René Girard's Mimetic Theory, Part 2
I'll try to say something clever and insightful later on, but for now I just want to say that I am very grateful for this précis and critique of an author whom I would otherwise know nothing about, and have no time to be able to read.
I am not going to pretend to be an expert on Girard on the basis of reading your essays, but if someone else brings up his name then I will at least know roughly where to place him in the intellectual landscape.
Thank you for this valuable intellectual service! You're doing the work, so I don't have to!
Whether there's anything novel about it in Girard's case, this is certainly very rich territory for thinking through the psychology of our social media age.
One thing that springs to mind is that it is certainly plausible that internal mediation produces worse pathologies than external, but then in the modern fandom culture, there become online hives of rivalrous internal mediation within the category of people engaged in external mediation with Taylor Swift or Marvel or whatever. Even being an admirer from distance becomes a crowded little competition.
Thank you so much for these posts about Girard! When you went into your possible objections, you brought up one that was very much on my mind: "The most obvious objection so far is that the idea that there is something fundamentally imitative about human beings is a totally a unremarkable observation." But then you developed it in a somewhat different way than had occurred to me.
You compare external vs internal. I had a different thought. Surely we have a wide variety of exemplars to chose from? The selection of a given mediator in a given situation, or the composition of several into an "ideal" internal mediator ("phronesis"), it itself an expression of the individual? No need to make the "internal" the mark of the individual, and then admit that, yes, it often isn't independent.
Perhaps Gadamer's terminology would be useful here? A mediated desire in the sense that Girard proposes is an Erlebnis. It interprets univocally and remains hierarchically related to the mediator. But isn't the larger category in which we experience desire that of Erfahrung, which remains open to reinterpretation and may have multiple mediating sources?
Thanks very much for doing this. Your insight in the previous entry, that the right-wing turn to Girard might be part of a search for a post-MAGA fusionism, seems to me very prescient, and this sort of deep dive correspondingly helpful.
How do you take Girard to deal with a problem of infinite regress? Like: if all desires are imitative, how did the first desirer have the first desire? (As opposed to appetite, or whatever.) Is the argument that non-imitative desires were possible in pre-modernity? Or that we have an authentic desire for God for which our imitative desire is compensatory? (Those were my two guesses.)
Nit to pick with the end and what gets attributed to Girard’s Catholicism: original sin does not mean in orthodox Catholic theology that humans have no goodness in them. Freedom of the will is an important point of contrast with the Reformation. That division might get fuzzy with the Jansenists. But for most of the tradition it was precisely this emphasis on freedom of the will that certain major Protestants groups saw as denying the force of divine grace. Luther vs Erasmus is the classic case. Thanks for these Girard posts and everything.
I am really enjoying this series, and would love to learn more about how Girard compares to Lacan and whether and how he's derivative of Lacan. It's my understanding that Lacan's seminars in the 1950s were quite influential, during what I assume would be Girard's formative years, intellectually.
This was very educational. Thank you, John!