Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World
November 5, 2015 8:13 AM   Subscribe

René Girard, literary theorist and religious historian, has died at the age of 91. The French-born academic and Immortel of the Académie Française first became famous for developing the idea of mimetic rivalry as a predominant theme in modern literature. Later, and more controversially, he argued for the centrality of violence and scapegoating in ancient religions, by which the sacrifice of a chosen victim restores peace in society. Most controversially of all, he argued that the Judeo-Christian tradition is unique in exposing and refuting this scapegoating mechanism. (Previously, previously)
posted by Cash4Lead (8 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for bringing him to my attention. My ignorance of him was a real hole in my education.
posted by No Robots at 8:43 AM on November 5, 2015


Not sure how it's endured, but Violence and the Sacred was engrossing when I first read it. Thanks for this post.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:01 AM on November 5, 2015

Those "Previously" links are full of goodness. Thanks.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:13 AM on November 5, 2015

I've had a chance to look into this now, and I think it should be pointed out that scapegoating is not confined to ancient religions, but is an essential aspect of mankind. Here is an illuminating quotation:
Girard’s analysis of the scapegoat game complements what both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche found to be the defining characteristic of egoity in the modern age: the dismissive envy, or ressentiment, that however unwittingly drives our collective determination to rid human culture of all superior men and women. Ressentiment is the “leveling” impulse whereby the common man attempts to assuage his mortal anxiety by assuring himself that there really is nothing great to Realize and no one made great by Realizing it. Mockery, slander, and the other tools of the hypocritical ego are its primary weapons. In the words of the German philosopher Constantin Brunner, “Every age knows so much about great men as to know that none of them is one. No age has had a prophet whom it wanted, whom it did not regard as a madman . . . , whom it did not regard as absurd, depraved, malign – as evil incarnate.” At least the people of past centuries paid their saviors the compliment of open opposition. Speaking of the Athenian rejection of Socrates, Kierkegaard pointed out that “the outstanding man was exiled, but everyone understood how dialectical the relationship was, ostracism being a mark of distinction.” He noted that in our more indolent era, in which people are “cowardly and vacillating,” the force of human abstraction permits us to treat the superior man as merely ridiculous and worthy only of being ignored.
In fact, Girard saw our own time as particularly prone to scapegoating. See, for example, this analysis.
posted by No Robots at 10:36 AM on November 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

Girard was a great counterweight to many favorite thinkers among intellectuals, whether Freud, Marx, Derrida or identitarians. Although some see him as a Catholic apologist, he was much more careful, offering explanations from his illuminating perspective.

There are few who were like him - expansive in his thought, humble, yet tenacious. Readers and thinkers will continue to mine his thinking for generations.

Earth receive an honored guest.
posted by john wilkins at 11:47 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by kneecapped at 4:20 PM on November 5, 2015

I came across Violence and the Sacred on a reshelf cart at the old downtown Seattle Central Library, way, way back in the day. Most serendipitous such encounter I ever made.

I was hoping someone would note his passing here, so thank you for this.
posted by y2karl at 5:21 AM on November 6, 2015

posted by doctornemo at 6:24 PM on November 6, 2015

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