Girard, Rene

Girard, Rene

(1923-) French philosopher, social theorist, and literary critic whose most famous texts include The Scapegoat (1986), Violence and the Sacred (1977), and Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1993). In these books Girard discusses an array of biblical texts and literary examples in order to argue that human culture is grounded in the violence of ‘all against one’. Focusing on the fate of the victim, he calls this event the foundational murder. He explains how the selection of the sacrificial body unites the collective against a common victim. In The Scapegoat Girard argues we can understand the function of the foundational murder by reading the stories written about demagogic occurrences. He shows how the scapegoat myths that surround the violence of ‘all against one’ both idolize the sacrifice, for its ability to re-unite the social, and legitimate the violence of the collective sphere, to justify the indiscriminate choice of an otherwise innocent victim. He elaborates on this paradox in Violence and the Sacred by showing how the scapegoat's role as a site for the outpouring of collective violence leads to its retrospective elevation to the level of the sacred. Regarding the relation between self/other which creates the need for constant violence, Girard writes about the notion of mimetic desire. Akin to thinkers such as Hegel and Lacan, mimetic desire reveals Girard's affinity with the idea that the consciousness of the self is dependent on the presence of the other. In Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, which Girard wrote with Jean-Michel Oughourlian and Guy Lefort, this resemblance is clarified by the theory of inter-dividual psychology According to the thesis outlined by inter-dividual psychology, the tension between differentiation and un-differentiation is worked out by the effects of mimetic desire. When conflictual-mimesis leads the rivalous self/other towards a state of un-differentiation violence ensues and one of the couple is expelled in order to re-state the notion of the differentiated self. Here we can see how the fate of the scapegoat hinges on the order/dis-order of the collective sphere. For Girard, un-differentiation at the level of the collective, what he sometimes calls the crisis of degree, leads to the attempt to re-order social relations. This is the key function of the scapegoat. The victim turns the violence of ‘all against all’ (un-differentiation) into the violence of ‘all against one’ (differentiation) by virtue of its role as a symbol for the re-statement of otherness.

From the perspective of biblical exegesis, Girard argues that the social system which requires the periodic death of victims is Satanic. Referring to the etymological root of the name Satan, ‘he who prepares ambushes’, Girard argues that the story of the crucifixion should act as a moral barrier to further acts of collective ambush. For Girard, Christ's role as the zero-degree sacrifice, the ultimate scapegoat whose death over-codes any attempts at justification in scapegoat mythology, reminds humanity of the violence which grounds the notions of the independent self and the differentiated collective. See also: GENERATIVE ANTHROPOLOGY, MIMETIC DESIRE, ORDER/ DISORDER, ORIGINARY POSITION, REVENGE.

References in periodicals archive ?
GIRARD, RENE, El sacrificio (Encuentro, Madrid, 2010).
GIRARD, RENE, La violencia y lo sagrado (Anagrama, Barcelona, 1995).
Girard, Rene, "El origen de la cultura", Madrid, Trotta, 2006, p.