Friday, 4 April 2014

The Girard Reader

Just finished the rather daunting project of trying to understand Rene Girard through the selection of readings in The Girard Reader. Like most deconstructionist and phenomenological writers, Girard's style makes hard work for the reader! I was very pleased to read at least these main parts of the primary source material but in the end others probably explain Girardian thought better than Girard.

The part of the anthropological story that I think is still missing is what new possibilities the death of Christ brings to human society. Most of these readings focus on the way Christ deconstructs and undermines the dynamics of mimetic rivalry and scapegoating, but there is little on what alternative is created in its place. Girard claims that there is a form of mimesis that does not rely on rivalry: that we can copy Christ who copies a God who has no need to be our rival. But I'd like to see that in more detail.

I also find a core claim of Girard's insufficiently substantiated. He claims that our understanding that the victim can be innocent comes from the cross; that it is the influence of Christianity that has allowed modern society to side with the victim. He shows how this is hinted at throughout the Old Testament, and then more fully expressed in the Gospels. But was scapegoating really universal outside this Judeo-Christian tradition? Was there no other civilisation or philosophy in which some other mechanism was used to maintain social cohesion against the force of mimetic rivalry? Was there really no prior example of victims known to be innocent?

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