Mimesis and Violence - An Introduction to the Thought of René Girard

Chris Fleming


This essay provides an overview of the thought of the French literary and cultural theorist René Girard and attempts to contextualise his work in relation to other cultural thinkers such as Emile Durkheim and Friedrich Nietzsche. The essay begins with his theorisation of 'mimetic desire,' the explanatory schema Girard utilises to theorise interpersonal relations, which involves a construal of desire as preeminently imitative; this model suggests that human beings learn what to desire from observing and copying others. From there, the essay moves on to discuss the 'scapegoat' or 'victimage' mechanism, Girard's hypothesis for how cultural and religious formation takes place through the banishment or lynching of an emissary victim in order to initiate and sustain cultural stability. Finally, the essay examines the relationship between the Judea-Christian scriptures and the scapegoat mechanism, looking at Girard's depiction of the Bible as representing a trenchant critique of violence, especially those forms of violence unconsciously used in the service of social unification.

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