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April 26, 2006 7:23 PM   Subscribe

Mimetic rivalry on a planetary scale. Rene Girard is the author of several books developing the idea that human culture is based on sacrifice as the way out of mimetic, or imitative, violence between rivals. When one rival is successful in obtaining the love object, violence is precipitated, which falls on the head of certain scapegoats, of whom Jesus Christ is the archetype. The violence can be traced in literature.
posted by Tarn (19 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Audio. Video.
posted by Tarn at 7:23 PM on April 26, 2006

See also
Violence And The Sacred - René Girard & Scapegoat Theory
March 18, 2003 12:54 AM PST

Human beings, according to French thinker René Girard, are fundamentally imitative creatures. We copy each other's desires, and are in perpetual conflict with one another over the objects of our desire. In early human communities, this conflict created a permanent threat of violence, and forced our ancestors to find a way to unify themselves. They chose a victim, a scapegoat, an evil one against whom the community could unite.

Scapegoat Theory 101 ?
posted by y2karl (14 comments total) [!]

With many more links within...
See also Google Search
posted by y2karl at 8:00 PM on April 26, 2006

Oohh... guys like this, academics who set out to actually validate Christianity, I think they're the only ones who actually pose a real threat to the faith. Makes you wonder -- is it possible we might see a Gnostic revival in the near future? Gosh, I hope not!
posted by Laugh_track at 8:06 PM on April 26, 2006

guys like this, academics who set out to actually validate Christianity

Do they really set out to validate it, or do they really simply just experience faith as the collection of ideas they write about?

(Obviously a question which could be asked about a broader areas of study than religion.)
posted by weston at 8:14 PM on April 26, 2006

Some interesting articles from James Alison, a leading Girardian interpreter:
Is it Ethical to be Catholic?
– Queer Perspectives

“But the Bible says...”?
A Catholic reading of Romans 1

Some thoughts on the Atonement - This one is especially good.

Worship in a Violent World

Intelligence of the Victim

James Alison sermon at the House of Mercy, "Staggered Vision", I actually witnessed this one.

Here's something from Paul Neuchterlein at the Girardian Lectionary
posted by Buck Eschaton at 8:23 PM on April 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

For some reason the link I had above wasn't the complete sermon for James Alison's "Staggered Vision" (Quicktime) sermon. This one should get you through the whole sermon.
posted by Buck Eschaton at 8:41 PM on April 26, 2006

In a more typical pack, however, only one wolf will assume the role of the omega – the lowest-ranking member of a pack.[10] These individuals absorb the greatest amount of aggression from the rest of the pack, and may be subjected to different forms of truculence at any given point – anything from constant dominance from other pack members to inimical, physical harassment. Though this arrangement may seem objectionable after cursory analysis, the nature of pack dynamics demands that one wolf be at the bottom of the ranking order...
posted by brevator at 9:13 PM on April 26, 2006

Usul - the strength of the base of the pillar.

This thread makes my head throb in the most delightful way.
posted by loquacious at 9:34 PM on April 26, 2006

Sounds like thinking without restraint.

i.e. mental masturbation.
posted by delmoi at 9:41 PM on April 26, 2006

I suppose sooner or later everything shows up on MeFi (sometimes twice). I had the misfortune of having to read some Girard in college, and I have no idea why anyone else still has to. The man should be writing novels the way he fabricates theories out of whole cloth.
posted by cali at 9:50 PM on April 26, 2006

@Buck Eschaton: Thanks for the links. The one on Atonement was, as promised, marvelous. One of the more interesting, and practically useful, theologies I've run across lately.

@cali: I think you've hit the nail on the head as concerns invention. Interpreting religious symbols—giving them relevance, parsing signifiers out of the signal and bringing forth their signifieds—is an art, not a science. (Philosophers and semioticians will tell you it must be so: There is no self-interpreting artifact.) So to read or explicate a complex of symbols is a subjective, synthetic act rather than an objective, analytic one. The text is constraint and music, the ideas are freedom and motion, and the act of reading is creation and dance. Then, of course, we're free to take the dance as we will: To intellectually explore and evaluate the artistic choices it manifests (a theological or comparative-religious approach, you might say), to dance that dance and see if it feels right (an experiential approach, a disciple's approach), or to contemplate in mute awe the symbols in their unending productivity, until and while they pour out present and personal illumination (a mystical approach).

None of this, of course, is meant to excuse Girard from providing evidence. When he makes a claim that other people viewed or experienced a certain thing in a certain way, he had darned well better show me why he thinks so; if he neglects the rhythm too long or too heedlessly, I'll disregard his dance as that of a talentless poseur. (Which is like a poser, but worse, of course, because it's in French.) That's my aesthetic. But I don't expect to find a structure purely built of falsifiable hypotheses here, any more than I would expect total falsifiability in a painting, a pun, or a poem.
posted by eritain at 1:23 AM on April 27, 2006

The text is constraint and music, the ideas are freedom and motion, and the act of reading is creation and dance.

posted by bru at 4:24 AM on April 27, 2006

> which falls on the head of certain scapegoats,

If you can't kick the dog that bit you then kick the dog that's down. Film at 11.

posted by jfuller at 5:16 AM on April 27, 2006

This is a great thread. The only thing I've read by Girard is his essay on Hamlet, which is fascinating and enjoyably counterintuitive. Thanks!
posted by josh at 5:53 AM on April 27, 2006

buck eschaton: Thanks for the links. I was amused by the reference to The Joy of Being Wrong. It seems fitting because I wonder how the notion that all desire is mimetic can possibly be right, given that, if you extrapolate far enough back, you must come to an original desire that started it all off, like y2karl with his previous post :) Intriguingly, this argument reminds me of the arguments against Plato's arguments for the immortality of the Soul. Plato argued, as I understand it, that the Soul must be immortal because it is a unity and therefore indestructible. Kant said that the Soul could diminish its intensity to zero, and Moses Maimonides countered that, if that were the case, there would come a point where the Soul both existed and did not exist at the same time. Is the same true for Plato's argument that knowledge is remembrance? If knowledge is remembrance of things forgotten, surely there would come a point when someone both knew something and didn't know it at the same time. Given Girard's thesis, it seems to me that the original desire is equally unfathomable.
posted by Tarn at 7:41 AM on April 27, 2006

Girard's thought can be applied to the American Civil War and its aftermath: The way the reunited nation's collective memory transformed what was a senseless slaughter into a sacrificial atonement for the sin of slavery -- at the same time transforming the freed slaves and their descendents into a permanent scapegoat class. Illuminating stuff.
posted by Faze at 9:34 AM on April 27, 2006

This is a fascinating Girardian influenced article, The Southern Rite of Human Sacrifice, kind of related to Faze's comments.
posted by Buck Eschaton at 9:56 AM on April 27, 2006

Buck Eschaton -- Thanks for that link. This ties in with a lot of what I've been thinking lately.
posted by Faze at 1:47 PM on April 27, 2006

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