Foucault, Derrida, welche die Mythen, Religionen, literarischen Texte, philosophischen Systeme vor allem für struktural zerlegbare Produkte der Fantasie hielten. Der Philosoph, Anthropologe und Religionsforscher René Girard weigerte sich jedoch, den Trieb, den Mythos oder das Kunstwerk einfach als Strukturelement eines immanenten Bedeutungssystems aufzufassen. Er suchte die gesellschaftliche und psychologische Wirklichkeit dahinter.

READ MORE: Süddeutsche Zeitung, November 5, 2015

Der 1923 in Avignon geborene Girard war zu seinen Lebzeiten ein singulärer kulturgeschichtlicher Denker. Aus seinem umfangreichen Werk sticht vor allem seine “Mimetische Theorie” und der “Sündenbockmechanismus” hervor.

Girard erklärt damit den Zusammenhang zwischen menschlichem Zusammenleben, der Entstehung von Gewalt und ihrer Eindämmung durch Religion, Tabus und Verbote. René Girard analysiert die menschliche Kultur und Geschichte aus der Perspektive der Gewaltentstehung und ihrer Opfer.

READ MORE & LISTEN TO: Österreichischer Rundfunk, November 5, 2015

Denn so subtil seine Beschreibung sozialer Phänomene ausfiel, so obsessiv versuchte er, sie für seine Zwecke, die Apologie der Religion, zu instrumentalisieren. Deshalb wirken seine Befunde manchmal überraschend und überzeugend, manchmal aber auch erzwungen.

Girards ganzes Werk ist eine Polemik gegen den Wunschtraum von der «rationalistischen Unschuld» der Moderne. Dass dieser Wunschtraum heutzutage tatsächlich ausgeträumt ist, ist nicht wirklich Girards Verdienst, aber Grund genug, sein Werk als Wegzehrung auf die Reise der Menschheit nach dem Ende der Unschuld mitzunehmen.

READ MORE: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, November 5, 2015

Academicianul francez Rene Girard, un eminent teoretician supranumit “noul Darwin al stiintelor umaniste”, a incetat din viata miercuri, la varsta de 91 de ani, in Statele Unite, a anuntat universitatea Stanford unde acesta a predat pentru o lunga perioada de timp, transmite AFP.

“Renumitul profesor francez de la Stanford, unul dintre cei 40 de nemuritori ai prestigioase Academii Franceze, a decedat in casa sa de la Stanford miercuri, dupa o indelungata boala”, a declarat universitatea californiana intr-un comunicat de presa.

Rene Girard si-a inceput cariera ca teoretician literar, fascinat de toate stiintele sociale: istorie, antropologie, sociologie, filosofie, religie, psihologie si teologie.

READ MORE: HotNews.ro, November 5, 2015

Rođen 1923. u Avignonu , kršćanin Girard mnogo je pisao o raznolikosti, ali i univerzalnosti religija, a svoju je misao crpio iz vjerskih tekstova i velikih književnih klasika.

READ MORE: SEEbiz, November 5, 2015

Girard’s extensive oeuvre has generated a wide range of responses across many disciplines, not least within Christian theology.

In 2005, on his election to L’Académie française, Girard was acclaimed by Michel Serres as the “Charles Darwin of the human sciences.” The post-modern intelligentsia – deeply wedded to the dogma of culture’s irreducible plurality – remains sceptical, also despising any attempted rehabilitation for the Queen of the Sciences.

Girard, with a dash of Gallic insouciance, referred to his critics’ small intellectual ambitions as “the comprehensive unionization of failure” – and of course his theory gives a good account of such academic rivalry, as well as the individualist’s refusal of personal conversion that acceptance of his theory demands.

Unsatisfied with uncovering the origin of culture and explicating the emergence of secular modernity, however, Girard came eventually to predict the apocalyptic acceleration of history towards a tragic denouement.

As for Rene Girard himself, he was an observant Catholic layman for 55 years and he knew that God’s Kingdom was not of this world. He looked forward to union with God, and there in faith and hope we leave him, where all the victims of history are vindicated and every tear is wiped away.

READ MORE: ABC, Australia, November 5, 2015

René Girard visited the UK on three occasions and was grateful to the Jesuits in Britain for the welcome he received here. His first visit was to Oxford, where stayed at Campion Hall and where he delivered the D’Arcy Lecture to 200 people in the university. This was followed by two visits to Heythrop, the second of which was to receive an honorary doctorate, as he was on his way to Paris to be received into the Académie française as one of their 40 immortels.

At times he was like an evangelical about his insights, but he was also capable of being playful, even offhand: ‘People are against my theory, because it is at the same time an avant-garde and a Christian theory … Theories are expendable. They should be criticized. When people tell me my work is too systematic, I say, I make it as systematic as possible for you to be able to prove it wrong.’

READ MORE: Jesuits in Britain, November 5, 2015

The following tribute is adapted in part from the forthcoming book Raising the Ante: God’s Gamble by Gil Bailie, a long-time friend and student of René Girard.

READ MORE: Catholic World Report, November 5, 2015

A társadalomtudományok új Darwinjaként méltatták, amikor a múlt század ’70-es éveiben kifejtette civilizációelméletét.

Életének 92. évében elhunyt René Girard francia tudós, aki a mimetikus vágyelmélet, a bűnbakképzés és a bibliamagyarázat terén megfogalmazott elméleteivel újfajta antropológiát alapozott meg. Kora egyik legjelentősebb gondolkodójaként, a társadalomtudományok új Darwinjaként emlegették. A Francia Akadémia tagja hosszan tartó betegség után szerdán hunyt el az Egyesült Államokban, halálhírét a Stanford Egyetem közölte. A francia gondolkodó hosszú ideig tanított a neves intézményben.

„Látám a sátánt, mint a villámlást lehullani az égből.” E könyvében a kereszténység kritikai apológiáját nem teológiai alapokon, hanem racionális bizonyítások útján írja meg. Valójában a zsidó-keresztény vallási tradíció rendkívül eredeti antropológiáját tárja az olvasó elé, magáévá téve Simone Weil egyik gondolatát, miszerint az Evangéliumok mindenekelőtt egy „emberelméletet”, egy antropológiát tartalmaznak, és csak ez után tekintendők „Istenelméletnek”, teológiának.

READ MORE: 24.hu, November 5, 2015

Des choses cachées depuis la fondation du mondeUn pensiero potentemente originale, quello dell’antropologo accademico di Francia che ha inventato — nel senso etimologico di “scoprire” — teorie illuminanti come il desiderio mimetico e il rito del capro espiatorio, perché non nato da schemi speculativi astratti, ma dall’osservazione dei meccanismi interiori che muovono quell’animale strutturalmente sociale che è l’uomo. L’essere umano di ogni epoca, non nel migliore dei mondi possibili ma nel mondo reale, dove si soffre e si muore per mano dei propri simili, vittime a loro volta — spesso inconsapevoli — di un automatismo interiore che li trasforma in carnefici certi di essere nel giusto e di obbedire a un dovere morale. Un pensiero letteralmente vicino all’origine, quello del «Darwin dell’antropologia», come lo chiamano in Francia, e quindi capace di illuminare anche i recessi più oscuri di quel mistero che chiamiamo genericamente coscienza, una chiave di lettura semplice e geniale allo stesso tempo scaturita più dalla lettura attenta dei capolavori di Proust, Dostoevskij, Dante e Cervantes che dalle pagine dei manuali di filosofia.

Un pensiero tanto celebrato quanto contestato, quello dell’antropologo francese che ha continuato a lavorare e a scrivere anche dopo aver superato i novant’anni, capace di anticipare successive scoperte scientifiche.

READ MORE: L’Osservatore Romano, November 5, 2015

L’antropologo, 91 anni, è morto ieri a a Stanford, negli Stati Uniti. Fondatore della “teoria mimetica”, da anticonformista della scena intellettuale aveva costruito un lavoro originale, che unisce riflessione accademica e predicazione cristiana. I suoi libri, commentati in tutto il mondo, sono tappe di una importante indagine sul desiderio umano e sulla violenza sacrificale da cui qualsiasi società, secondo Girard, trova la sua origine vergognosa. In Italia i suoi libri sono pubblicati da Adelphi.

READ MORE: Rai News, November 5, 2015

Pour finir, je voudrais dire un mot des implications pour le lecteur d’une telle théorie. Devenir «girardien», ce n’est pas appartenir à une secte ; ce n’est pas tenir pour vrai tout ce que Girard a écrit; c’est d’abord se laisser aller à une «conversion» qui n’est pas d’ordre religieux, mais qui est un bouleversement du regard sur soi, une critique personnelle de son propre désir.

Pour comprendre à quel point la théorie de Girard est vraie, il faut avoir cheminé à rebours de son désir, non pas pour atteindre un illusoire «moi» authentique, mais au contraire pour aboutir à l’inexistence de ce moi, toujours déjà agi par des «désirs selon l’autre». La théorie mimétique est un dévoilement progressif dont le lecteur n’est jamais absent de ce qui se dévoile à lui. Elle menace l’existence du sujet que je croyais être. Elle s’attaque à ce que je croyais le plus original chez moi.

Il n’est pas un lecteur de Girard, même le plus convaincu, qui ne se soit dit à la lecture de Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque : «Il a raison, tout ça est vrai. Heureusement que pour ma part j’y échappe en partie.» Il serait suicidaire de ne se lire soi-même qu’avec les lunettes girardiennes ; on a besoin de croire un minimum aux raisons que notre désir se donne ; ces raisons constituent toujours une résistance en nous à la théorie mimétique, plus ou moins grande selon les individus. Il ne s’agit pas de s’en défendre, mais de le savoir. La lecture de Girard nous impose donc un double processus de révélation : on se rend compte d’abord que notre propre désir obéit aux lois décelées par Girard ; et dans un second temps, on se rend compte qu’on a feint l’adhésion totale à ses thèses, et qu’il reste en nous un moi «néo-romantique» qui ne se croit pas concerné par ces lois. Ainsi, la découverte de Girard doit nous interdire, in fine, le surplomb de celui qui aurait compris, contre tous ceux qui seraient encore des croyants naïfs en l’autonomie de leur désir.

READ MORE: Causeur.fr, November 5, 2015

René Girard 1979

Largement traduite, souvent admirée hors de son pays, comme aux Etats-Unis ou en Italie, l’oeuvre de René Girard reste assez mal connue du grand public en France. «Pour un intellectuel qui a longtemps été considéré comme un auteur à contre-courant et atypique, l’élection à l’Académie est une forme de reconnaissance», déclarait-il au quotidien La Croix le 15 décembre 2005, jour de sa réception à l’Académie française.

«Je peux dire sans exagération que, pendant un demi-siècle, la seule institution française qui m’ait persuadé que je n’étais pas oublié en France, dans mon propre pays, en tant que chercheur et en tant que penseur, c’est l’Académie française.»

READ MORE & WATCH: Le Parisien, November 5, 2015

Je me souviendrai toute ma vie de ce jour où mon ami François et moi, nous nous sommes annoncés chez lui dans le VIIème. Il avait la gentillesse de nous recevoir alors qu’il était au milieu de sa famille. Il nous parlait. O temps suspends ton vol. Le monde familier qui l’entourait n’existait plus pour lui. Cette longue conversation qui n’était pas la première, m’a beaucoup fait réfléchir sur le mal. François, passionné de Thomas d’Aquin, trouvait Girard pessimiste. Quant à moi, j’ai décidé ce jour-là de remonter, avec Girard, de saint Thomas à saint Augustin.

Girard est-il pessimiste? Il le serait, il serait gnostique si l’on découvrait dans son oeuvre un refus quelconque de la chair et de la condition charnelle de l’homme. C’est tout le contraire. Le désir charnel n’intéresse pas Girard comme il intéresse Freud, parce que Girard le méridional sait très bien ce que Freud ne sait pas : le désir n’est pas une production physique de l’animal humain mais une construction psychique.

“For me he completely undid the secular Enlightenment’s undoing of Christianity.”  (Sean O’Conaill).

READ MORE: acireland, November 5, 2015

René Girard Scapegoat cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

Comprendere «nello stesso momento, perché i credenti dapprima, e sul loro esempio i non credenti poi, sono sempre passati vicino al segreto, peraltro così semplice, di ogni mitologia»: è stata questa l’ambizione e l’esito della ricerca del francese René Girard, che si è spento a Stanford, negli Stati Uniti. Una ricerca che era impossibile (lo dimostra l’intervista autobiografica del 1994 con Michel Treguer) incasellare nei riquadri angusti delle discipline accademiche.

Da questa ricerca iniziata con Dostoevskij arriva l’opera che ne fa un filosofo e un antropologo della religione: La violenza e il sacro del 1972 (Adelphi, 1980) elabora una teoria della genesi della religione. Nella mitologia e nella sua elaborazione filosofica e letteraria Girard ritrova l’atto iniziale di occultamento che «inganna la violenza»: il «sacro» che assorbe la violenza destinata fatalmente a nascere e la riversa su una entità non vendicabile e insieme in apparente continuità con coloro al posto dei quali viene sacrificato. Così il capro espiatorio placa e fonda la società in questa ombra religiosa che è «il sentimento che la collettività ispira ai suoi membri, ma proiettato fuori dalle coscienze che lo provano, e oggettivato».

READ MORE: Corriere della Sera, November 6, 2015

Jean-Pierre Elkabbach et Europe 1 ont souhaité rendre hommage à l’académicien et philosophe René Girard disparu à l’âge de 91 ans.

WATCH & LISTEN TO: Europe 1, Crif, November 6, 2015

Difficilement «classable» dans une pensée ou l’autre, René Girard a toujours affiché sa foi chrétienne malgré les critiques d’une partie de la communauté scientifique. Il s’est ainsi beaucoup penché sur l’origine et le devenir des religions, jusqu’à leurs formes extrémistes d’aujourd’hui.

Ce sont d’ailleurs ses recherches sur la Bible qui l’ont conduit à la foi chrétienne, comme l’explique à Anne-Sophie Saint-Martin le théologien jésuite Dominique Peccoud.

READ MORE & LISTEN TO: Radio Vatican, November 6, 2015

In his 1950s poem “Vespers,” W. H. Auden recalls a meeting of representatives of two different political standpoints. They come together:

to remind the other (do both, at bottom, desire truth?) of that half
of their secret which he would most like to forget,
 
forcing us both, for a fraction of a second, to remember our victim
(but for him I could forget the blood, but for me he could forget
the innocence),
 
on whose immolation (call him Abel, Remus, whom you will, it is
one Sin Offering) arcadias, utopias, our dear old bag of a democracy
are alike founded:
 
For without a cement of blood (it must be human, it must be
innocent) no secular wall can safely stand

Nobody familiar with René Girard’s mimetic theory can read this poem and not think somehow that Auden “got it.” Girard himself never discussed this poem, but argued convincingly that so many of the greatest literary giants—Proust, Dostoevsky, Freud, Shakespeare, Sophocles, the evangelists, the Psalmist—got it, or very nearly got it. Girard’s doggedness led him on a wild intellectual journey from the great novelists to Greek tragedy, from biblical texts to the writings of Freud and Nietzsche. He devoted his final book to the thought of a Prussian military historian, Carl Clausewitz.

Even in taking full measure of Girard’s impact on the human and social sciences, it seems silly to label Girard a “genius.” Besides being a Romantic descriptive that Girard would have certainly abhorred, such a moniker ignores the fact that Girard’s great insight was not his at all. His primary talent was to notice how others captured the mimetic quality of human desire, and the consequences of this peculiarly human way of desiring.

There is an Ignatian quality to mimetic theory. Mimetic forces operated loudly in the life of St. Ignatius, and his “Exercises” and contemplative practices seem geared to helping us gain awareness of the undercurrents that otherwise manhandle us. This explains to some extent why the first theologian to discover Girard was a Jesuit—Raymund Schwager—and why Henri de Lubac, perhaps the greatest Jesuit theologian of the past century, read Girard and assured him that nothing in his thought could not be reconciled with orthodox Christianity.

READ MORE: America Magazine, November 6, 2015

Girard is a thinker who combined an utter lack of self-importance with the boldest intellectual risk-taking. A Stanford colleague, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, declares that Girard is:

“a great, towering figure – no ostentatiousness. … Despite the intellectual structures built around him, he’s a solitaire. His work has a steel-like quality– strong, contoured, clear. It’s like a rock. It will be there and it will last.”

READ MORE: Thinking Faith, November 6, 2015

Typiquement, le girardien sans christianisme, cet oxymoron  qui prolifère aujourd’hui, s’efforce de découvrir la violence, les boucs émissaires et le ressentiment partout, sauf là où cela ferait vraiment une différence, la seule différence qui tienne, c’est-à-dire en lui-même. C’est ainsi que les bien-pensants passent leur temps à dénoncer le racisme dégoutant du bas-peuple de France sans paraître voir le racisme de classe dont ils font preuve à cette occasion.  Ce girardisme sans christianisme est le pire des contresens d’un monde qui pourtant n’en est pas avare: le monde post-moderne est plein de concepts girardiens devenus fous.

READ MORE: Causeur.fr, November 6, 2015

Achever Clausewitz (2007)«Existen graves malentendidos en lo que concierne a mi trabajo. A menudo se ve en mí un reaccionario o, al contrario, del lado de los cristianos, una especie de herético utopista.» (René Girard).

Podrá estarse de acuerdo o no con muchas de las propuestas de Girard, podrá surgir cierto empalago entre sus lectores (me incluyo entre ellos), mas lo que no puede negarse es su capacidad de provocar pensamiento, de atravesar diferentes campos del saber y comportarse, tras su pista como, un cazador furtivo que penetra en campos inesperados y que en principio parecen acotados para otros acercamientos. Llegados a este punto no queda más que desear al pensador desaparecido, verdadero agitador del campo del pensamiento … que la terre vous soit légère.

READ MORE: Kaosenlared, November 6, 2015

Quelle est la nature du désir humain? Quelle est l’origine de la violence? Comment naissent les religions? Qu’est-ce qu’une culture? Ce ne sont là que quelque unes des questions fondamentales auxquelles les travaux de l’anthropologue français René Girard, décédé le 04 novembre à l’âge de 91 ans, permettent de répondre.

Considéré à juste titre comme l’un des penseurs majeurs de la seconde partie du XXième siècle, il était parfois surnommé depuis le début du troisième millénaire « le Darwin des sciences humaines ». Une reconnaissance tardive pour celui qui publia son premier ouvrage en 1961 – Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque, devenu un classique – mais qui donne une idée de l’ampleur de l’apport girardien au savoir universel.

Comme le naturaliste anglais, René Girard est un penseur des origines. Sa découverte de la nature mimétique du désir et des mécanismes de désignation et de meurtres de boucs émissaires qui en découlent, partage avec la notion darwinienne d’évolution une simplicité explicative à l’efficacité redoutable, pour ne pas dire incontestable.

Mais il y a une différence entre les deux penseurs. Alors que les découvertes de Charles Darwin l’amenèrent à perdre la foi, c’est en comparant des mythes du monde entier avec la Bible que René Girard renoua avec une foi qu’il avait passablement oubliée.

READ MORE: Atlantico, November 7, 2015

Tommy WieringaDe mens heeft, zoals we weten, de geheimzinnige neiging om te gaan lijken op zijn tegenstander. De religieus geïnspireerde oorlogsretoriek van George Bush was op den duur niet meer van die van Osama bin Laden te onderscheiden. Vijanden bestuderen elkaar zo diepgaand, dat ze elkaar gaan nabootsen. De filosoof en religiewetenschapper die daar veel over heeft geschreven, René Girard, overleed deze week op 91-jarige leeftijd. Zijn werk heeft het denken over begeerte, geweld en rivaliteit veranderd.

Een variant op deze nabootsing tussen vijanden doet zich voor bij betogers tegen vluchtelingenopvang. Zo beducht zijn de betogers voor verkrachting, geweld en maatschappelijke ontwrichting door vluchtelingen, dat zij andersdenkenden verkrachting toewensen, geweld toepassen en maatschappelijke ontwrichting veroorzaken.

READ MORE: Column Tommy Wieringa, Provinciale Zeeuwse Courant, November 7, 2015

“Die Rivalität spielt eine so gewaltige Rolle, daß man den Versuch, die Nachahmung auszutreiben, vergeblich unternimmt.”

Der Verfasser dieser so rabiat richtigen Sätze ist am vergangen Mittwoch in Stanford knapp 92jährig verstorben. René Girard, der Bibeltreueste aller französischen Denker, erreichte ein biblisches Alter.

READ MORE: artmagazine, November 7, 2015

The publishing world says that the title to be called a “bestselling book” rather than an advertisement gives stronger motivation for Korean readers to purchase the book. When best-selling products sell more, we call it the theory of social evidence in social psychology.

“Following what others do” is particularly evident in Korea. Imitating others’ preference and desire, however, is one of the features of modern society. That’s why TV commercials prod consumers’ desire to buy products by showing a rice cooker that Kim Soo-hyeon uses and beer that Jun Ji-hyun drinks. René Girard (1923-2015), French philosopher who died in the U.S. on Wednesday, formulated the structure of human being’s desire into the theory of “triangular desire.”

In many cases, the coercion by parents who push their kids to become a doctor or a lawyer regardless of their aptitude derives from “mimetic desire.” The triangular desire can be dreadful in that people are not aware of the fact that they live their lives mimicking others. Girard says that the mankind competes each other to mimic other’s desire and creates collective stress such as jealousy and animosity that is relieved in a wrong manner by using socially marginalized people as scapegoats. Peeping into the desire of others through social network service has become a daily routine. Now, we need to practice not to be swayed by the desire that “seems to be mine, but is not mine, still looks like mine” just like a line of a popular song.

출판시장에선 잊을만하면 사재기 베스트셀러 순위 조작 논란이 불거진다. 편법을 써서라도 베스트셀러 순위에 오르면 판매실적이 올라간다는 믿음 때문이다. 출판계에 따르면 국내 독자의 구매 욕구를 자극하는 건 광고보다 베스트셀러 타이틀이다. 가장 많이 팔린 상품이 더 많이 팔리는 현상을 사회심리학에서는 사회적 증거의 법칙이라고 부른다.

한국사회에서 유독 남들 따라하기와 쏠림현상이 심하기는 하지만 타인의 취향과 욕망을 모방하는 것은 현대 사회의 특징이다. TV 광고에서 김수현이 쓰는 밥솥과 전지현이 마시는 맥주를 보여주며 대중의 소비 욕망을 자극하는 것도 그 때문이다. 이 같은 인간 욕망의 구조를 욕망의 삼각형 이론으로 체계화한 프랑스 사상가가 4일 미국서 별세한 르네 지라르(19232015)였다.

문학평론가에서 출발한 지라르는 철학 역사학 인류학 종교학 등을 두루 통섭하는 업적을 남겨 인문학의 새로운 다윈으로 평가받는다. 미국에서 반세기 넘게 살았음에도 2005년 불멸의 40인으로 불리며 국민의 존경을 받는 프랑스 아카데미 프랑세즈의 정회원이 됐다. 그는 소설 분석을 통해 우리가 원하는 것이 실은 남의 욕망을 베낀 것에 지나지 않는다는 결론을 내렸다. 예컨대 보바리 부인에서 상류사회를 동경하는 엠마의 욕망은 자연발생적인 것이 아니다. 단지, 사춘기 때 읽은 삼류 소설 주인공의 욕망을 본뜬 것이다.

부모가 자녀 적성에 관계없이 의시나 변호사가 되라고 강요하는 것도 모방욕망에서 비롯된 경우가 많다. 욕망의 삼각형이 무서운 이유는 자신이 남의 욕망을 모방하며 살고 있다는 사실 자체를 자각하지 못하는 것이다. 지라르에 따르면 인류는 경쟁적으로 남의 욕망을 모방하다 쌓여가는 질투 적개심 같은 집단적 스트레스를 사회의 소외된 사람을 엉뚱한 희생양으로 삼아 해소한다. 소셜네트워크서비스(SNS)를 통해 남의 욕망을 엿보는 게 일상이 돼버렸다. 유행가 가사에 나오듯 내 것인 듯 내 것 아닌 내 것 같은 욕망에 휘둘리지 않는 연습이 필요한 시대다.

READ MORE: The Dong-A Ilbo, November 7, 2015

In 2001, my spiritual mentor Bob Holum gave me a book that completely changed everything for me: Rene Girard’s Things Hidden Since the Foundation of This World. I learned the sad news that Girard died this past week, so I wanted to reflect on how his ideas helped Jesus’ cross and the Christian gospel make a lot more sense to me.

READ MORE: Patheos, November 7, 2015

Many Christians have not yet caught up with his scholarship on these themes, disclosing not so much new ideas but original themes often hidden. The life, teaching and death of Jesus are shown to continue the work of unraveling human violence and scapegoating and to reveal the divine as the source of creative love unfolding through history and culture. His work is not an easy read but many other scholars, authors and teachers are making his work accessible. Thank you René!

READ MORE: Modern Church, November 7, 2015

For Girard, one summary view might have it, at the very beginning it is not religion that leads to violence, but violence which leads to—which indeed creates a need for—religion, as a way of channeling and constraining the use of force. But once the process starts, religion can of course fuel violence, as Girard could see. You don’t have to be one of his devotees to observe that scapegoating as a form of team-building has taken many different forms, from the Salem witch-trials to the anti-communist hysteria of 1950s America to ritual denunciations of erstwhile comrades by the Soviet Politburo. But there is something particularly vicious and destructive about a religiously inspired lynch mob whose blood is up, and has somehow been convinced that its own salvation (and internal cohesion) lies in annihilating the heretic or the infidel. At the very minimum, Girard’s work is a help in understanding how religions (Christianity in particular, but perhaps also Buddhism) can be pacifist in content but often violent and bullying in historical practice. Think of the mobs that rampaged through Jewish quarters in European cities during the Middle Ages, especially in Holy Week. At a time when Christians were supposed to be identifying with a victim of scapegoating, they perpetrated that very thing.

 

READ MORE: The Economist, November 7, 2015

Mercredi 4 novembre, René Girard a rejoint le ciel de la vérité romanesque en compagnie des grands romanciers qui lui ont donné à penser sa théorie du désir mimétique. L’occasion de revenir sur les essais et les concepts qui ont jalonné sa carrière intellectuelle iconoclaste.

Avec son premier essai paru en 1961, Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque, Girard approfondit les grands textes de Don Quichotte à L’Éternel mari, au point d’élaborer une clef de lecture qui dépasse le strict cadre de la littérature. Grâce à une analyse comparée des classiques, il remarque que Dostoïevski, Flaubert, Stendhal ou Proust, surmontent tous un passage romantique pour embrasser une vérité romanesque. L’épreuve romanesque d’un Julien Sorel, celle d’une Emma Bovary, rappellent combien nous ne sommes jamais seuls avec nos désirs les plus intimes.

Scandale pour les structuralistes de l’époque qui ne lui pardonneront pas une lecture thématique ouverte à la psychanalyse, l’essai accouche d’une théorie décisive pour les sciences humaines. Un tiers est toujours là, qu’il soit rival ou modèle souverain, à l’origine de toutes nos actions. Avec son mythe individualiste qui nous veut maîtres de nos propres désirs, la littérature romantique participe à cacher cette vérité dérangeante. Pourtant, si Madame Bovary trompe son médiocre mari et noie son ennui dans des romans à l’eau de rose, elle imite, fascinée, ses lectures qui l’invitent à l’évasion sentimentale. Tous les grands romanciers ont conscience de ces modèles qui hantent leurs personnages en situation de crise, souvent dans le sang et les larmes.

READ MORE: Philitt, November 7, 2015

Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, November 8, 2015:

Cord Riechelmann René Girard

Acaba de fallecer (4.XI.2015) en Estados Unidos, donde vivía y enseñaba desde hace unos decenios, el mayor de los antropólogos y quizá de los pensadores cristianos de la segunda mitad del siglo XX.
R. Girard ha repensado y ha querido superar la visión del hombre que ofrecen Marx y Freud, con una teoría abarcadora (universal) que permite integrar (interpretar y recrear) los temas radicales de la conciencia individual y social, con la mímesis, la lucha mutua y violencia.

Su investigación crítica (hipotética en algunos puntos) resulta necesaria para entender algunos de los temas más significativos de nuestra cultura, como son la violencia y el victimismo o, mejor dicho, la existencia de las víctimas, primero asesinadas y después manipuladas por los mismos asesinos.

Todos los políticos que yo conozco hablan de la importancia de las víctimas, quizá sin saber que ese lenguaje se lo deben a Girard, aunque no hayan entendido lo que él quiere decir…, aunque no aceptarían muchas de sus propuestas.

A los ojos de Girard, la crítica de Nietzche en contra de la religión resulta más aguda que la de Marx, pues él ha puesto de relieve unos mecanismos de proyección reactiva de los oprimidos que tienden a satanizar a los triunfadores, haciendo de la religión un principio de venganza. Pero tampoco Nietzsche ha llegado hasta el fondo del problema, pues su filosofía sigue presa en los esquemas o mecanismos del chivo expiatorio.

READ MORE: Salamanca RTV, November 8, 2015

Larga vida a las obras magistrales de René Girard.

READ MORE: Milenio, November 8, 2015

A veces digo que Girard me salvó la vida. Yo andaba por esa época obsesionadísimo con las aristas fascinantes y suicidas del hombre del subsuelo de Dostoievski: Raskolnikov y su forma demente de ver el mundo, trastornado por una rabia insondable. Si no llego a leer esa primavera su análisis crítico y clarividente de las pulsiones subsuelíticas, difícilmente habría llegado a la treintena. Todavía hay gente que hoy me considera un exaltado, pero lo de ahora no es nada comparado con esa época.

READ MORE: El Mundo, November 9, 2015

Sous les couronnes, on tend à passer sous silence qu’on l’a fortement critiqué, car il dérangeait les philosophes marxistes et qu’il portait un éclairage différent sur l’anthropologie structuraliste. De plus, son analyse du phénomène religieux était considérée comme superflue à une époque où l’on prétendait que “Dieu était mort”. 

Les intellectuels français, plutôt que de débattre, ont préféré exclure. C’est ainsi qu’un des penseurs les plus reconnus mondialement est décédé à Los Angeles.

READ MORE: Les Echos, November 10, 2015

‘जमाव कधीच निरपराध नसतो. सामूहिक हिंसाचार हा खोटारडेपणाच्या आड दडलेला असतो’, हे विधान फ्रेंच विचारवंत आणि मानव्यसंशोधक रेने गिरार्ड यांनी येशूच्या सुळी जाण्यासंदर्भात केले होते खरे, पण ते कोणत्याही देशातील/ काळातील सामूहिक हिंसाचाराला लागू पडावे. गिरार्ड यांचे निधन गेल्या आठवडय़ात, वयाच्या ९२ व्या वर्षी झाले आणि जगाने तत्त्वचिंतक- अभ्यासक गमावला. युद्ध, हिंसाचार आणि ‘संस्कृती’ यांच्या संबंधांचा अभ्यास करताना वाङ्मय, तत्त्वज्ञान, मानसशास्त्र, इतिहास यांचा आंतरशाखीय विचार करून त्यांनी ‘बळीचा सिद्धान्त’ मांडला होता. या अनुषंगाने, ‘आपल्या इच्छा आपल्या नसतात’ (मानवी अनुकरणाचा सिद्धान्त) आणि अनुकरण करता येत नाही म्हणून- किंवा दुसऱ्याकडे आहे ते आपल्याकडे नाही म्हणून संघर्ष/ हिंसाचार, कारणाचे सुलभीकरण करून निरपराधांना नाडण्याची प्रवृत्ती.. अशी सत्ये त्यांनी साधार मांडली. चार्ल्स डार्विनचा नैसर्गिक निवडीचा सिद्धान्त हा मानवी संस्कृतीत टिकून राहिलेल्या बहुविधतेलाही लागू आहे असे सांगणारे गिरार्ड ‘मानव्यविद्यांमधील डार्विन’ म्हणून ओळखले जात.

READ MORE: Loksatta, November 10, 2015

Girard’s first book, Deceit, Desire and the Novel (1961 in French; 1965 in English), used Cervantes, Stendhal, Proust and Dostoevsky as case studies to develop his theory of mimesis. The Guardian recently compared the book to “putting on a pair of glasses and seeing the world come into focus. At its heart is an idea so simple, and yet so fundamental, that it seems incredible that no one had articulated it before.

READ MORE: The Wire, November 10, 2015

Too few people know about René Girard, who passed away on Nov. 4 at 91. He was undoubtedly one of the most important men of the 20th century.

In the end, his country recognized him, giving him perhaps its highest honor for intellectuals of the humanities, a seat at the Académie Française.

Girard’s work, summed up under the heading “mimetic theory,” is like a flash of lightning on a dark summer night, suddenly illuminating everything in a strange new light. Girard’s thought has had an influence in fields as diverse as literary criticism, history, anthropology, philosophy, theology, psychology, economics, and even Silicon Valley entrepreneurship.

READ MORE: The Week, November 10, 2015

En Colombia vivimos un tanto crispados por la polarización entre posiciones extremas, que siempre tienden a descalificar al adversario. Así, el principal reto para la construcción de la paz es el cambio cultural. Algunos proponen aplicar técnicas de diverso orden, para aprender a gestionar los conflictos sin recurrir a la violencia; otros, incrementar el estado liberal de derecho y fortalecer el mercado, restringiendo el poder de la religión, considerada como causa del fanatismo que nos impide vivir en paz.

Con Girard, podríamos aprender cómo salirnos de los enredos que nos conducen a la violencia, tanto la cotidiana como la que enfrenta a diversos grupos y afecta dramáticamente a la sociedad. Y también podríamos aprender a ganar una distancia crítica frente a las posiciones que consideran que la paz significa más mercado y más Estado de derecho. Y lo haríamos al reconocer que estos son también sistemas constituidos sobre exclusiones y centrados en elementos incuestionables, que ocupan el lugar de lo sagrado primitivo; dicho brevemente, son sistemas religiosos.

Así, gracias a Girard podríamos volver a apreciar el valor de ese viejo libro, la Biblia, que nos expone los mecanismos religiosos, o sea, de violencia, que constituyen a las sociedades, al tiempo que nos invita a tomar distancia y a reflexionar en silencio.

READ MORE: El Tiempo, November 10, 2015

Peter Thiel - Forbes Cover StoryMr. Thiel, of PayPal, said that he was a student at Stanford when he first encountered Professor Girard’s work, and that it later inspired him to quit an unfulfilling law career in New York and go to Silicon Valley.

He gave Facebook its first $100,000 investment, he said, because he saw Professor Girard’s theories being validated in the concept of social media.

“Facebook first spread by word of mouth, and it’s about word of mouth, so it’s doubly mimetic,” he said. “Social media proved to be more important than it looked, because it’s about our natures.”

The investment made Mr. Thiel a billionaire.

A nonpracticing Roman Catholic, Professor Girard underwent a religious awakening after a cancer scare in 1959, while working on the conclusion of his first book.

“I was thrown for a loop, because I was proud of being a skeptic,” he later said. “It was very hard for me to imagine myself going to church, praying and so on. I was all puffed up, full of what the old catechisms used to call ‘human respect.’ ”

The Christian influence on his work was most apparent in “Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World,” written in 1978 and published in English in 1987. In that book he said Christianity was the only religion that had examined scapegoating and sacrifice from the victim’s point of view.

His final work, published in 2007, posited that the mimetic competition among nations would lead to an apocalyptic confrontation unless nations could learn to renounce retaliation.

That forthright religious stance may have cost him status in university circles, said Robert Pogue Harrison, a professor of literature at Stanford. “No doubt it was an obstacle,” he said. “He believed in Christian truth, which isn’t going to find ready acceptance in contemporary academia.”

Much recognition came to Professor Girard late in life. He was elected to the Académie Française in 2005 and received a lifetime achievement award from the Modern Language Association in 2009. In 2013 he received the Order of Isabella the Catholic from the king of Spain for his work in philosophy and anthropology.

READ MORE: The New York Times, November 10, 2015

Exclusif: un entretien inédit avec René Girard (1923-2015) réalisé en 2008 à l’université de Stanford.

READ MORE: Contrepoints, November 11, 2015

Han blev inte en tänkare på modet, men René Girards analyser av litteraturen lämnade ovärderliga bidrag till förståelsen av människan, skriver Anders Olsson.

Men med hjälp av de nycklar han haft till hands har han gett oss ovärderliga bidrag till förståelsen av människans fatala – eller underbara – bundenhet vid sin nästa. Med stort mod och stor envishet har han fått oss att se dolda mekanismer som formar och bryter ner kulturer och samhällen, men som vi har ytterst klena resurser att bemöta. Av sådant skapas uppenbarligen inga trender. Behovet ligger djupare, i den vilja till insikt som mödosamt och föga gloriöst söker upp det vi inte vill veta av.

READ MORE: Sydsvenskan, November 11, 2015

There are some thinkers that offer intriguing ideas and proposals, and there is a tiny handful of thinkers that manage to shake your world. Girard was in this second camp. In a series of books and articles, written across several decades, he proposed a social theory of extraordinary explanatory power.

In the second half of the twentieth century, academics tended to characterize Christianity – if they took it seriously at all – as one more iteration of the mythic story that can be found in practically every culture. From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Star Wars, the “mono-myth,” to use Joseph Campbell’s formula, is told over and again. What Girard saw was that this tired theorizing has it precisely wrong. In point of fact, Christianity is the revelation (the unveiling) of what the myths want to veil; it is the deconstruction of the mono-myth, not a reiteration of it-which is exactly why so many within academe want to domesticate and de-fang it.

The recovery of Christianity as revelation, as an unmasking of what all the other religions are saying, is René Girard’s permanent and unsettling contribution.

READ MORE: The Boston Pilot, November 11, 2015

Looking at patterns across historical cultures, Girard had noticed a the prevalence of “scapegoating” or ceremonially placing communal indiscretions onto one person. This is so prevalent today that our ears are likely deaf and eyes blind to it when it happens. A celebrity who kisses the nanny and divorces their spouse is, in some sense, hated all the more not because of what they did but because their behavior embodies “everything wrong with the world,” even our own longing for adventure. Girard’s unique perspective, focused through years of studying literature, mythology, and religious texts, saw scapegoating behavior as imitative or “mimetic.” That is, once the needs of survival are met, humans begin to develop wants that are shaped communally, in emulation of one another. This always leads to competition – indeed, competitive desire is the primary assumption of Western economics.

READ MORE: Huffington Post, November 11, 2015

MORE INTERESTING ARTICLES AND MORE MEDIA:

Obituary by Maria Clara Lucchetti Bingemer in Journal do Brasil

Radio Feature by Joe Gelonesi on ABC, Australia (with references on the passing of Rene Girard)

Interview with James Alison (Video) in America Media

Hommage for René Girard (Audio) by Raphaël Enthoven in franceculture

Article by Rodrigo Negrete in Nexos (Mexico)

Obituary by Antoine Lagadec in Revue des deux Mondes (France)

Obituary by Thomas Assheuer in Die Zeit (Germany)

Obituary by Józef Niewiadomski in Die Furche (Austria)

Obituary by Nelson Tepedino in Prodavinci (Venezuela)

Article by Roberto Ago in Artribune (Italy)

Obituary by Joseph Bottum in The Weekly Standard (USA)

Obituary by Suzanne Ross in Patheos

Obituary by Social Science Space

Obituary by Antoine Nouis and Jean-Luc Mouton in Réforme (France) – including a long interview with René Girard from 2008

Article by Michael Kirwan in Thinking Faith (UK)

Hommage René Girard (Video), École Normale Supérieure

Obituary SanatAtak (Turkey)

Obituary by Pierre-Yves Gomez in The Conversation (UK)

Obituary by Joanna Tokarska-Bakir in wyborcza.pl (Poland)

Obituary by Pier Giacomo Ghirardini in Tempi (Italy)

Article by Stéphane Ratti in Revue des deux Mondes (France)

Obituary by Alfio Squillaci in gliStatiGenerali (Italy)

Obituary by Roberto Calasso in Re Pubblica (Italy)

Article by Jean-Baptiste NOE in La Synthèse (France)

Article by The Raven Foundation: Many Voices in Celebration – a Tribute to René Girard

Article by Cynthia Haven, remembering today’s funeral (November 14, 2015) of René Girard and paying tribute to the victims of yesterday’s (November 13, 2015) terrorist attacks in Paris

RENÉ GIRARD, “THE EINSTEIN OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES” IN FORBES, NOV 30, 2015

READ ALSO: Killing Idols – Commemorating René Girard’s Spirituality

To conclude, this video interview by Daniel Lance: