When These Things Begin

When These Things Begin: Conversations with Michel Treguer

René Girard
Translated by Trevor Cribben Merrill
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 122
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  • Book Info
    When These Things Begin
    Book Description:

    In this lively series of conversations with writer Michel Treguer, René Girard revisits the major concepts of mimetic theory and explores science, democracy, and the nature of God and freedom. Girard affirms that "our unprecedented present is incomprehensible without Christianity." Globalization has unified the world, yet civil war and terrorism persist despite free trade and economic growth. Because of mimetic desire and the rivalry it generates, asserts Girard, "whether we're talking about marriage, friendship, professional relationships, issues with neighbors or matters of national unity, human relations are always under threat." Literary masters including Marivaux, Dostoevsky, and Joyce understood this, as did archaic religion, which warded off violence with blood sacrifice. Christianity brought a new understanding of sacrifice, giving rise not only to modern rationality and science but also to a fragile system that is, in Girard's words, "always teetering between a new golden age and a destructive apocalypse." Treguer, a skeptic of mimetic theory, wonders: "Is what he's telling me true...or is it just a nice story, a way of looking at things?" In response, Girard makes a compelling case for his theory.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-400-2
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xii)

    René Girard is truly an extraordinary character. He was born in 1923 in Avignon, France, but since 1947 he has lived in the United States, where he met his wife and taught for many years at Stanford University. The title of his first book—Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque(1961), “Romantic Lie and Novelistic Truth,” or, as the English edition would have it,Deceit, Desire, and the Novel—seemed innocent enough, barely hinting at the book’s scandalous thesis; the essay could pass itself off as just another work of scholarly erudition, looking to unsuspecting eyes like anything but a monstrous...

  4. CHAPTER 1 A First Overview: Here and Now
    (pp. 1-10)

    Michel treguer: René, even though it may not be a very logical starting point, before laying out your thought in a more organized way, I would like to begin here and now, in the present moment in which our lives are immersed, and which, for some time now, we have seen unfurling before our eyes like a film in fast-forward. I want to do this in order to give the reader a glimpse of the immense range of applications and the tremendous interpretive power of your theory, and in order to familiarize the reader with the language we’ll be speaking....

  5. CHAPTER 2 Mimetic Desire: Shakespeare rather than Plato
    (pp. 11-18)

    Mt: At the beginning of your thesis there was the word “mimetic.” Can you tell us again how it should be understood?

    Rg: Human relations are subject to conflict: whether we’re talking about marriage, friendship, professional relationships, issues with neighbors or matters of national unity, human relations are always under threat.

    Mt: Under threat from what, by whom?

    Rg: … from the identity of desires. People influence one another and, when they’re together, they have a tendency to desire the same things, primarily not because those things are rare but because, contrary to what most philosophers think, imitation also bears...

  6. CHAPTER 3 The Mimetic Crisis: Sacrificial Worlds
    (pp. 19-26)

    Mt: Let’s go back to the formation of societies. We were talking about the moment when the escalation of the mimetic crisis leads to a “contagion of antagonisms.”

    Rg: Inasmuch as they desire the same thing, the members of the group become antagonists, in pairs, in triangles, in polygons, in whatever configurations you can imagine. The contagion signifies that some of them are going to abandon their personal antagonist and “choose” their neighbor’s. We see this all the time, when, for example, we shift the hatred we feel for our private enemies, but that we don’t dare take out against...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Bible
    (pp. 27-30)

    Mt: We’re making our way toward the great historical rupture, the creation of History itself, that you see the word of Christ as opening up. But don’t you think it would be a good idea to stop and talk about the Bible?

    Rg: Yes. One senses that the Bible is heading toward Revelation properly speaking in the New Testament.

    In the most primitive pagan myths, sacrifice and murder do not seek to hide themselves. They naively expose themselves, in all candor one might say. That is why they are so transparent, why they make it easy to guess at the...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Christ (Orders and Disorders)
    (pp. 31-42)

    Mt: In your view, Christian revelation triggers a process that is global, worldwide or perhaps even wider. We emerge from the lie, from the mythical shadow, and are reborn under the sun of truth. It’s the beginning of History as such, and it’s not just one more myth.

    Rg: From a Christian point of view, it could be said that, in a sense, Creation starts up again. Creation damaged by sin.

    Mt: What sin exactly?

    Rg: Mankind’s sin, original sin.

    Mt: Yes, but how do you define it?

    Rg: I don’t presume to define it, but I’m saying that the...

  9. CHAPTER 6 A Return to Imitation
    (pp. 43-48)

    Mt: Let’s go back over the imitation that Plato saw everywhere, except where its role was most important: in acquisitive behaviors, in the competition of desires.

    Rg:Mimesisis the Greek word for imitation. Dance is the most mimetic of all the arts, and indeed it’s easy to see its relationship with contagion, the collective trance; we know of its role in sacrifices. In the Gospels themselves, the dance of Salome is a sort of “Rite of Spring” that ends with the prophet’s death.

    Mt: Mimetic desire can only produce evil?

    Rg: No, it can become bad if it stirs...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Science
    (pp. 49-56)

    Mt: The consensus is that Christianity has never ceased to lag behind on the question of scientific development, to oppose the new worldviews attached to theories of physics such as Galileo’s. But in truth, you say, at a deeper level, it is really Christianity that makes science possible bydesacralizingthe real, by freeing people from magical causalities. Once we stop seeing storms as being triggered by the machinations of the witch across the street, we start being able to study meteorological phenomena scientifically.

    Once again, current events seem to confirm your thesis. The Soviet Union was built on an...

  11. CHAPTER 8 The One and the Many
    (pp. 57-78)

    Mt: Is the uniformization of the world a mandatory ransom for progress, material progress on the one hand and progress of conscience and solidarity on the other? Are we heading toward a single civilization?

    Rg: I think so. The closure of societies is linked to “scapegoat” type practices. To close is always to define an outside and an inside by means of exclusions and expulsions. As a result, the more these practices weaken, the more exteriority loses ground. Insofar as there are no more victims to close society, it’s opening up; and we’re heading more and more toward a mono-culture....

  12. CHAPTER 9 Democracy
    (pp. 79-90)

    Mt: Democracy?

    Rg: I like Churchill’s quote: it’s “the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

    Mt: Democracy is not without injustices. Children from affluent families have a much better chance of becoming big businessmen, great artists, or even great thinkers, great advocates for the poor, than do those who are born poor: because their parents are cultured, because their personal fortune gives them time to reflect and create. Although my own origins are modest, I’ll take the provocation a step further: alas, many poor people who have come to...

  13. CHAPTER 10 God, Freedom
    (pp. 91-104)

    Mt: Why was it necessary for Christ to die? Was it the last guiltless sacrifice before the abandonment of sacrificial systems?

    Rg: Well, the other previous victims weren’t guilty either. Christ dies because he refuses to submit to the law of violence, he denounces it whenever he speaks, and human beings, by refusing his Revelation, necessarily direct their violence back at him. They put the law of violent mimetic desire into action against him. They make him into one more scapegoat. That’s the anthropological foundation of the Passion, and it’s nothing more. If the Passion were only something human, the...

  14. CHAPTER 11 Freud, and a Few Others
    (pp. 105-112)

    Rg: What I like about Freud is a certain kind of analysis, a way of writing, and of working with texts. What I don’t like is his fundamental prejudice against culture and against the family:Civilization and Its Discontents, “the Oedipus complex.” What Freud doesn’t see is that social and religious institutions have an essentially protective function. They decrease the risk of conflict. Of course, it sometimes happens that they do so in a violent way inasmuch as they limit certain forms of freedom. In truth, cultural prohibitions aren’t there to prevent people from having fun, but to make vengeance...

  15. CHAPTER 12 A Method, a Life, a Man
    (pp. 113-136)

    Mt: We’ve put a lot of emphasis on the unconscious nature of the mechanisms and phenomena we’ve been talking about. Which leads me to the following, rather paradoxical, question: in the end, does it help to reveal Revelation, to talk about it explicitly as you’re doing?

    Rg: What do you mean by “does it help”? If religion is the truth, “it helps” more than we can imagine. If Christianity is false, what we’re doing has no value whatsoever.

    Mt: I’ll modify my question. Shakespeare doesn’t speakexplicitlyabout mimetic desire, he doesn’t talk about it in his plays, he allows...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 137-138)
  17. Index
    (pp. 139-140)