Monday, December 07, 2009

Rene Girard and the mimetic theory of desire

For those who haven't yet had the time to delve into the groundbreaking anthropological works of Rene Girard, this week Peter Robinson of NRO TV is presenting a five-part interview with Girard. Since desire is the foundation of human consciousness, this is well worth some thought:

UPDATE: see the complete interview here (HT: maccusgermanis):


maccusgermanis said...

Hoover Institute has now posted the entire interview with no interuptions.

truepeers said...

Thanks mg,

I have to say I don't think you can begin to do justice to Girard's career in a 36 minute interview, even on his sharpest day. I'm not sure this is a great intro to Girard.

Girard, at the end of the interview, is a bit too humble. On the one hand he reminds us each of our unique role in an ever-revealing historical/religious process; on the other, he downplays his own contribution to our understanding of revelation as being simply a recapitulation of Christianity. But it is and it isn't. I believe his work is historically unprecedented; it does throw new light on Christianity, without being in any sense heretical, because he is drawing on modern experiences that were just not previously availabe; and hence he is revealing further possibilities, in the potentially infinite experiential/revelatory possibilities, for living in the light of the canonical Judeo-Christian revelations.

I am also a little uncomforatable with his recent statements that we cannot yet understand the anthropology of modern Islamic terrorism, that it represents something of a mystery, a phenomenon not found in classical Islam: the mystery of how anyone can take his resentment to the point of wanting to suicide in a big bang, given that the terrorist is not, like say the kamikaze or traditional soldier of the Caliph, dieing on behalf of any kind of realistic political vision for this world, but only in support of some kind of imagined Utopia - which is why there is a lot of suicide bombing within actual (albeit "imperfect" to the Islamist dreamer) Muslim societies.

But I don't think the problem is to understand the terrorist's capacity to perform such extreme "means" on behalf of such unlikely ends - so what if we cannot understand the violence of blowing yourself up for a likely impossible dream. What we need to understand is largely the terrorist's extreme resentment at being part of a culture that is a loser in the modern world. That challenge is not a complete mystery.

truepeers said...

I should add that Girard might take issue with my claim of "potentially infinite possibilities" in Christianity. His humility before his own achievement reflects a genuine belief in the apocalyptic nature of our times. Accordingly, he must believe that the message of Christianity reduces to a singular truth that the apocalypse - the word means revelation - reveals; but as he also says, if we learn to live as Christians, the worldly world need not come to a final end and will hence presumably be infinitely open-ended in its future possibilities.