Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Intimate Domain

Intimate Domain: Desire, Trauma, and Mimetic Theory

Martha J. Reineke
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Intimate Domain
    Book Description:

    For René Girard, human life revolves around mimetic desire, which regularly manifests itself in acquisitive rivalry when we find ourselves wanting an object because another wants it also. Noting that mimetic desire is driven by our sense of inadequacy or insufficiency, Girard arrives at a profound insight: our desire is not fundamentally directed toward the other's object but toward the other's being. We perceive the other to possess a fullness of being we lack. Mimetic desire devolves into violence when our quest after the being of the other remains unfulfilled. So pervasive is mimetic desire that Girard describes it as an ontological illness. InIntimate Domain,Reineke argues that it is necessary to augment Girard's mimetic theory if we are to give a full account of the sickness he describes. Attending to familial dynamics Girard has overlooked and reclaiming aspects of his early theorizing on sensory experience, Reineke utilizes psychoanalytic theory to place Girard's mimetic theory on firmer ground. Drawing on three exemplary narratives-Proust'sIn Search of Lost Time,Sophocles'sAntigone,and Julia Kristeva'sThe Old Man and the Wolves-the author explores familial relationships. Together, these narratives demonstrate that a corporeal hermeneutics founded in psychoanalytic theory can usefully augment Girard's insights, thereby ensuring that mimetic theory remains a definitive resource for all who seek to understand humanity's ontological illness and identify a potential cure.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-415-6
    Subjects: Psychology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PREFACE. The Family, Feminist Scholarship, and Mimetic Theory
    (pp. xi-xxiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION. Family Matters
    (pp. xxv-xlviii)

    Oprah Winfrey, icon of popular culture, pens a monthly column titled “What I Know For Sure.” Less bold than Oprah, who has been espousing sureties for years, I am certain of few things. However, beyond a doubt, I know that our early life experiences shape our lives in profound ways. My conviction has been tutored by psychoanalytic theory, which offers a compelling account of the lasting impact on us of our early experiences, especially within the family.

    I frequently draw on my rural setting to explain to students the psychoanalytic perspective on early experience. The snow is dense and deep...


    • PRELUDE. Mothers
      (pp. 3-16)

      Marcel Proust’sIn Search of Lost Timeis a powerful account of mimetic desire. Proust confronts us with the bankruptcy of the narrator’s desires as well as with our own; so also does he enable us to participate in the narrator’s release from the strictures of desire and his transformation. Chronicling hope and not only despair, the narrator ofIn Search of Lost Timeattests to salvation that is threaded through life trauma.

      Tracking the narrator’s story across the pages of the novel, Girard offers a profound reading ofIn Search of Lost Time. I appeal to that reading here,...

    • CHAPTER 1 The Eyes of a Parricide
      (pp. 17-28)

      According to Girard, an exploration of Proust’sIn Search of Lost Timeshould not begin with the novel; rather, it should commence with reflection on a newspaper essay by Proust titled “Filial Sentiments of a Parricide.”¹ Girard argues that this essay constitutes a transformative moment for Proust, providing an occasion for him to break through the strictures of metaphysical desire that have mired him in ontological illness. Girard contends that, in the aftermath of writing this essay, Proust is newly able to identify with others in a nonrivalrous way. Further, Girard submits that insights Proust attains from the essay provide...

    • CHAPTER 2 Of Madeleines, Mothers, and Montjouvain
      (pp. 29-56)

      My route forward with Proust begins with the madeleine. Girard cites the madeleine as a preliminary revelation for Proust—a “first glimmer of novelistic grace” for the novel that is to come—and Kristeva also begins her reflections on Proust with the madeleine.¹ However, because Kristeva draws out elements of this metaphor of which Girard takes no notice after he sets aside his early interest in affective memory and sensory experience, her observations can enhance Girard’s mimetic theory. Reflecting on the madeleine from a perspective grounded in Kristeva’s corporeal hermeneutics, I demonstrate how an augmented mimetic theory can offer a...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Journey Home Is through the World
      (pp. 57-78)

      The narrator ofIn Search of Lost Timeis beset by trauma. By his own admission, he locates suffering in two maternally marked experiences in his past. The event he cites first is that fateful evening when his “mother abdicated her authority,” in the young Marcel’s bedroom at Combray; the second encompasses the many months during which the narrator observed the slow death of his grandmother.¹ The narrator is anguished: not only did he inflict pain on his mother when he “traced in her soul a first wrinkle and caused a first white hair to appear,” but also he wounded...


    • PRELUDE. Siblings
      (pp. 81-92)

      Siblings play a critical role in mimetic rivalries that characterize the family romance. As a consequence, our relations with siblings anticipate, for better or worse, later adult relationships. As we grow and our world expands beyond the immediate family to encompass other relationships, we may remain caught in rivalries that have characterized our initial relationship with our siblings. Or, diverging from that scenario, we may experience with our siblings and with others a supportive intimacy that enables us to overcome the effects of trauma and violence in our lives.

      Antigoneis a timeless story about the vicissitudes of sibling relationships....

    • CHAPTER 4 The House of Labdacus: On Kinship and Sacrifice
      (pp. 93-120)

      Sophocles’s three Theban plays—Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus—are not formally a trilogy. Sophocles wrote the plays across the span of his career andAntigone, whose dramatic action comes late in the chronology of Oedipus’s family, was likely written and performed a decade beforeOedipus the Kingand over three decades beforeOedipus at Colonus.¹ As a consequence, the plays that comprise the Theban cycle are most often understood to share a familial narrative drawn from myths rather than a single artistic frame of reference. InOedipus the King, Oedipus fulfills an oracle when he kills his...

    • CHAPTER 5 Trauma and the Theban Cycle
      (pp. 121-140)

      How can intimacy become a subject for critical reflection?¹ Intimacy is typically understood to focus on emotions of love and supportive family bonds. But if family life is the beginning point for reflection on intimacy, it is not the only terrain we can explore in an effort to understand it. Helpfully, Julia Kristeva both broadens and narrows the field for critical reflection on intimacy. She broadens it when she links intimacy to art, religion, and psychoanalysis and cites the unique capacity of these forms of cultural expression toprotect the singularity of human life.² Kristeva narrows the context for critical...

    • CHAPTER 6 Antigone and the Ethics of Intimacy
      (pp. 141-176)

      Traumatic violence has caught Oedipus in an ongoing repetition of mimetic rivalry, rooting him in an eternal present. Compellingly demonstrated not only inOedipus the Kingbut also inOedipus at Colonus, his trauma is visceral. For Oedipus’s suffering is written on his body: his unsightly face, expressed pain, and profound exhaustion offer graphic testimony.¹ Others reflect back to Oedipus their horror: Oedipusisa polluting presence.² Attentive to Oedipus’s distress, in this chapter I examine the representation of trauma as well as actions that promise to break open constraints on Oedipus, permitting the transformation of Oedipus’s memories.³ InOedipus...


    • PRELUDE. Fathers
      (pp. 179-200)

      The father is dead. On this point, Julia Kristeva and René Girard agree. What then can be said any longer of the paternal function? What legacy of the father persists in ongoing economies of sacrifice? And, if the father is not actually dead but only missing in action within the family romance, site of our earliest mimetic rivalries, what role, if any, could a father play in an intimate domain characterized by positive, nonconflictual mimesis? May a father yet live within intimate spaces? Endeavoring to answer these questions, I turn to literature, for Girard and Kristeva agree that literature is...

    • CHAPTER 7 Not a Country for Old Men: Violence and Mimesis in Santa Varvara
      (pp. 201-224)

      The Old Man and the Wolvesbegins with a tale called “The Invasion.” After crossing a frozen river and a windswept plain, wolves from the north now lurk on the edges of Santa Varvara seeking their prey. These “gray-coated, sharp-nosed carnivores, slinking singly or in packs through houses and gardens,” wear people’s faces and utter human speech.¹ Yet only the Old Man can see or hear them and smell their musky odor. Only he observes the marks their claws have made on the land and on the throats of “animals, birds, even women,”² and only he attributes increasing numbers of...

    • CHAPTER 8 To Glimpse a World without Wolves: From Conflict to Compassion
      (pp. 225-262)

      Kristeva names the concluding section ofThe Old Man and the Wolves“Capriccio.” “Capriccio” focuses on multiple metamorphoses. Replicating and augmenting the transferential setting of the detective story, these changes radicalize its questions: What is the ultimate source of the contagion that has transformed Santa Varvara into a city of wolves? Can infected individuals be cured, or will they always be wolves? “Capriccio” investigates the possibility ofreversible metamorphoses:Can those who have been contaminated by the wolves grasp their humanity again and break free of mimesis-driven scapegoating? Addressing this question are Stephanie, by means of her diary, and Kristeva,...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 263-348)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 349-360)
  11. Index
    (pp. 361-368)