Volume 23, Issue 2, Autumn 2018
Mimetic Wisdom: René Girard and the Task of Christian Philosophy
René Girard and the Deferral of Violence
Rene Girard’s anthropology goes beyond Durkheim and Freud in seeking knowledge in literary, mythical, and religious texts. Girard’s primary intuition is that human culture originated in response to the danger of violent mimetic crises among increasingly intelligent hominins, whose imitation of each other’s desires led to conflict. These crises were resolved by the mechanism of emissary murder: the proto-human community came to focus its aggression on a single scapegoat whose unanimous lynching, by “miraculously” bringing peace, led to its ritual repetition in sacrifice. Because this theory fails to found the signs of human language and worship on the deferral of spontaneous action, Girard can only attribute the internal peace necessary to the human community to the exhaustion of violent aggression. Instead, generative anthropology proposes that, beginning from the premise that the need to control internecine violence was the source of the human, an appropriative gesture toward an object of common desire, deferred out of fear of violence, becomes understood as a sign of the object’s sacred/interdicted status, after which it can be peacefully divided among the group. Following this originary event, the sacred/signifying universe of language and religion gradually comes to include the totality of human activity.