René Girard's Mimetic Theory

René Girard's Mimetic Theory

Wolfgang Palaver
Translated by Gabriel Borrud
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 420
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  • Book Info
    René Girard's Mimetic Theory
    Book Description:

    A systematic introduction into the mimetic theory of the French-American literary theorist and philosophical anthropologist René Girard, this essential text explains its three main pillars (mimetic desire, the scapegoat mechanism, and the Biblical "difference") with the help of examples from literature and philosophy. This book also offers an overview of René Girard's life and work, showing how much mimetic theory results from existential and spiritual insights into one's own mimetic entanglements. Furthermore it examines the broader implications of Girard's theories, from the mimetic aspect of sovereignty and wars to the relationship between the scapegoat mechanism and the question of capital punishment. Mimetic theory is placed within the context of current cultural and political debates like the relationship between religion and modernity, terrorism, the death penalty, and gender issues. Drawing textual examples from European literature (Cervantes, Shakespeare, Goethe, Kleist, Stendhal, Storm, Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Proust) and philosophy (Plato, Camus, Sartre, Lévi-Strauss, Derrida, Vattimo), Palaver uses mimetic theory to explore the themes they present. A highly accessible book, this text is complemented by bibliographical references to Girard's widespread work and secondary literature on mimetic theory and its applications, comprising a valuable bibliographical archive that provides the reader with an overview of the development and discussion of mimetic theory until the present day.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-365-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Preface to the English Edition
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Life and Work of René Girard
    (pp. 1-14)

    René Girard refers time and again in his analysis of literature to the correspondence between the lives of authors and their work. From the perspective of the mimetic theory, the existential connections between biography and work are not to be overlooked. In his first book,Deceit, Desire and the Novel, Girard bases his central thesis on the observation that Cervantes, Flaubert, Stendhal, Proust, and Dostoyevsky arrived at their insights into human nature by going through a personal conversion themselves.¹ Only after seeing through their own romantic search for autonomy and authenticity were these authors able to perceive the truth about...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Religion and Modernity
    (pp. 15-32)

    The mimetic theory is first and foremost a theory of religion. It describes the “religious” dimension of interpersonal relations—the idolatry of models or sexual partners—just as it explains the origins of archaic religions and the qualitative difference between these and the Judeo-Christian tradition. In the following chapters, these three areas will serve as the basis for extensive discussion of the mimetic theory, the scope of which finds itself between the conflicting poles of religion and modernity.

    The contemporary debate has seen the need for religious inquiry reemerge after being pushed aside within the humanities and social sciences for...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Mimetic Desire
    (pp. 33-134)

    The increasing relevance of the mimetic theory is based not only on the light it sheds on religion, but also on its ability to explicate violent conflict in human society. In essence, it is a “theory of conflict,” one that both elucidates the causes of interpersonal clashes and also offers solutions to them.¹

    In the German-speaking world, the mimetic theory has long been excluded from theoretic discussion. In other countries, Girard’s works were quickly translated and given significant attention in academic circles, but scholars in the German realm have been hesitant to tackle Girard’s works until only recently. It appears...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Scapegoat Mechanism as Origin of Culture
    (pp. 135-194)

    Girard’s work on mimetic desire leads to the second large step of his theory in the direction of an all-encompassing theory of culture. The core of this second part is formed by his thesis of the scapegoat mechanism, which posits that human culture emanated from a founding murder. Girard claims that the first forms of human civilization were engendered by the collective deterrence of violence in archaic situations of crisis.

    Up to this point, our analysis of mimetic desire has focused merely on its manifestations in relations between individual human beings. The next stage of Girard’s theory pursues the effects...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Biblical Revelation and Christianity
    (pp. 195-274)

    The third stage of the mimetic theory is formed by Girard’s analysis of the writings of biblical revelation.¹ Using the same interpretive lens he used to analyze myths, Girard encountered texts in his examination of the Bible that showed a radical difference from the mythical perspective. These texts no longer took the perspective of the lynch mob, as was the case with myth, but that of scapegoats victimized by mob persecution.

    In our analysis of texts thus far, we have yet to address the Bible in any systematic way. This corresponds also to Girard’s academic path, as he turned to...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Political Implications of the Mimetic Theory
    (pp. 275-296)

    As a theory of culture [tr.Kulturtheorie], the mimetic theory explains not only the genesis of archaic religions and the foundation of human civilization, but also the formation of major political institutions, which in Girard’s eyes can be traced back to the scapegoat mechanism. In the following chapter, we will pursue the violent origins of political power, legal order, and war through analyses of sacred kingship, capital punishment, and archaic friend/enemy distinctions. These political institutions all bear traces of the collective violence that, according to Girard, forms the basis of human civilization.

    Sacred kingship belongs to the most ancient political...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Mimetic Theory and Gender
    (pp. 297-308)

    Girard’s analytical search for the victims of primitive social and political persecution shows similarities to feminist stances that take the victim status of women as a starting point for their critique of patriarchal society.¹ His method of textual interpretation, like the feminist method, can be characterized by a “hermeneutics of suspicion.”²

    Such parallels, however, should not cause one to understand the mimetic theory as any kind of feminist stance. Many feminists themselves accuse Girard of both sexism and patriarchalism.³ Girardians, meanwhile, have criticized such feminist conceptions, emphasizing more the greater breadth of their own stance.⁴ They argue that Girard’s work...

  12. Chronology
    (pp. 309-312)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 313-366)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 367-396)
  15. Index of Terms
    (pp. 397-398)
  16. Index of Names
    (pp. 399-403)