Volume 24, Issue 1, Spring 2019
Thinking with René Girard
Memory, Origins, and the Searching Quest in Girard’s Mimetic Cycle
An Arendtian Perspective
This paper offers an interpretation of René Girard’s mimetic theory in light of Hannah Arendt’s account of St Augustine’s philosophy of love. Girard’s mimetic theory crosses many disciplines and has been the main inspiration in his oeuvre over decades. However, its later application and how it purports to demystify culture and point to the truth of the Christian revelation, sits uneasily with his early confessional position. This paper is an attempt to make sense of Girard the Christian thinker, who seeks to explain Christianity without a continuous searching quest for God and ethical orientation in the world. I examine his early theory of desire and how it claims to lead to the conversion of the hero and author of the novel, and how Girard compares the hero’s journey in literary space to the Saint’s journey in spiritual space. In explicating Hannah Arendt’s work entitled Love and Saint Augustine I set out some of the key concepts of Augustine’s philosophy of “love as desire” and highlight a number of contexts in Augustine’s thinking that refocus his philosophy in the direction of memory in response to the commandment to love God, neighbour and self. I go on to examine whether Arendt’s analysis of Augustine might also apply to Girard’s journey with mimetic theory. Finally, I attempt to articulate a context for reading Girard in light of Augustine’s own searching quest for God, one that tries to bring his personal and confessional stance back into his account of mimesis and human origins.