Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Mimetic Rivalry

From this site and courtesy of pseudopodium, an interview with Rene Girard:

Can your theory of "mimetic rivalry" be applied to the current international crisis?

The error is always to reason within categories of "difference" when the root of all conflicts is rather "competition," mimetic rivalry between persons, countries, cultures. Competition is the desire to imitate the other in order to obtain the same thing he or she has, by violence if need be. No doubt terrorism is bound to a world "different" from ours, but what gives rise to terrorism does not lie in that "difference" that removes it further from us and makes it inconceivable to us. To the contrary, it lies in an exacerbated desire for convergence and resemblance. Human relations are essentially relations of imitation, of rivalry.
What is experienced now is a form of mimetic rivalry on a planetary scale.


Would you go so far as to say that the dominant figure of Islam is the warrior and in Christianity it is the innocent victim, and that this irreducible difference condemns any attempt at understanding between these two monotheisms?

What strikes me in the history of Islam is the rapidity of its expansion. It was the most extraordinary military conquest of all times. The barbarians dissolved into the societies they had conquered, but Islam did not and it converted two‑thirds of the Mediterranean world. It is not therefore an archaic myth as has been said. I would even go so far as to say that it is a resumption – rationalist, from certain points of view – of what happened in Christianity, a sort of Protestantism before its time. In the Muslim faith, there is an aspect that is simple, raw, and practical that has facilitated its spread and transformed the life of a great number of peoples in a tribal state in opening them to Jewish monotheism as modified by Christianity. But it lacks the essential thing in Christianity: the cross. Like Christianity, Islam rehabilitates the innocent victim, but it does this in a militant manner. The cross is the contrary, it is the end of the violent and archaic myths.

But aren't the monotheisms the bearers of a structural violence because they gave birth to an idea of unique Truth, excluding any competing expression?

One can always interpret the monotheisms as sacrificial archaisms, but the texts don't prove that they are such. It's said that the Psalms of the Bible are violent, but who speak up in the psalms if not the victims of the violence of the myths: "The bulls of Balaam encircle me and are about to lynch me"? The Psalms are like a magnificent lining on the outside, but when turned inside out they show a bloody skin. They are typical of the violence that weighs on humans and on the refuge that they find in their God.
Our intellectual fashions don't want to see anything but violence in these texts, but where does the danger really come from?


You dwell in your latest book on Western self‑criticism, always present beside ethnocentrism. You write, "We Occidentals are always simultaneously ourselves and our own enemy." Will this self‑criticism continue to exist after the destruction of the towers?

It continues to exist and it is legitimate for rethinking the future, for correcting, for example, that idea of a Locke or of an Adam Smith according to which free competition would always be good and generous. That's an absurd idea, and we have known it for a long time. It is astonishing that after a failure as flagrant as that of Marxism the ideology of free enterprise doesn't show itself any more able to defend itself. To affirm that "history is finished" because this ideology has won out over collectivism is quite clearly a deception. In the Western countries the divergence in incomes continues to grow greatly and we are heading for explosive reactions...(Le monde)

The Young Hegelian highlights a certain passage from Un Couer en Hiver that strikes me as not only timely, in a general sense, but also, in a certain context, as a very fair possible criticism of this blog.
What is a blog if not the pursuit of a certain relation-albeit by necessity through degrees of distance and discretion? A relation neither smug with indifference nor content with illusions of intimacy. A pursuit that is threatened by various tendencies (such as excessive linking, or producing merely for a certain projected or expecting audience, as if on demand-as Derrida says of Fukuyama); tendencies that often increase with the force or habit? More personally though, and somewhat tangentially perhaps, the potential for flippancy, arrogance and false posturing with hypertext has always bothered me. Sometimes, I would like to think that my first exploratory use of the medium has been just as much aimed at a sort of parody as anything else, but that is still something of a lazy excuse. (And here I am now, using this word "lazy" when I had sworn to myself never to engage in the sort of faux apology so common to weblogs.) Too often I feel as though I am not risking enough of myself here to begin losing myself, or to be worthy of the loss of self proclaimed by the promiscuous anonymity of links, cuts and pastes. That I am avoiding something under the mere guise of a genuine desire to simply share. There is certainly much of value in this more or less spontaneous sharing in itself, yet how does one begin to distinguish between a genuine sharing and its guise, between sincere offerings unto "the void" (that is never purely a void) and something less honest, perhaps more akin to compulsive collection, statistics idolatry, or a (less hospitable) narcissistic avoidance? Of course such anonymity is mostly an illusion; the self still shines through in ways, and those with the sensitivity to see this are perhaps the true readers. God forbid that one should appear merely pompous to one's true readers! I suppose what I am saying is that I feel immensely privileged and very grateful for the quality of (what I perceive to be, anyway) this blog's readers, (as opposed to a readership maybe, or mere market to be coveted, courted, cornered and maintained). While at the same time I cannot help but feel a little conflicted that I have been disingenuous to some degree in perhaps posturing as an academic or as beyond my years or knowledge (something in such posing, as long as it remains also listening, is worth retaining, surely). But I am applying for dishwashing jobs right now, at age 24, for Christ's sake. I am not yet an academic. I am a real person. There are also quite a few academics like whom I do not in the slightest wish to become, to further belabor the obvious. I would like to begin posting more substantially, more thoughtfully, in the near future, but I make no promises. In short, I hope these comments won't be read as simply betraying some sort of pathetic inadequacy complex. Perhaps to confess this way (beginning every sentence, either explicitly or implicitly with an "I" just like the repugnant Al Gore or John Kerry) is at heart merely a form of self-flattery. But this is a blog; it is being read on a computer and not in a book. And so I end up making one of these faux apologies after all, because the distinction is worth retaining.

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