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Anorexia and Mimetic Desire

René Girard
Translated by Mark R. Anspach
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 112
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  • Book Info
    Anorexia and Mimetic Desire
    Book Description:

    René Girard shows that all desires are contagious-and the desire to be thin is no exception. In this compelling new book, Girard ties the anorexia epidemic to what he calls mimetic desire: a desire imitated from a model. Girard has long argued that, far from being spontaneous, our most intimate desires are copied from what we see around us. In a culture obsessed with thinness, the rise of eating disorders should be no surprise. When everyone is trying to slim down, Girard asks, how can we convince anorexic patients to have a healthy outlook on eating? Mixing theoretical sophistication with irreverent common sense, Girard denounces a "culture of anorexia" and takes apart the competitive impulse that fuels the game of conspicuous non-consumption. He shows that showing off a slim physique is not enough-the real aim is to be skinnier than one's rivals. In the race to lose the most weight, the winners are bound to be thinner and thinner. Taken to extremes, this tendency to escalation can only lead to tragic results. Featuring a foreword by neuropsychiatrist Jean-Michel Oughourlian and an introductory essay by anthropologist Mark R. Anspach, the volume concludes with an illuminating conversation between René Girard, Mark R. Anspach, and Laurence Tacou.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-376-0
    Subjects: Philosophy, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    Jean-Michel Oughourlian

    If appetite is stimulated by eating, the lack of appetite,anorexia, is stimulated by not eating. It is clear, then, that the natural need to eat, to feed oneself, can become mimetically overloaded and transformed first into a desire, then into a passionate desire, either to deprive oneself of food or to gorge oneself. The idea that both anorexia and bulimia are diseases of desire is what interests René Girard. For Girard, desire is mimetic, and therefore competitive: every desire springs from rivalry, every rivalry from desire.

    Desire has no interest in health. Passion, when it seizes control of the...

  4. Introduction: Anorexia and the Spirit of the Times
    (pp. xv-xxxvi)
    Mark R. Anspach

    Thin is in, stout is out.¹ It was not always so. In 1911, French physician Francis Heckel wrote that his patients sometimes resisted losing weight, preferring to “stay obese for reasons of fashionable appearance.” The need to have an “impressivedécolleté” made every woman feel “duty-bound” to fatten the upper part of her body, from the neck to the breasts, which could not be done without gaining weight elsewhere. If health reasons obliged a woman to reduce her abdomen, she would have to accept losing weight higher up. This was a “true sacrifice,” emphasized Heckel, for it meant renouncing “what...

  5. Eating Disorders and Mimetic Desire
    (pp. 1-44)
    René Girard

    Among younger women, eating disorders are reaching epidemic proportions. The most widespread and spectacular at this moment is the most recently identified, the so-called bulimia nervosa, characterized by binge eating followed by “purging,” sometimes through laxatives or diuretics, more often through self-induced vomiting. Some researchers claim that in American colleges at least one third of the female student population is involved to some degree. (Since nine out of ten sufferers are women I will use feminine pronouns in this paper, but some undergraduates at Stanford tell me that the epidemic is spreading to male students.)

    G.M.F. Russell, the first researcher...

  6. A Conversation with René Girard
    (pp. 45-76)
    René Girard, Mark R. Anspach and Laurence Tacou

    Mark Anspach: René Girard, could you begin by telling us something about the origin of the text published here? What led you to reflect upon a subject like anorexia?

    René Girard: My interest in the subject goes all the way back to my childhood. There were cases of anorexia—not very severe but real enough—in my own family, in particular a young cousin whom I talk about in the text. Consequently, when I read Claude Vigée’s bookLes artistes de la faim(1960), it brought back memories. Later, when I decided to write on the subject myself, I took...