Killing Idols – Commemorating René Girard’s Spirituality

“In the end, she’s just a mere mortal, just like all the rest of us, just like me…” It’s something we hear quite often, explicitly or implicitly, when people talk about “the rich, the famous and/or the geniuses” of this world. Why is it that we often like to read what tabloid newspapers write about these people? Why is it that we often like to gossip about our local or global heroes or celebrities? What kind of desire is satisfied that we enjoy this kind of thing?

Well, for one thing, we’re living in a world of internal mediation (René Girard). Modern democracy got rid of a social hierarchy – in principle that is – and now everyone can take everyone else as a model or mediator for personal ambitions. Premodern societies would not allow “the lower ranks” to compare themselves to the higher-ups, thus trying to keep an internal order and stability. Today, however, everyone can rival the position of everyone else, based on the premise of equal rights and chances for all. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) sharply characterizes this situation and its potential destructive consequences in his work Leviathan, at the dawn of modernity:

“From this equality of ability ariseth equality of hope in the attaining of our ends. And therefore, if any two men desire the same thing which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and, in the way to their end, which is principally their own conservation and sometimes their delectation only, endeavour to destroy or subdue one another.” – Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (XIII).

“Competition of riches, honour, command, or other power, inclineth to contention, enmity, and war; because the way of one competitor, to the attaining of his desire, is to kill, subdue, supplant, or repel the other. Particularly, competition of praise inclineth to a reverence of antiquity. For men contend with the living, not with the dead, to these ascribing more than due, that they may obscure the glory of the other.” – Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (XI).

StarsWe constantly receive the message that “everything is possible with hard work and perseverance”. On the other hand we also experience that some people seem “ahead of others”. These so-called “winners” are often admired, but in other circumstances they’re envied (also by some of their admirers!) as they seem to frustrate the ambitions they awaken in other people. One way to deal with the frustrations arising out of the comparison with “the people ahead of others” is to downplay their status or success by convincing ourselves that “they are just like us” – mere mortals, with flaws, everyday struggles and problems. Or by convincing ourselves that “they are even less like us, we’re superior to them” – in moral terms, for instance, by portraying them as “decadent” or “corrupt”. One could say that the sociological function of the tabloid newspaper or of gossip in general is precisely that. It helps us deal with the fact that we are not part of the world of “the rich, the famous and/or the geniuses” by comforting ourselves with the thought that those people are, at least, “just like us”.

they're not like usBy downplaying the status of “stars” we try to elevate our own position, we try to reach the status we desire. We try to surpass the status we initially (sometimes subconsciously) admired and idolized, then came to envy and eventually resented. In yet other words, the position of others we sometimes initially idolized is replaced by a feeling of superiority of ourselves. Instead of idolizing the image of others, we idolize a certain self-image. That’s why we quite easily distance ourselves from those others who are perceived as “marginal people” – be it criminals, poor people, crazy people, certain sick people, refugees, drug addicts, or “sinners”. Contrary to our often initial reaction to “the stars” in the tabloids, our first response to a confrontation with “the marginal people” is often the feeling that “they are not like us”.

In both instances our sense of identity and self-idolatry arise from our spontaneous tendency to compare ourselves to others (made possible by our mimetic – i.e. imitative – abilities). One of the main reasons why people are scandalized by Jesus of Nazareth is that he constantly challenges these narcissistic self-concepts. See, for instance, Luke 18:9-14:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

In short, the narcissist – like the Pharisee in the parable of Jesus – distances himself from “the bad guys” (they’re not like me) while he downplays the geniuses around him (they’re like me), in order to idolize his self-image. Our ideologies and all sorts of so-called “spirituality” or “meditation” are often at the service of the untruthful, non-realistic ideas of ourselves. They make us “feel good” and “happy”, like some antidepressant pills we take, and they alienate us from ourselves and others. The ideology of a terrorist group like ISIS is but one extreme example of a false spirituality. “Snobbery” and the “bourgeois mentality” another. On the other hand, every true spirituality has to do with some kind of permanent crisis of the narcissistic self-concept or “Ego”. It shatters our self-righteousness and complacency, and makes us realize that we are never perfect, never complete, never finished.

While all of this might seem devastating at first, it is also liberating, especially when experienced in the realm of forgiveness. Once you realize that you are not that unique, that you are more like “the sinners” (the majority of mankind) than you would acknowledge previously, and that you are less like “the righteous” than you thought you were, you become less ashamed of yourself. If there is shame in this realization, then it is the shame of the hurt you brought to others while you were practicing the idolatry of a certain (self-)image. “To kill the idol of self-complacent narcissism” thus might be the beginning of a restoration of the love in and between ourselves and others.

René Girard explains how this realization in forgiveness  (that people are more like “sinners” than they would acknowledge) is at the core of the conversion experience of Peter, Paul and the other disciples of Jesus. What enables Peter, Paul and others to become “saints” thus precisely and paradoxically is their realization that they are not “saints” (i.e. that they are far from ever being “perfect”). This truly spiritual experience, which enables people to face reality, is also the experience that guided René Girard himself throughout his life. René Girard gets to the essence of what a conversion to Christ should be all about in his explanation of the denial of Peter (click to watch):

An anecdote of C.S. Lewis (who converted from atheism to Christianity, as is well-known) also illustrates quite nicely how the acknowledgement that we are more like the so-called “bad people who bring misery upon themselves” restores neighborly love – thus is the inspiration of Christ:

C S LewisOne day, Lewis and a friend were walking down the road and came upon a street person who reached out to them for help. While his friend kept walking, Lewis stopped and proceeded to empty his wallet. When they resumed their journey, his friend asked, “What are you doing giving him your money like that? Don’t you know he’s just going to squander all that on ale (beer)?” Lewis paused and replied, “That’s all I was going to do with it.”

“To kill the idol of self-complacent narcissism” also opens up the possibility of further personal growth (contrary to the situation of the self-complacent person who thinks he “has arrived”) and a more truthful connection to reality as a whole. Indeed, our mimetic ability might stir some frustrations as we compare ourselves to others and find that we cannot achieve what they achieved, but it also allows us to discover the other as “other” than ourselves. Instead of reducing the other to a mere idol or puppet at the service of non-realistic ideas of ourselves (be it ideas of unworthiness or superiority, or both), we then also might discover the other as a source of inspiration. Once we find ourselves loved for who we are, we can enjoy the talents of others without feeling threatened, or without the tendency to downplay the unique gift they bring to the table. Instead of bowing to the false (because untruthful) transcendence of narcissistic self-concepts, we can then be inspired by the other who is not like us – and in that sense truly transcends us. The paradox is that this kind of relationship allows the other and ourselves to be uniquely “our own”. To put it simply: I don’t have to be the next Lionel Messi in soccer to be inspired by the dedication he brings to his craft. I can imitate his kind of dedication in my own “field” without becoming him, or rivaling him. On the contrary, loyal to my own unique “vocation” I can take his genius as a model, becoming more “who I am” than before. In short, next to all the variants of idolatry and detestation in our relationship to others, there is the attitude of inspiration and being inspired. The first find their source in love for one’s self-image, the second in love for oneself and others.

So yes, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Blaise Pascal, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johann Sebastian Bach, Francis of Assisi, Jesus of Nazareth and the Buddha are geniuses. They are “not like us”, they are “not like me”. And yes, they are “mortals” one way or the other, but they also gave something to the world from a realm “that lasts”. To be inspired by them is to be inspired to a life of an often demanding and difficult, but also enduring and eventually fulfilling love. A love that allows us “to find our own voice and genius” and enables us “to add something that lasts, even if it’s not directly visible or measurable”.

René Girard (December 25, 1923 – November 4, 2015), his person and his work, testified to Love in unique and humble ways. He will be among the sources of inspiration, together with “all God’s children” – the meek and lowly in heart.

A Midsummer Night’s Mimetic Desire

René Girard devotes six chapters to A Midsummer Night’s Dream in A Theater of Envy, his book on William Shakespeare (for references I use the edition of St. Augustine’s Press, South Bend, Indiana, 2004 – originally this title was edited by Oxford University Press, 1991). I’ve tried to rework some of Girard’s insights by using the diagrams I’ve developed (for more information, click here for “Types of the Scapegoat Mechanism”). But first things first: a plot summary.

1. PLOT OF A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

A Midsummer Night's Dream by MukilteoCasualtie

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, portrays some strange events surrounding the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. The play consists of three plots, interconnected by the noble marriage.

First there is the story of four young Athenian lovers who are invited to the celebration. Fair Hermia is in love with Lysander and refuses to submit to her father Egeus’ demand that she wed Demetrius. Meanwhile, her childhood friend Helena desperately falls for Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander escape to an enchanted forest outside Athens. Informed by the still desperate Helena, Demetrius follows them in hopes of killing Lysander. Helena chases Demetrius, promising to love him more than Hermia, but he rejects her offer with cruel insults.

Oberon, king of the fairies and at that time in an envious quarrel over a changeling with his wife and queen Titania, observes the cruelty of Demetrius. This second plot about the fairies intervenes with the first one when Oberon asks his servant, Robin “Puck” Goodfellow, to apply a magical juice to the eyelids of the sleeping Demetrius. The juice is derived from a flower called “love-in-idleness” and causes awakening persons to fall in love with the first creature they see. Oberon hopes to let Demetrius fall in love with Helena. However, Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and Lysander falls in love with Helena. Oberon is able to correct Puck’s mistake and uses the magic to let Demetrius fall in love with Helena as well. Rivaling Lysander and Demetrius then end up seeking a place to duel each other, leaving Hermia enraged and desperate as she accuses Helena of stealing Lysander away from her. Puck, following Oberon’s orders, prevents the duel from happening and removes the charm from Lysander. Lysander returns to loving Hermia, while Demetrius now loves Helena.

The four young lovers return to Athens to witness the celebration of Theseus’ wedding. A group of six amateur actors performs “Pyramus and Thisbe”. These six craftsmen (among them a guy named Bottom who is eager to play nearly every role) prepared themselves in the enchanted forest and went through some upheaval as well. Like the tale of the four lovers, this third plot again is connected to the world of the fairies by Puck’s magical love potion. Oberon lets his wife fall in love with Bottom so he can blackmail her and claim her changeling. He succeeds and after removing the spell from his wife he goes to Athens with her to bless the house of Theseus. All’s well that ends well, so it seems…

2. MIMETIC INTERPLAYS IN THE TALE OF THE FOUR LOVERS

O hell to choose love by another's eyes (Shakespeare quote A Midsummer Night's Dream)I will focus on the subplot of the four young Athenian lovers. René Girard, in the aforementioned book A Theater of Envy, interprets the love shenanigans during the fairy night as consequences of the mimetic nature of the young lovers’ desires. Surprise, surprise. Each individual competes with another one for the recognition or love of a third party. Girard argues that this kind of competition is eventually based on mimetic (i.e. imitative) interplays, and he demonstrates how Shakespeare, throughout his works, developed fundamental insights in this essential human interaction. The lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream don’t compete with each other because they accidentally desire the same person, but they desire the same person because they imitate one another. They are led by mimetic desire. Ever more rapidly during the play they all take another person as model or mediator for their desire. This results in self-loathing (a form of auto-aggression) and divinization of their model on the one hand, or in self-aggrandizement and loathing (a form of hetero-aggression) of their model on the other. In the words of Hermia, which summarize the guiding mimetic principles of the play (in Act I, Scene 1):

O hell! to choose love by another’s eyes.

Of course, no one is eager to admit that his or her desire is not his or her own. Although the play at first glance lends itself to a romantic interpretation of the ties between the four lovers, Shakespeare comically undermines the belief in “true love” and “true love’s desire” (understood as “unmediated desire”). In the words of René Girard (A Theater of Envy, p.34-35 & p.36-37):

The history of the night continues its prehistory with different characters in the various mimetic roles. Before the midsummer night began, in other words, it had already begun. First Demetrius was unfaithful to Helena, then Hermia was unfaithful to Demetrius, then Lysander to Hermia, and finally Demetrius to Hermia. The four infidelities are arranged in such a way that the minimum number of incidents illustrates the maximum amount of mimetic theory.

It is important to observe that the love juice cannot be invoked as an excuse for the infidelities that occur before the midsummer night. Everything can and must be explained mimetically, that is, rationally. If we had only the infidelities that occur before our eyes, the examples would be too few to lead us unquestionably to the mimetic law, but the addition of the prehistory and the history is sufficient to the purpose. So instead of a single triangular conflict that remains unchanged until the conclusion, A Midsummer Night’s Dream suggests a kaleidoscope, a number of combinations that generate one another at an accelerating pace. Shakespeare gives several objects in succession to the same mimetic rivals for a comic demonstration of the mediator’s predominance in the triangle of mimetic desire.

[…]

A Theater of Envy (1991)Shakespeare satirizes a society of would-be individualists completely enslaved to one another. He is mocking a desire that always seeks to differentiate and distinguish itself through the imitation of someone else but always achieves the opposite result: A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an early triumph of unisex and uni-everything else. It involves a process of increasing symmetry among all characters, yet not so obviously perfect a one that the demonstration becomes heavy-handed.

Unlike the skeptical Puck, who mocks the lovers because he understands everything, Oberon is full of reverence for “true love,” but his language plays occasional tricks upon him and suggests the very reverse of what he intends to say. After Puck has picked the wrong man for his dispensations of love juice, Oberon sounds indignant, as if the difference between “true” and “false” love were so huge that Puck’s mistaking the two were unforgivable. His actual words suggest the very reverse [from Act III, Scene 2]:

What hast thou done? thou hast mistaken quite
And laid the love-juice on some true-love’s sight:
Of thy misprision must perforce ensue
Some true love turn’d and not a false turn’d true.

Who will tell the difference between some “true love turned” and “a false turned true”? It all sounds the same, and the distinction upon which the pious Oberon insists is humorously undermined. The supposed discrepancy between “true love” and its mimetic counterfeit echoes the inferiority of the copy versus the original in traditional aesthetics. The problem is that no original is available: everything is imitation.

The cacophonic circularity of “true love turned” and “false turned true” ironically suggests the paradoxical contribution of differential and individualistic ideologies to the growing mimetic uniformity; differentialism is the ideology of the mimetic urge at its most comically self-defeating. All this amazingly resembles our own contemporary world.

THE AUTO-AGGRESSION OF HELENA

The first mimetic triangle we encounter in the play structures itself from Helena’s perspective. Helena compares herself to Hermia and this reinforces her desire to obtain (the recognition of) Demetrius – the object of her desire [the left side of the diagram]. All this eventually results in Helena’s self-loathing (a form of auto-aggression) and the divinization of her “model”, Hermia – Helena wants to erase (the confrontation with) the difference between herself and Hermia, she wants to be Hermia [the right side of the diagram]. The desire for Hermia’s being – the mediator – turns out to be more important than the desire for Demetrius.

 

MND Autoaggression of Helena

Again, in the words of Girard himself (ibid., p.43-44):

Being is what mimetic desire is really after, and Helena says so explicitly.

Helena wants to be “translated” to Hermia.

[…]

Helena is desperately in love with Demetrius, but he is hardly mentioned; gigantic in the absence of Hermia, his stature shrinks to almost nothing in her presence. Thus the real priorities of mimetic desire are revealed: however desirable the object may be, it pales in comparison with the model who gives it its value.

Hermia and Helena (Washington Allston 1818)A remarkable aspect of our text is its sensuousness. Helena wants to catch Hermia’s “favour” as she would a disease, contagiously, through physical contact. She wants every part of her body to match Hermia’s corresponding part. She wants the whole body of Hermia. The homosexual connotations of this text are not “unconscious” but deliberate, and it is difficult to see what kind of help psychoanalysis could provide. Shakespeare portrays the tendency of unsuccessful desire to focus more and more on the cause of its failure and to turn the mediator into a second erotic object – necessarily homosexual, if the original desire is heterosexual; the erotic rival is an individual of the same sex as the subject. The homosexual connotations are inseparable from the growing emphasis on the mediator.

Helena will show a little later that she has not forgotten Demetrius; her behavior with him is more “masochistically” erotic during the night than that of any other character.

[…]

What Helena is going through is part of her “midsummer night.” Many adolescents experience an intense fascination for successful school friends, and it may or it may not affect them permanently.

Girard explores the love/hate – dynamics generated by the mimetic interactions between the four lovers more extensively further on (ibid., p.50-51):

We must examine a striking feature in the amorous language of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the proliferation of animal images. In order to express her self-abasement, Helena compares herself to various beasts. In opposition to these metaphors of lowliness, images of sublimity and divinity express the transcendence of the inaccessible object, Demetrius, and of the triumphant mediator, Hermia.

[…]

In all intensely mimetic relations, the subject tries to combat the self-contempt that necessarily accompanies the overvaluation of the mediator. Helena reveres her mediator but also hates her as a rival, and vainly tries to regain the upper hand in a relationship that has become completely unbalanced. The more divine Hermia and Demetrius seem to Helena, the more beastly she herself feels. The animal images are a privileged means of expressing the self-abasement that mimetic desire generates. Instead of rising to the near-divinity that they perceive in their models, the subjects of desire sink to the level of animality.

It’s time to put Girard’s analysis to the test and to take a look at how The Bard himself portrays Helena’s self-loathing in relation to Hermia and Demetrius.

From Act I, Scene I

HERMIA
God speed fair Helena! whither away?

HELENA
Call you me fair? that fair again unsay.
Demetrius loves your fair: O happy fair!
Your eyes are lode-stars; and your tongue’s sweet air
More tuneable than lark to shepherd’s ear,
When wheat is green, when hawthorn buds appear.
Sickness is catching: O, were favour so,
Yours would I catch, fair Hermia, ere I go;
My ear should catch your voice, my eye your eye,
My tongue should catch your tongue’s sweet melody.
Were the world mine, Demetrius being bated,
The rest I’d give to be to you translated.
O, teach me how you look, and with what art
You sway the motion of Demetrius’ heart.

HERMIA
I frown upon him, yet he loves me still.

HELENA
O that your frowns would teach my smiles such skill!

HERMIA
I give him curses, yet he gives me love.

HELENA
O that my prayers could such affection move!

HERMIA
The more I hate, the more he follows me.

HELENA
The more I love, the more he hateth me.

HERMIA
His folly, Helena, is no fault of mine.

HELENA
None, but your beauty: would that fault were mine!

Hermia and Lysander (John Simmons 1870)HERMIA
Take comfort: he no more shall see my face;
Lysander and myself will fly this place.
Before the time I did Lysander see,
Seem’d Athens as a paradise to me:
O, then, what graces in my love do dwell,
That he hath turn’d a heaven unto a hell!

From Act II, Scene I

DEMETRIUS
I love thee not, therefore pursue me not.
Where is Lysander and fair Hermia?
The one I’ll slay, the other slayeth me.
Thou told’st me they were stolen unto this wood;
And here am I, and wode within this wood,
Because I cannot meet my Hermia.
Hence, get thee gone, and follow me no more.

HELENA
You draw me, you hard-hearted adamant;
But yet you draw not iron, for my heart
Is true as steel: leave you your power to draw,
And I shall have no power to follow you.

DEMETRIUS
Do I entice you? do I speak you fair?
Or, rather, do I not in plainest truth
Tell you, I do not, nor I cannot love you?

HELENA
And even for that do I love you the more.
I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,
The more you beat me, I will fawn on you:
Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me,
Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,
Unworthy as I am, to follow you.
What worser place can I beg in your love,–
And yet a place of high respect with me,–
Than to be used as you use your dog?

One of the strongest arguments for the kind of interpretation of the play we’ve been exploring, i.e. in terms of mimetic interactions, is Girard’s reference to what happened before the play begins. The prehistory of the midsummer night is summarized in the very first scene of the play. Girard (ibid., p.33-34):

In the beginning Helena was in love with Demetrius and Demetrius with her. This happy state of affairs did not last. The gentle Helena explains in a soliloquy that her love affair was destroyed by Hermia:

For ere Demetrius look’d on Hermia’s eyne,
He hail’d down oaths that he was only mine;
And when this hail some heat from Hermia felt,
So he dissolved, and showers of oaths did melt.

Why should Hermia attempt to seduce Demetrius away from her best friend? Since Hermia now wants to marry the other boy, Lysander, she could not be motivated by genuine “true love.” What else could it be? Do we have to ask? The mimetic nature of the enterprise is suggested by the close similarity […] with The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Hermia and Helena are the same type of friends as Valentine and Proteus: they have lived together since infancy; they have been educated together; they always act, think, feel, and desire alike.

In our prehistory we have a first mimetic triangle. […]

Demetrius is still very much in love with Hermia because she is the one who jilted him, just as Demetrius himself had jilted Helena a little before. The enterprising Hermia first stole the lover of her best friend and then lost interest in him, thus making two people hysterically unhappy instead of one. If Hermia lived in our time, she would probably claim that a bright, modern, independent young woman like herself needs “more challenging friends” than Demetrius and Helena. Demetrius and Helena seem insufficiently challenging to Hermia because she found it too easy to dominate them. First, she roundly defeated Helena in the battle for Demetrius, which destroyed the prestige of this friend as a mediator. Being no longer transfigured by the power of mimetic rivalry, Demetrius too lost his prestige and did not seem desirable any longer. Whenever an imitator successfully appropriates the object designated by his or her model, the transfiguration machine ceases to function. With no threatening rival in sight, Hermia found Demetrius uninspiring and turned to the more exotic Lysander.

This explanation is also valid for Demetrius, our first example of infidelity. He yielded to Hermia’s blandishments because Helena was too gentle and loving; she did not make things difficult enough for her lover. When mimetic desire is thwarted, it intensifies and, when it succeeds, it withers away. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the play in which these two aspects are discreetly but systematically exploited. The two together make up the dynamics of the midsummer night.

THE HETERO- (AND AUTO-) AGGRESSION OF HERMIA

Indeed, from the observations about the prehistory of the midsummer night it is plausible to consider the alternative love triangle at the climax of the midsummer night as a consequence of (Shakespeare’s insight into) mimetic logic. Puck’s love potion hardly conceals Shakespeare’s deconstruction of the “true love” illusion. The reality of mimetic desire brings any stable “forever and ever” romanticism to an end. Once again, René Girard (ibid., p.51):

god dogAs the end approaches, the metaphysical absolute shifts from character to character and the mimetic relation loses all stability. When the two boys abandon Hermia and turn to Helena, the entire configuration is reorganized on the basis of the same polarities but with a new distribution of roles. A formerly despised member of the group has become its idol, and a former idol has lost all prestige; in the language of our metaphoric polarity, it really means that a beast has turned into a god and, reciprocally, a god has turned into a beast. Up is down and down is up. When Lysander and Demetrius fall in love with Helena, it is Hermia’s turn to feel like a dog.

The diagram from the perspective of Hermia thus looks like this:

 

MND Heteroaggression of Hermia

Helena cannot believe that the two boys now rival each other to obtain her (all the while, of course, mimetically reinforcing each other’s desire). Of course Hermia is not happy with this turn of events. At the same time as she “masochistically” loathes her own “dwarfish stature”, she loathes Helena. Hermia, comparing herself with Helena, is even prepared to fight her friend. The Bard:

From Act III, Scene II

HELENA
O spite! O hell! I see you all are bent
To set against me for your merriment:
If you were civil and knew courtesy,
You would not do me thus much injury.
Can you not hate me, as I know you do,
But you must join in souls to mock me too?
If you were men, as men you are in show,
You would not use a gentle lady so;
To vow, and swear, and superpraise my parts,
When I am sure you hate me with your hearts.
You both are rivals, and love Hermia;
And now both rivals, to mock Helena:
A trim exploit, a manly enterprise,
To conjure tears up in a poor maid’s eyes
With your derision! none of noble sort
Would so offend a virgin, and extort
A poor soul’s patience, all to make you sport.

[…]

HERMIA
What, can you do me greater harm than hate?
Hate me! wherefore? O me! what news, my love!
Am not I Hermia? are not you Lysander?
I am as fair now as I was erewhile.
Since night you loved me; yet since night you left me:
Why, then you left me–O, the gods forbid!–
In earnest, shall I say?

LYSANDER
Ay, by my life;
And never did desire to see thee more.
Therefore be out of hope, of question, of doubt;
Be certain, nothing truer; ’tis no jest
That I do hate thee and love Helena.

HERMIA
O me! you juggler! you canker-blossom!
You thief of love! what, have you come by night
And stolen my love’s heart from him?

HELENA
Fine, i’faith!
Have you no modesty, no maiden shame,
No touch of bashfulness? What, will you tear
Impatient answers from my gentle tongue?
Fie, fie! you counterfeit, you puppet, you!

HERMIA
Puppet? why so? ay, that way goes the game.
Now I perceive that she hath made compare
Between our statures; she hath urged her height;
And with her personage, her tall personage,
Her height, forsooth, she hath prevail’d with him.
And are you grown so high in his esteem;
Because I am so dwarfish and so low?
How low am I, thou painted maypole? speak;
How low am I? I am not yet so low
But that my nails can reach unto thine eyes.

THE HETERO-AGGRESSION OF DEMETRIUS

Finally, the mimetic logic is also at work in the behavior of the two boys. René Girard (ibid., p.32-33):

The first thing to observe is that, even though the two boys are never in love with any girl for very long, both of them at any given time are always in love with the same girl. We can also observe great similarities in their two discourses, which remain unchanged when both of them shift from one girl to the other, except, of course, for the minor adjustments required by the fact that Helena is a tall blonde, whereas Hermia is short and dark-haired.

[…]

[Demetrius] imitates Lysander because Lysander took Hermia away from him, and like all defeated rivals, he is horribly mediated by his victorious opponent. His desire for Hermia remains intense as long as Lysander provides it with a model; as soon as Lysander shifts to Helena, Demetrius also shifts. This perfect parrot is a more comic version of Proteus [from The Two Gentlemen of Verona]. Imitation is so compulsive with him that, were there a third girl in the group, he would certainly fall in love with her, but not before Lysander did.

In short, Demetrius compares himself to Lysander, and this reinforces his desire for Hermia [the left side of the diagram]. All this results in Demetrius’ desire to erase (the confrontation with the difference between him and) Lysander [the right side of the diagram]. Hence the full diagram:

MND Heteroaggression of Demetrius

In the words of The Bard:

From Act II, Scene I

DEMETRIUS
I love thee not, therefore pursue me not.
Where is Lysander and fair Hermia?
The one I’ll slay, the other slayeth me.
Thou told’st me they were stolen unto this wood;
And here am I, and wode within this wood,
Because I cannot meet my Hermia.
Hence, get thee gone, and follow me no more.

HELENA
You draw me, you hard-hearted adamant;
But yet you draw not iron, for my heart
Is true as steel: leave you your power to draw,
And I shall have no power to follow you.

THE HETERO-AGGRESSION OF LYSANDER

Lysander at first seems more independent than Demetrius, but we should not be fooled. René Girard (ibid., p.33-34):

What about Lysander himself? When he shifts to Helena, he has no possible model, since no one is in love with the poor girl. Does that mean that his desire is truly spontaneous?

[…]

the chase is better than the catchIn The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Shakespeare emphasized the strength and stability of unfulfilled desire. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream this emphasis remains, but it is supplemented by an equal emphasis on the instability of fulfilled desire. We can now understand why Lysander abandons Hermia, for all desertions are rooted in the disenchantment of peaceful possession. Lysander has triumphed over his mimetic rival Demetrius. Hermia truly belongs to him, so he lacks the indispensable stimulus of mimetic rivalry. Helena must seem attractive at this point because she has given no indication of being interested in Lysander; besides, there is no one else to turn to.

In other words, Lysander compares himself to Demetrius and reinforces his desire for (the recognition of) Helena, to the point where he wants to get rid of Demetrius. Hence the diagram:

MND Heteroaggression of Lysander

From Act II, Scene II

HELENA
O, I am out of breath in this fond chase!
The more my prayer, the lesser is my grace.
Happy is Hermia, wheresoe’er she lies;
For she hath blessed and attractive eyes.
How came her eyes so bright? Not with salt tears:
If so, my eyes are oftener wash’d than hers.
No, no, I am as ugly as a bear;
For beasts that meet me run away for fear:
Therefore no marvel though Demetrius
Do, as a monster fly my presence thus.
What wicked and dissembling glass of mine
Made me compare with Hermia’s sphery eyne?
But who is here? Lysander! on the ground!
Dead? or asleep? I see no blood, no wound.
Lysander if you live, good sir, awake.

LYSANDER
[Awaking] And run through fire I will for thy sweet sake.
Transparent Helena! Nature shows art,
That through thy bosom makes me see thy heart.
Where is Demetrius? O, how fit a word
Is that vile name to perish on my sword!

HELENA
Do not say so, Lysander; say not so
What though he love your Hermia? Lord, what though?
Yet Hermia still loves you: then be content.

LYSANDER
Content with Hermia! No; I do repent
The tedious minutes I with her have spent.
Not Hermia but Helena I love:
Who will not change a raven for a dove?
The will of man is by his reason sway’d;
And reason says you are the worthier maid.
Things growing are not ripe until their season
So I, being young, till now ripe not to reason;
And touching now the point of human skill,
Reason becomes the marshal to my will
And leads me to your eyes, where I o’erlook
Love’s stories written in love’s richest book.

3. MIMESIS AND EROS

Without further ado, René Girard’s main conclusion on A Midsummer Night’s Dream (ibid., p.64):

The symmetry of the two human subplots suggests that aesthetic imitation and the mimetic Eros are two modalities of the same principle. Bottom’s desire for mimesis spreads as contagiously among the craftsmen as erotic desire among the lovers and has the same disruptive effects upon the two groups; it produces the same mythology [the midsummer night’s dream].

In his theatrical subplot, Shakespeare reinjects the ingredient that the aestheticians always leave out – competitive desire. In the lovers’ subplot he reinjects the ingredient that the students of desire never take into account – imitation. This double restitution turns the two subplots into faithful mirrors of each other, the two complementary halves of a single challenge against the Western philosophical and anthropological tradition.

[…]

The enormous force of Shakespeare comes from his ability to rid himself of two bad abstractions simultaneously: solipsistic desire and the bland, disembodied imitation of the aestheticians. The love of mimesis that sustains the aesthetic enterprise is one and the same with mimetic desire. This is the real message of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The Western philosophical and scientific tradition is based on the opposite principle. Mimesis and Eros are seen as separate. The myth of their mutual independence goes back to Plato, who never associates the two concepts, even though his frantic fear of mimetic contagion and his distrust of art, more particularly of the theater, points to the unity that his formal system repudiates.

[…]

Shakespeare’s spectacular marriage of mimesis and desire is the unity of the three subplots and the unity of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

__________________________________________________________________________________

Lord What Fools these Mortals be

The play ends with Puck addressing the audience. It seems he tries to reassure us that “true love” can only be disturbed by a magical dream. As if a certain configuration of relationships is true and “real” and an alternative one can only be false and “dreamlike appearance”. We don’t like to admit that our desires are subject to mimetic antics. We would like to escape the realization that our desires are guided by emotions like envy and jealousy, or pride. And yet, Puck ironically reveals that there indeed is a “serpent’s tongue” (i.e. the principle of mimetic comparing, as the serpent refers to the creature that seduces Adam and Eve to compare themselves to God in the Genesis story of the Garden of Eden). Thus Puck is the liar (“merely a character in a play”) who tells the truth. And so he gets the last laugh…

From Act V, Scene I

PuckPUCK
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

CLICK HERE FOR A PDF-FILE OF THE DIAGRAMS

Here are some previous posts concerning the same issues:

  1. Mimetic Theory in High School (click to read)
  2. Types of the Scapegoat Mechanism (click to read)
  3. Scapegoating in American Beauty (click to read)
  4. Philosophy in American Beauty (click to read)
  5. Real Life Cases of Ressentiment (click to read)
  6. Eminem Reads the Bible (click to read)
  7. The Grace of Prostitutes (click to read)

See also: Achever… the Social Sciences (click to read)

C.S. Lewis Account of Mimetic Desire

C S LewisC.S. Lewis (1898-1963), a former atheist who converted to Christianity, became well-known for his series of seven fantasy novels The Chronicles of Narnia, but the fame of this series sometimes overshadows other work by this fascinating author. And that’s a shame because, up to this day, Lewis remains a surprisingly fresh Christian thinker.

In Mere Christianity Lewis identifies “the great sin” of humanity as Pride. From his account it is clear that pride rests on what René Girard has called mimetic desire – i.e. a desire based on the imitation of what others desire. Mimetic desire can easily become competitive and lead to mimetic rivalry if people cannot or do not want to share the objects of their mutually enforced desire. The “proud man” derives his pride from the supposition that other people desire what he possesses. In a sense he needs competition (competitive desire) to affirm his prestigious aura, all the while of course not suspecting that his own desire is also based on the imitation of the desires of others… Of course, following the nuances of Lewis himself about pride, there’s nothing wrong with being proud of some achievement. To be proud of some recognition we receive from others might be a consequence of something that we have done. The proud man, on the other hand, is guided by his pride as the ultimate goal of his existence.

But enough introductory talk. Here’s what Lewis has to say on Pride – people acquainted with René Girard’s further developed mimetic theory will surely recognize some familiar themes 😉 [For more on this, click here].

I now come to that part of Christian morals where they differ most sharply from all other morals. There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.

The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. You may remember, when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the centre of Christian morals did not lie there. Well, now, we have come to the centre. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

C.S. Lewis quote on Pride gets no pleasure out ofDoes this seem to you exaggerated? If so, think it over. I pointed out a moment ago that the more pride one had, the more one disliked pride in others. In fact, if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, ‘How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronise me, or show off?’ The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with every one else’s pride. It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise. Two of a trade never agree. Now what you want to get clear is that Pride is essentially competitive – is competitive by its very nature – while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone. That is why I say that Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not. The sexual impulse may drive two men into competition if they both want the same girl. But that is only by accident; they might just as likely have wanted two different girls. But a proud man will take your girl from you, not because he wants her, but just to prove to himself that he is a better man than you. Greed may drive men into competition if there is not enough to go round; but the proud man, even when he has got more than he can possibly want, will try to get still more just to assert his power. Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride.

Take it with money. Greed will certainly make a man want money, for the sake of a better house, better holidays, better things to eat and drink. But only up to a point. What is it that makes a man with £ 10,000 a year anxious to get £ 20,000 a year? It is not the greed for more pleasure. £ 10,000 will give all the luxuries that any man can really enjoy. It is Pride – the wish to be richer than some other rich man, and (still more) the wish for power. For, of course, power is what Pride really enjoys: there is nothing makes a man feel so superior to others as being able to move them about like toy soldiers. What makes a pretty girl spread misery wherever she goes by collecting admirers? Certainly not her sexual instinct: that kind of girl is quite often sexually frigid. It is Pride. What is it that makes a political leader or a whole nation go on and on, demanding more and more? Pride again. Pride is competitive by its very nature: that is why it goes on and on. If I am a proud man, then, as long as there is one man in the whole world more powerful, or richer, or cleverer than I, he is my rival and my enemy.

C.S. Lewis quote on pride The Christians are rightThe Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken people or unchaste people. But pride always means enmity – it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.

In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that – and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison – you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.

That raises a terrible question. How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound’s worth of Pride towards their fellow-men. I suppose it was of those people Christ was thinking when He said that some would preach about Him and cast out devils in His name, only to be told at the end of the world that He had never known them. And any of us may at any moment be in this death-trap. Luckily, we have a test. Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good – above all, that we are better than someone else – I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.

C.S. Lewis quote on Pride is spiritual cancerIt is a terrible thing that the worst of all the vices can smuggle itself into the very centre of our religious life. But you can see why. The other, and less bad, vices come from the devil working on us through our animal nature. But this does not come through our animal nature at all. It comes direct from Hell. It is purely spiritual: consequently it is far more subtle and deadly. For the same reason, Pride can often be used to beat down the simpler vices. Teachers, in fact, often appeal to a boy’s Pride, or, as they call it, his self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper, by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity – that is, by Pride. The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride – just as he would be quite content to see your chilblains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.

Before leaving this subject I must guard against some possible misunderstandings:

(1) Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. The child who is patted on the back for doing a lesson well, the woman whose beauty is praised by her lover, the saved soul to whom Christ says ‘Well done,’ are pleased and ought to be. For here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in the fact that you have pleased someone you wanted (and rightly wanted) to please. The trouble begins when you pass from thinking, ‘I have pleased him; all is well,’ to thinking, ‘What a fine person I must be to have done it.’ The more you delight in yourself and the less you delight in the praise, the worse you are becoming. When you delight wholly in yourself and do not care about the praise at all, you have reached the bottom. That is why vanity, though it is the sort of Pride which shows most on the surface, is really the least bad and most pardonable sort. The vain person wants praise, applause, admiration, too much and is always angling for it. It is a fault, but a child-like and even (in an odd way) a humble fault. It shows that you are not yet completely contented with your own admiration. You value other people enough to want them to look at you. You are, in fact, still human. The real black, diabolical Pride, comes when you look down on others so much that you do not care what they think of you. Of course, it is very right, and often our duty, not to care what people think of us, if we do so for the right reason; namely, because we care so incomparably more what God thinks. But the Proud man has a different reason for not caring. He says ‘Why should I care for the applause of that rabble as if their opinion were worth anything? And even if their opinions were of value, am I the sort of man to blush with pleasure at a compliment like some chit of a girl at her first dance? No, I am an integrated, adult personality. All I have done has been done to satisfy my own ideals – or my artistic conscience – or the traditions of my family – or, in a word, because I’m That Kind of Chap. If the mob like it, let them. They’re nothing to me.’ In this way real thorough-going pride may act as a check on vanity; for, as I said a moment ago, the devil loves ‘curing’ a small fault by giving you a great one. We must try not to be vain, but we must never call in our Pride to cure our vanity.

(2) We say in English that a man is ‘proud’ of his son, or his father, or his school, or regiment, and it may be asked whether ‘pride’ in this sense is a sin. I think it depends on what, exactly, we mean by ‘proud of’. Very often, in such sentences, the phrase ‘is proud of’ means ‘has a warm-hearted admiration for’. Such an admiration is, of course, very far from being a sin. But it might, perhaps, mean that the person in question gives himself airs on the ground of his distinguished father, or because he belongs to a famous regiment. This would, clearly, be a fault; but even then, it would be better than being proud simply of himself. To love and admire anything outside yourself is to take one step a way from utter spiritual ruin; though we shall not be well so long as we love and admire anything more than we love and admire God.

(3) We must not think Pride is something God forbids because He is offended at it, or that Humility is something He demands as due to His own dignity – as if God Himself was proud. He is not in the least worried about His dignity. The point is, He wants you to know Him: wants to give you Himself. And He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble – delightedly humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life. He is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible: trying to take off a lot of silly, ugly, fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the little idiots we are. I wish I had got a bit further with humility myself: if I had, I could probably tell you more about the relief, the comfort, of taking the fancy-dress off – getting rid of the false self, with all its ‘Look at me’ and ‘Aren’t I a good boy?’ and all its posing and posturing. To get even near it, even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.

C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity(4) Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all. If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.

Taken from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (Collins, C.S. Lewis Signature Classics Edition 2012; p.121-128).

C.S. Lewis Stained Glass Window St George Episcopal Church Dayton Ohio

La Mode(rnity)

Gustave Caillebotte_Paris Street Rainy Day 1877Last year, after meeting my friends from The Raven Foundation in Chicago, I had the opportunity to visit the exhibition Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity at The Art Institute of Chicago.

As the exhibition points out, the modern fashion industry was born in Paris in the second half of the nineteenth century. Since then, fashion – la mode – has become one of the main forces in today’s so-called individualistic and free market-driven western society. The fashion industry thus reveals one of the main paradoxes if not contradictions in modern man’s self-concept. Although nowadays we consider ourselves to be emancipated and autonomous individuals we nevertheless remain highly susceptible to herd behavior. René Girard might help us to understand this situation more broadly. [Read also the second part of a previous post by clicking here].

René Girard’s mimetic theory explains that, beyond physical needs, human desire is structured according to mimetic (i.e. imitative) interactions. People model each other’s ambitions and aspirations. As is well-known, the convergence of desires on the same object (e.g. two or more children wanting the same toy) or on the same goal (e.g. two or more people wanting the same job promotion, status or power) often leads to rivalry and sometimes even violence. Not surprisingly, the escalation of this mimetic rivalry (i.e. rivalry based on mimetic/imitative desires) within groups threatens the stability and even survival of communities.

History shows that human communities developed several traditions to prevent the potential destructive outcome of mimetic desire and mimetic rivalry. The French Ancien Régime, still deeply rooted in the feudal system of the Middle Ages, was incredibly hierarchical both socially and politically. There were three different Estates in society, the First being the Church, the Second the Nobility and the Third the so-called Common People. The common people had to accept their unprivileged position in society. They were told that they would evoke the wrath of God if they would question the privileged position of the Church and the Nobility. At the same time, the common people were told that a reward awaited them in “an afterlife” if they “behaved well” and accepted their fate. In other words, the Third Estate could not aspire to the position of the other Estates. In still other words, mimetic desire was suppressed by a religiously established system of taboos and rituals. People had to understand and accept that there were differences in society from birth.

Ancien Regime

Throughout the ages, Christian reformers criticize the Church whenever she lends herself to sustain a society where differences between people are based on oppression. From Saint Benedict to Saint Francis to Saint Ignatius to the “Prince of the Humanists” Desiderius Erasmus – all of them call for a return to the God of Christ, the God of the Gospels, to question the authority of the God who justifies certain types of violence and oppression. It is no coincidence then that several historians (Marcel Gauchet being one of them) understand the Enlightenment and the dismemberment of a principally hierarchical society on the basis of traditional religious means as a consequence of the Judeo-Christian influence on the western world. To quote Marcel Gauchet, Christianity is the “religion of the end of religion”.

Erasmus

Abraham Lincoln emancipation of slavesEventually, because Christianity gradually destroyed the authority of the God(s) of traditional religion, the hierarchical nature of society was no longer accepted. The French revolutionists cried égalité! and the idea of a principally egalitarian society was born – all human beings (should) have equal rights. This meant that mimetic desire became less suppressed, and this led to the emancipation of different groups in western society. First, factory workers started to compare themselves to the wealthy factory owners. Why shouldn’t the workers enjoy the same rights as their employers? In other words, the workers started to desire what their employers possessed and this mimetic desire could no longer be suppressed. Second came the emancipation of women. They started to desire the rights owned by their male counterparts. Third came the full revolt of blacks (heir to black slaves) in the US. Then came the emancipation of gay people who compared themselves to heterosexuals and desired and demanded equal rights… Finally, together with the aforementioned emancipatory movements, the emancipation of children and youngsters (and the phenomenon of a so-called youth culture) poses new challenges to our personal and social self-understanding. There’s a strange interaction going on, with a rivalry between young and old to become each other’s model or example. [Read more on the consequences for young people by clicking here].

What is striking in all these cases is that standing up for one’s own identity is based on a comparison with the identity of others. In standing up for themselves people imitate others.

shoe foot skeleton fashion victimNow, let’s interpret the phenomenon of fashion again from these observations. At the birth of modernity the traditional guidelines which structure the behavior of the individual members of society begin to erode. Individuals more and more find themselves in a vacuum concerning the way they could or should behave and lead their lives. However, instead of developing a life from a so-called very own autonomy and freedom (as people often believe they do – Girard calls this the romantic lie), people look at what others are doing to give their life (their desires and ambitions) direction. Hence a phenomenon like fashion. The fashion industry really rests on the assumption of individuals that they are free to create their own identity and thus is able to enslave those very same individuals to a never-ending cycle of mimetic desire. The price for a so-called free identity is an identity constantly on the brink of being sacrificed again to the latest trend. It’s what drives our economy on the one hand, and might destroy our natural environment on the other… It’s what drives our consumerism yet might destroy our soul (as we attach ourselves to what’s perishable)… I guess G.K. Chesterton is right, in a profound sense, “For when we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything.”

fashion slavesIn short, the liberation of mimetic desire in western society has some good as well as bad consequences. Anyways, perhaps we should keep our desires “to have more (but never enough)” in check in order to prevent the next financial, ecological, social and personal crisis?

Chesterton quote on worshipidol worship social mediaChesterton quote on believing in anything

René Girard 1985

In 1985, René Girard received his first honorary doctorate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. More followed at various universities throughout the world. In December 2006, he was installed as a member immortel of the Académie Française, the highest honor a French intellectual can achieve in his home country.

A month after René Girard received his first honorary doctorate an interview with him appeared for Dutch television (IKON). The interview is in English with Dutch subtitles.

CLICK TO WATCH IT HERE:

There is also footage from the ceremony for the honorary doctorate at VU Amsterdam.

CLICK TO WATCH IT HERE: