COV&R-Bulletin No. 13 (Oct. 1997)
Editing a newsletter seems to be like doing politics. In both fields one has to accept the rule that you should never say never again. Despite my saying goodbye in the last issue of the Bulletin I will continue as the editor of the Bulletin for this and the next issue. Afterwards, however, I really have to say goodbye. Johan Elsen will be in charge from next October on.
Let me raise also some administrative matters:
(1) We ask you to send us your contributions to the Bulletin on a floppy disk or by e-mail. It greatly simplifies the publication of the Bulletin.
(2) If you would like to write a book review for the Bulletin please contact the editorial office or James G. Williams, the executive secretary. The length of a review should be between 600 and 1000 words. Longer reviews (at most 2000 words) will only be published in special circumstances.
(3) The length of an abstract should be between 100 and 300 words.
(4) Please find out if you have paid your annual dues. You will find the date of your last payment at the top of your mailing label. The regular membership fee is $40.00. Matriculated students may enroll for $20. It is also possible to subscribe to the Bulletin without membership for $15. The Bulletin appears biannually. The terms of payment you will find on the front-page.
Our conference in Graz was special in many ways. The subject of film was a new one for many of us, one which forced us to confront mimesis and violence in a new way. The setting was interesting and delightful and the organization was superb. Many thanks to Gerhard Larcher, our host and organizer, and to Christian Wesseley and Elisabeth Kuehrner for their friendly efficiency in dealing with 115 registered participants, many of whom came to them daily with questions.
I would like to welcome our new Advisory Board members: Tobin Siebers, Julie Shinnick, Guiseppe Fornari, and Hans J.L. Jensen. They replace Judith Arias, Diana Culbertson, Robert Hamerton-Kelly, and Theophus Smith. Our thanks to the latter four for their service. Judy Arias served on the Board for six years and was the first editor of our journal, Contagion. Without her vision and effort, it might not have been launched. Diana Culbertson is one of our devoted colleagues and friends who is often on the road to give lectures on the mimetic theory. She will be the associate editor of the journal and, as such, will continue to serve on the Board ex officio. Bob Kelly was one of the key persons in the founding of COV&R and is an ongoing valuable member. Thee Smith was one of the founding group in 1990. As the organizer of the 1999 conference, which will meet at his institution, Emory University in Atlanta, he will continue to work closely with the Advisory Board.
My term of office ended at the 1997 meeting. I agreed to continue for another year, as did also Wolfgang Palaver as editor of the Bulletin and Gil Bailie as treasurer. We need to engage in serious reflection and recruiting activity to find the right persons for these offices.
James G. Williams
Presiding: Cesááreo Bandera
Place: Bildungshaus Mariatrost, Graz, Austria
1. Meeting called to order by President Bandera. He
represented COV&R in expressing heartfelt thanks to Gerhard
Larcher, as well as to his team of Christian Wessely and
A. For the Advisory Board, presented by President Bandera:
Tobin Siebers (or James Alison, if Siebers couldn't accept)
Hans J. L. Jensen
These nominations were approved unanimously as a slate. The group applauded the outgoing Board members: Judith Arias, Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Diana Culbertson, and Theophus Smith. (Note: Diana Culbertson will continue to serve on the board ex officio as the associate editor of Contagion. Her assistance of Andrew McKenna will afford him some relief in certain aspects of the work.)
Nominations presented by Robert Hamerton-Kelly
(1) President: Cesááreo Bandera for a second two-year term
(2) Executive Secretary: James Williams for at least another year until a suitable replacement is found (his second term ended as of the Graz meeting)
(3) Treasurer: Gil Bailie for at least another year until a suitable replacement is found (second term ended)
(4) Editor of Bulletin: Wolfgang Palaver for another year until a suitable replaced is found. (J. Elsen may be able to take over the work. He was approved in principle as a replacement for Palaver.)
Election of all four by acclamation.
3. Annual Meetings (see Future Meetings in this issue)
Members should have received a letter about the 1998 meeting and renewal of dues well before this number of the Bulletin appears.
Pres. Bandera mentioned there will also be half a day of parallel sessions for papers not necessarily related to the conference. Working groups have been formed which may propose sessions, as well as topics for future conferences (see below).
We haven't yet a site and organizer for the conference in
the millennial year, 2000. Bandera mentioned the possibility of
a Spain venue.
4. Crossroad Series
James Williams reported on the Crossroad book series he is
editing. The Girard Reader and Resurrection from
the Underground: Feodor Dostoevsky by Girard, a
translation of Dostoievski: du double àà
l'unitéé have come out. Members are
encouraged to buy the Readerand use it for courses.
Raymund Schwager's narrative work, Dem Netz des
Jäägers entronnen: wie Jesus sein Leben
verstand, will appear next spring as Jesus of
Nazareth: How He Understood His Life.
The president encouraged everyone to send relevant
bibliographical items to Dietmar Regensburger at Innsbruck.
6. Other Business
A. Robert Hamerton-Kelly announced the experimental formation of working groups in a variety of disciplines. The members of the groups will be in contact and communicate on research. They could develop a common project. The groups and their leaders:
Literary Criticism: C. Bandera
Political Science: W. Palaver
Biblical Theology: H. Jensen
Systematic Theology and Philosophy: R. Schwager
Psychology and Psychiatry: R. Palmer
Education: M.-L. Martinez
Anthropology: G. Fornari
B. There were further comments about the need for truly interdisciplinary work in COV&R.
Father Billy Hewett announced that Renéé Girard will lecture at Oxford November 5. Cheryl Kirk-Duggan asked members to note areas of research and interest when they renew membership. This could be included in the Bulletin when the membership list is published.
The meeting was adjourned at 5:40 p.m.
(Additional note: A treasurer's report was not given in the
plenary session but one was presented by Gil Bailie in
absentia at the meeting of the Advisory Board. The current
balance in the North American account was just over $3,900.
There is also a considerable balance in the European account
kept in Innsbruck.)
Respectfully submitted, James G. Williams (Executive Secretary)
Tomelleri, Stefano. Renéé Girard: La matrice sociale della violenza. Milan: Franco Angeli, 1996.
Góómez Leóón, Enrique. Mimesis Violencia: El pensiamento
de Renéé Girard. Ph. D. Diss.,
University of Barcelona, 1982.
Cailléé, Alain. "Sacrifice, don et utilitarisme: Notes sur la thééorie du sacrifice." In Revue de MAUSS semesterielle no. 5 (premier semestre 1995): 248-292.
Chilton, Bruce. "Sacrificial Mimesis." In Religion 27/3 (1997): 225-230.
Góómez Leóón, Enrique. "Lo sagrado y la violencia." In: Travesia no. 4 (1983/84): 23-27.
McCracken, David. "Scandal and Imitation in Matthew, Kierkegaard, and Girard." In Contagion 4 (Spring 1997): 146-162.
Scubla, Lucien. "Vengeance et sacrifice: De l'opposition àà la rééconciliation." In Revue de MAUSS semesterielle no. 5 (premier semestre 1995): 205-223.
Williams, James G. "Introduction: Christianity: A
Sacrificial or Nonsacrificial Religion?" In Religion
27/3 (1997) 219-224.
Girard, Renéé. "Comments on Christianity, Scapegoating, and Sacrifice. Interview by James G. Williams." In Religion 27/3 (1997): 249-254.
Girard, Renéé. """Der Süündenbock hat ausgedient"": Renéé Girard üüber archaische Rituale und Gewalt in der Gesellschaft. Interview by Susanne Koelbl and Michael Schmidt-Klingenberg." In Der Spiegel no. 35, 25 August 1997, 112-115.
Girard, Renéé. "La fine del sacro: Colloquio con Renéé Girard. Interview by M. S. Barberi and P. Casuscelli." In Tellus: Rivista di geo- filosofia 7/17 (1996): 7-12.
Girard, Renéé. "L'ultimo dei porcospini: Intervista biografico-teorica a Renéé Girard. Interview by P. Antonello and J. C. de Castro Rocha." In Iride no. 19 (December 1996): 573-620.
Góómez Leóón, Enrique. "Review of ""Des choses cachéées depuis la fondation du monde"", by Renéé Girard." In: Anthropos no. 18 (October 1982): 37-41.
Siebenrock, Roman. "Von der Gewalt zur Erlöösung: Renéé
Girards Süündenbocktheorie." In: Christ in der
Gegenwart 49 (1997): 278.
Barberi, M. S. Il senso del politico: Saggio su Carl Schmitt. Milano: Giuffréé, 1990.
Cacciari, M. Dell'inizio. Milano: Adelphi, 1990.
Gutmann, Hans-Martin. Die töödlichen Spiele der Erwachsenen: Moderne Opfermythen in Religion, Politik und Kultur. Freiburg i. Br.: Herder, 1995.
Il capro espiatorio: Discipline a confronto, ed. Francia, A. Milano: Franco Angeli, 1995.
Il giardino di Isaia: Dal fascino della guerra alla pienezza della pace, ed. Goisis, G. and Biagi, L. Pordenone: Edizioni Concordia Sette, 1992.
Jamme, Christoph. Einfüührung in die Philosophie des Mythos. Band 2: Neuzeit und Gegenwart. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1991.
Jamme, Christoph. ""Gott an hat ein Gewand"": Grenzen und Perspektiven philosophischer Mythos-Theorien der Gegenwart. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1991.
L'immaginario e il potere, ed. Chiodi, G. M. Torino: Giappichelli, 1992.
La contesa tra fratelli, ed Chiodi, G. M. Torino: Giappichelli, 1993.
La simbolica del terzo, ed Chiodi, G. M. Torino: Giappichelli, 1994.
Milbank, John. The Word Made Strange: Theology, Language, Culture. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997.
Safranski, Rüüdiger. Das Bööse oder das Drama der Freiheit. Müünchen: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1997.
Vattimo, G. Credere di Credere. Milano: Garzanti, 1996.
Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996.
Anspach, Mark. "Le sacrifice qui engendre le don qui l'englobe." In Revue de MAUSS semesterielle no. 5 (premier semestre 1995): 224-247.
Bodendorfer, Gerhard. "Review of: ""Vom Fluch und Segen der Süündenbööcke"", ed. Niewiadomski, J and Palaver, W." In Bibel und Liturgie 70/1 (1997): 74f.
Cailléé, Alain. "Préésentation." In Revue de MAUSS semesterielle no. 5 (premier semestre 1995): 3-17. (Introduction to special issue with title A quoi bon (se) sacrifier: Sacrifice, don et intéérêêt)
Calasso, Roberto. "La guerra perpetua." In Karl Kraus, Gli ultimi giorni dell'umanitàà. Milano: Adelphi, 1980. (Reprinted in: Calasso, Roberto. I quarantanove gradini. Milano: Adelphi, 1991: 439-465.)
Duff, Paul. "The Sacrificial Character of Earliest Christianity: A Response to Robert J. Daly's ""Is Christianity Sacrificial or Anti-Sacrificial?""." In Religion 27/3 (1997): 245-248.
Elliott, Neil. "Paul and the lethality of the Law." Forum 9/3-4 (1993): 237-256.
Grande, Per Bjøørnar. "Dostojevskijs religiøøse utvikling (Dostoevsky's Religious Development)." In Kirke og Kultur no. 6 (1996): 513-526.
Nicolas, Guy. "Réésurgences contemporaines du don sacrificiel: Le retour des martyrs." In Revue de MAUSS semesterielle no. 5 (premier semestre 1995): 118-153.
Ouzgane, Lahoucine. "Masculinity as Virility in Tahar Ben Jelloun's Work." In Contagion 4 (Spring 1997) 1-13.
Regensburger, Dietmar. "Auswege aus der Gewalt: Forschungsprojekt ""Religion - Gewalt - Kommunikation - Weltordnung""." In: Uni Intern/Innsbruck no. 2 (1997): 8.
Rospabéé, Philippe. "Le sacrifice du cochon en Papouasie-Nouvelle-Guinéée: Esquisse d'une thééorie substantielle du sacrifice." In Revue de MAUSS semesterielle no. 5 (premier semestre 1995): 181-203.
Martinez, Marie-Louise. Vers la rééduction de la violence àà l'éécole: Contribution àà l'éétude de quelques concepts pour une anthropologie relationelle de la personne. Ph. D. Diss., Universitéé de la Sorbonne, Paris, 1996.
Müüller-Fahrenholz, Geiko. Vergebung macht frei: Vorschlääge füür eine Theologie der Versööhnung. Frankfurt am Main: Lembeck, 1996.
Palaver, Wolfgang. Die mythischen Quellen des Politischen: Carl Schmitts Freund-Feind-Theorie. Beiträäge zur Friedensethik 27. Stuttgart: Verlag W. Kohlhammer, 1997.
Sombart, Nicolaus. Wilhelm II:
Süündenbock und Herr der Mitte. Berlin:
Verlag Volk & Welt, 1996.
Alison, James. "The Man Blind from Birth and the Subversion of Sin: Some Questions about Fundamental Morals." In Contagion 4 (Spring 1997): 26-46.
Bailie, Gil. "The Vine and Branches Discourse: The Gospel's Psychological Apocalypse." In Contagion 4 (Spring 1997): 120-146.
Bartlett, Andrew. "Senor Hirsch as Sacrificial Victim and the Modernism of Conrad's ""Nostromo"". In Contagion 4 (Spring 1997): 47-66.
Bland, Byron. "Marching and Rising: The Rituals of Small Differences and Great Violence." In Contagion 4 (Spring 1997): 101-120.
Cochetti, Stefano. "The Lethal Narcissus: Heidegger on Sacrifice / Sacrifice on Heidegger." In Contagion 4 (Spring 1997): 87-100.
Daly, Robert J. "Is Christianity Sacrificial or Antisacrificial?" In Religion 27/3 (1997): 231-243.
Fornari, Giuseppe. "Labyrinthine Strategies of Sacrifice: The ""Cretans"" by Euripides." In Contagion 4 (Spring 1997) 163-188.
Dupuy, Jean-Pierre. "John Rawls et la question du sacrifice." In Revue de MAUSS semesterielle no. 5 (premier semestre 1995): 41-59.
Gauthier, Jean-Marc. "Quand un pauvre diable est prince de ce monde ou le scandale de Satan selon Renéé Girard." In Thééologiques 5/1 (1997): 7-21.
Hamerton-Kelly, Robert G. An Ethical approach to the Question of Ethnic Minorities in Central Europe: The Hungarian Case. Mac Arthus Consortium Working Papers in Peace and Cooperation. Stanford: Institute for International Studies, 1997.
Nash, James. "The ""Justifiable Homocide"" of Abortion Providers: Moral reason, Mimetic Theory, and the Gospel." In Contagion 4 (Spring 1997): 68-86.
Price, Robert M. "In the Beginning Was the Deed: A Neo-Girardian Look at the Passion Narrative." In Forum 9/3-4 (1993): 257-303.
You are welcome to send us copies of your articles as well
as to refer to any kind of literature dealing with the Mimetic
Dietmar Regensburger E-mail: Dietmar.Regensburger@uibk.ac.at
Girard-Documentation Fax: (43 512) 507-2959
University of Innsbruck, Universitäätsstr. 4, A-6020 Innsbruck / Austria
This year's COV&R-meeting at Graz/Austria from June 23 until June 27 was a very special event in several regards. It took place in the capital of Styria, a charming mid-European town hardly known to most of our participants form overseas. This city has, however, been in the center of Europe-wide attention because of the 2nd European Ecumenical Assembly coming together during this same week (with the COV&R-meeting partially integrated in its cultural program). Furthermore our symposium took up a rather unusual topic, namely "Film and Modernity: Violence, Sacrifice and Religion", with several full-length screenings of contemporary art- and commercial films. Consequently it attracted also quite a few non-COV&R-people from Austria and other European countries. Herein lay chances and risks of this meeting which was organized by the Institute of Fundamental Theology (Catholic Theological Faculty of Graz University) in loose collaboration with the local Institute for American Studies. Among the almost 120 congress-participants there were besides the COV&R members, among whom there where many Americans and Canadians, quite a few people with only a general knowledge of the Girardian theory, but with a great interest to learn--like film-specialists or theologians who also wanted to be in contact with the ecumenical issue. Besides we had to cope with two different places for work and discussion, the "Bildungshaus Mariatrost" and the "Schubertkino" in town with all its numerous activities. Yet, amazingly enough, most of the interests and expectations seemed to fit together and also on a human level there apparently was a good atmosphere throughout. For many new participants--above all at Renéé Girard's public lecture on Thursday evening--there was a good chance to get into touch with COV&R and its goals.
The connecting line through the four days was the genuine Girardian topic of violence and sacrificial structures in political, ethnic and social life as reflected in contemporary films and related to the challenge of "reconciliation"--the main theme of the Ecumenical Assembly. After a welcome by the president of the University of Graz and the dean of the Theological Faculty G. Larcher pointed out the general affinity of film to the technological project of modernity and its violent substructures. He then also touched the difficult question of the function of art-film for a search of historical identity and reconciliation in face of the Bosnian conflict referring to films of Angelopoulos ("Ullysses's Gaze") and E. Kusturica ("Underground"). H. Baloch and F. Bogen, former Austrian ambassador at Sarajewo, contributed conflict- and peace perspectives from their personal Balkan experiences. R. Hamerton-Kelly outlined the historical background and analyzed the present conflict from the standpoint of mimetic theory.
A particularly strong convergence issues of violence in a totally market and media-dominated society linked the film discussions on Wednesday morning (on Abel Ferrara) and afternoon (on Michael Haneke, the Austrian Cannes 97 participant) as well as on Friday morning (on Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarrantino). M. M. Roßß, B. Murauer, T. Pace and P. Hasenbergpresented Ferrara's films (esp. "King of New York", "Bad Lieutenant", and "The Addiction") as uncovering the latent everyday violence in American society and A. Heller even radicalized this analysis in face of the hyperfibes of Stone ("Natural born killers") and Tarrantino ("Pulp fiction") thematizing violence in an American world of simulacras and virtualities with only few ambivalent religious aspects. H. Meindl, Ch. Suppan and M. Haneke himself, who personally presented his latest film "Funny Games", pointed to the close interconnection of ethics and filmart within a reductive aesthetics of iconoclastic interruption. It is the form of showing violence which is decisive ...
As a unit of its own and yet and in a consequent connection with the above mentioned movies on social violence the two films on capital punishment (Tim Robbins' "Dead Man Walking" and Frank Herz' "The last judgement") can be seen. B. Neurathner, C. Ginther and E. Arensspoke of capital punishment as a manifestation of controlled vengeance "in a sacrificial system." An outstanding event was also Rééne Girard's public lecture in the overcrowded Schubert-cinema ("Christian Reconciliation in the Modern World") preceded by an introduction in Girards thought through W. Palaver. Very interesting papers presented by A. Bartlett and Jon F. Pahl on Friday morning helped to build a bridge between Girardian theory and questions of violence and aesthetics in contemporary films. At the end of the symposium on Friday afternoon we had several parallel workshops with papers by D. Culbertson, A. Faber, P. Gardeil, T. Graham, M. Kratter, Ch. Kirk-Duggan.
It cannot be denied that there were heavy discussions and also basic disagreements on the aesthetic value of some of the chosen films. Above all A. Duque with his paper on "Modern Film and the Crisis of Human Values" (Thursday noon) expressed strongly his critique, supported by C. Bandera and others. Not to speak of possible ("kenotic") alternatives in viewing difficult contemporary art-film, but rather as an extreme challenge for the hermeneutical value of the mimetic theory in face of postmodern developments in media and film.
On the whole, I think, Graz 97 can be considered to have been a fine event with a lot of young interested people taking part. That almost everything was so well organized had to do with the extreme preparation work of E. Küührner, my secretary, and Ch. Wessely, my assistant. The rates and fees were low, the combination of the activities in Mariatrost and in the cinema in town appreciated, as well as the pleasant receptions by the city of Graz and the country of Styria, that gave a little impression of Austrian hospitality. I hope all of you who took part will keep it in a good memory.
Gerhard Larcher, Graz
Henri Grivois and Jean-Pierre Dupuy (eds), Mecanismes mentaux, mecanismes sociaux- de la psychose àà la panique. Ed. La decouverte Paris 1995 (ISBN 2-70701-2414-1)
This work contains the contributions to a meeting between Henri Grivois, a psychiatrist at an emergency ward in a central Paris hospital, and members of the CREA at the Ecole Polytechnique. Contrary to the current tendency in psychiatry, which speaks of a variety of psychoses, Grivois advocates the view that all psychotic phenomena are developments of an original experience or situation. He supports this view from his thirty years' experience with people in his emergency ward, whom he was able to meet right at the beginning of their psychotic problems, and who all spoke of the same alarming original experience: they see themselves at the center of the world, surrounded by everyone else, now threatened by them, now melted in with them. At this point everyone forms an undifferentiated crowd; only the confusing feeling remains, of standing in the center of all. This feeling can later crystallize into the most diverse and oppositional conceptions: as the imagination of a God or a devil, a ruler or a 'nothing', an other-wordly or underworld being.
This originary situation of Grivois is brought into relationship with the originary scene in the mimetic theory of Girard. According to Dupuy, this approximation is justified, above all because Grivois also explains the originary scene by means of an elementary mimesis. There is, he says, an innate tendency to copy the elementary gestures and movements of the other, a tendency which is so instinctive that normally it scarcely ventures to the threshold of reflexive consciousness. Most of the acts of imitation therefore remain unnoticed or are immediately forgotten. Deviation from normality sets in, according to Grivois, where a person begins to be more deeply affected by the invisible acts of imitation. He thereby spontaneously gains the impression that everyone is paying attention to him, everyone is imitating him. This impression awakens in him a striking reaction to his environment, which leads the others for their part to take notice of him in actuality. So an initial vague impression, which produced the aforementioned imitative reactions, is confirmed by consequent, visible, objective behavior, which finally leads to the impression of really standing at the center of everyone's attention.
Grivois first interpreted his medical experience with the help of Girard. Today he sets himself against Girard polemically because he thinks the latter fixes imitation much too late: according to Girard, it always assumes an already clear desire and cultural order. Dupuy shows in his introduction, however, that this is a misunderstanding, and he proposes to deepen Girard`s theory in the light of the work of Grivois. If he is correct, and if every individual, independently of his culture, can have the originary experience of a developing psychosis, then the hypothesis of Girard as to a real foundational event which stands at the beginning of all cultures becomes more plausible.
Mark Anspach demonstrates a further connection between Grivois and Girard in which he harks back to Durkheim. He interprets panic as the situation of a crowd without a leader, and psychosis as a leader without a crowd.
Daniel Dennett, one of the leading figures in cognition science in the USA, offers analyses which at first seem to have no connection with Grivois or Girard. He asks: how do we weave our 'I'? He makes comparisons with animals, with spiders, termite colonies or swarms of bees, in which the individual animals proceed only according to very slight reaction patterns, but nevertheless by their repetitions or interactions are able to construct objects or social orders of a higher complexity. In a similar way, says Dennett, narratives which we have not chosen weave our 'I'. A text is not the conscious and willed product of an I, but on the contrary the latter is the fruit of narratives. The I as narrative center of gravity offers itself as an emergent quality, as a necessary illusion, a brain which needs information about its own activity but is not refined enough to see through itself in its entire complexity.
Here we can see the connections between the work of Grivois and that of Girard which J.-P. Dupuy worked out in his introduction. The whole development of cognition science, according to him, amounts to the conception of the individual subject as a quasi-subject, that is, as a collective that has the attributes of subjectivity. For him, therefore, social and mental-subjective mechanisms are no longer in opposition. Complex interactions of simpler mechanisms develop points of attraction upon which everything converges and from which new attributes emerge, as with the scapegoat mechanism.
Is freedom therefore ruled out? Mathematical models show that minimal deviations within a mechanism can lead to completely different results. Without going into these models, Girard indicates in his contribution, through an analysis of the biblical narrative of the woman taken in adultery, how within the world of imitation a situation can occur by which minimal changes--free decisions (whether or not to throw the first stone) can have immense consequences.
Dupuy likewise takes up Girard's analyses in his introduction. It is not very clear, however, what freedom and decision ultimately mean for him. His introduction betrays much more his growing conviction that today, in the most varied scientific disciplines, one comes across mechanisms which invariably have an isomorphy with the mimetic theory and the scapegoat mechanism. Gratifying as this result can be for Girardians, it nevertheless poses a serious question for those who also wish to take seriously Girard's biblical dimension. Does not Dupuy establish too direct a relationship between those analyses which belong to the fallen world and those which are obtained from the order of creation? Are the results of cognition science, for example, already convincing enough, and are not examples taken from the animal world or from the world of fallen humanity used too directly for the explanation of human consciousness?
Sandor Goodhart, Sacrificing Commentary: Reading the End of Literature. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. Pp. xiv + 362.
For those of us interested in some combination or the other of the mimetic theory, biblical studies, and literary criticism, the publication of this volume of Sandor Goodhart's essays should be a real treat. Goodhart, now Director of Jewish Studies at Purdue University, has put together a collection of papers presented over a period of twenty years. All but the introductory piece and the concluding essay were previously published in some form. Knowing critical theory from the inside out, yet always returning in some fashion to the work of Girard, Goodhart's engagement with Western literary traditions traverses a range of texts from the Bible and Oedipus Rex to modern philosophy and contemporary Holocaust literature.
Many of the readers of the Bulletinwill have already read some form of the chapters on Oedipus, the Joseph story and anti-idolatry, and Jonah and prophecy. The other selections show the depth and coherence of Goodhart's work, which is capped off beautifully by the concluding essay, "Reading After Auschwitz."
Goodhart offers a new understanding of literary reading which is in keeping with poststructuralist tendencies. His argument is that the texts usually designated as "literature" or "scripture" are already a form of commentary. The paradigmatic texts still accepted by many of us as "classical" or "scriptural"--Sophocles, Shakespeare, the Hebrew Bible--perform a critical, desacralizing function. Criticism tends to resacralize and remythologize the myths these texts deconstruct by exalting the texts and separating "criticism" too neatly from "literature."
Here I will comment briefly on the biblical essays before turning to the final two chapters on "modern reading," which are centered on the responsibility of reading after the Holocaust. "I Am Joseph" deals with the rabbinic approach focusing on Joseph as dream interpreter and the modern humanist view of the Joseph story as wisdom literature. The story itself does not negate, but shows the limitations of both these readings. In "Reading the Ten Commandments" Goodhart argues that the commandments should be read as a narrative sequence which must always be led back to God's name and the law of anti-idolatry. "Out of the Fish's Belly," on Jonah, discusses two rabbinic approaches, an earlier one focusing on Jonah's reluctance and a modern one emphasizing God's compassion. The Ninevites who finally sit in repentance are more "Jewish" than Jonah and the Jonah who sits complaining about the gourd plant is more "Ninevitian" than the Ninevites. The critical function of the text becomes externally duplicated as Jewish worshipers imitate the Ninevites on the Day of Atonement, when Jonah is read liturgically.
Goodhart's reading of the Book of Job ("The End from the Beginning") may be more problematic, or at least more difficult to follow and understand. What he argues essentially is that the dominant readings of Job tend to ignore or suppress the "transcendent logic of creation" provided by the Job text. We are called, to the contrary, to "give up responding to the universe as the project of [our] own egos." But this "master reading" of Job is not as uncommon as Goodhart thinks.
In the penultimate essay, "'Writing on Fire': The Holocaust, Witness, and Responsibility," the author states that since the Shoah "two humanisms remain available to us: a humanism of essential and undying values, and a humanism of personal responsibility...." This latter humanism of personal responsibility is what he sets out to formulate in the conclusion, "Reading After Auschwitz." This conclusion brings together the threads of his hermeneutics of reading. At the heart of this chapter is the recapitulation of the theme of the anti-mythic attitude of literature and the sacrificial reaction of criticism. Literature has a disturbing, monstrous element at its very heart, and "criticism responds as it has learned to respond in the face of any dangerous mimetic contagion: sacrificially." If literature questions the sacrificial, critical literary reading tends to be sacrificial in eliminating sacrifice itself. It therefore covers over the powerful problematic of literature.
How is this theory and practice of reading related to the Holocaust? It comes down to personal responsibility, specifically to witness. "Is reading our manner of engaging the witness borne around us? Is it possible that rather than read texts, what we always read in fact is witness?" Reading witness is an anti-sacrificial reading, that is, engagement and interpretation which acknowledges our own complicity, our own continuity with a world of sacrificial violence. In this regard, Goodhart's analysis of the controversy surrounding Paul de Man is quite instructive. It is also ironic, devastingly so, as the author recognizes, for in his introduction he uses two quotations from de Man to situate the studies that follow. De Man's silence about his antisemitic article during World War II "says only too much." It is the silence of the collaborators, a silence which is "itself a living remnant, a leftover from another time and place," which returns to haunt us. For de Man ends up "as the most powerful expositor of the difficulties of a practice of reading that shares certain fundamental demythologizing features with the texts of the very community his Nazi collaborators would annihilate."
This is an important book, not only for the insight of its main thesis about literature as commentary, but also for the motor that drives it: the summons to personal responsibility, which is ethical and religious. Inspired and informed by Girard, Levinas, and Buber, Goodhart shows that unless we attain to the ethical and religious our interpretive work falls invariably into empty formalism or rhetorical cleverness, which are always sacrificial.
James G. Williams
Raymund Schwager, Erbsüünde und Heilsdrama: Im Kontext von Evolution Gentechnologie und Apokalyptik. Beiträäge zur Mimetischen Theorie 4. Müünster: LIT/Thaur: Druck- und Verlagshaus Thaur, 1997.
The fourth volume in the Contributions to the Mimetic Theory series is Raymund Schwager's investigation of the doctrine of original sin in the context of modern scientific knowledge, especially the theory of evolution. This dialogue between the sacred and secular sciences has as its background the Innsbruck research program, 'Dramatic Theology', which seeks to recognize and transcend modernity's artificial separation of 'nature' and 'freedom'; but this book is also an illustration of how these themes have developed in Schwager's own writings, as some of the chapters have appeared in previous form, notably the first section (an overview of the doctrine of original sin) and the final one on our understanding the reality of Satan and evil.
The opening section looks once again at the biblical and ecclesial traditions which gave rise to the doctrine of original sin, highlighting especially the work of Drewermann and Ricoeur. An extended consideration of the mimetic theory and of A.Tomatis' research into pre-natal communication help to interpret many aspects of the traditional story, though all these contributions stress the importance of reading the story of 'the Fall' as such--the disobedience of Adam and Eve--in the cumulative context of other incidents in Genesis: Cain's fratricide, Lamech, the flood, the Tower of Babel. Above all, this foundational history is to be more richly understood in the light of the revelation of Jesus, in particular the temptation narratives in the Gospels. Both the Edenic temptation and the testing of Jesus are to do with imitation, with 'being like God', though in the second case the temptation is much more subtle and indirect. A helpful summary of the main themes of this section distinguishes (after Fessard) between three levels of investigation: natural history, the history of human freedom, and supernatural vocation. The common feature in these histories is the concept of mimesis or imitation: in the reproduction of cells and of genetic codes; in the notion of 'inheritance' or transmission of sin through propagation which features in traditional attempts to articulate the human tension between freedom and necessity; in questions concerning the degree of human clarity or awareness of God's majesty (and of humanity's likeness to the divine) before and after the Fall, as well as the problem of theodicy.
In the following sections, Schwager explores these different histories in turn, though the myriad of resonances between them, brought to light by the mimetic theory, show them to be intricately interwoven. For example, the connection between enhanced brain size as a function of evolutionary progress, the consequent increased capacity for mimesis, and the greater tendency towards violence, highlights the ambiguity which haunts both our understanding of progressive evolution and of human freedom. And there are many such comparisons and cross-references. In fact, the problem of freedom is to some extent resolved in two ways: firstly, by understanding violent mimesis to be an 'unnatural' regression to an earlier, 'animal' state (thereby giving a new significance to the figure of the snake in Genesis and the various beasts in the Book of Revelation). This ambiguity of human freedom--our inexplicable fascination with the possibility of our regression to the 'non-human'--recurs in terms of our ability to take control of our future evolution through genetic manipulation; the tendency of those scientists who seem to take delight in stressing the mechanical, non-spiritual--basically 'lifeless'--aspects of human existence, and who moreover seem to be greatly respected by the scientific establishment for doing so, is regarded by Schwager as one of the more sinister developments of modernity.
The second approach to freedom is to adopt a radically intersubjective view of the human person, so that not only my freedom, or lack of it, is in play, but that of others as well; here, Schwager recapitulates his 'dramatic' understanding of the Gospels, in the drama which is the saving proclamation, activity and forgiving death of Jesus. There is an important contrast here between the Old Testament symbolism, which seems to offer many and diverse interpretations, and the New Testament understanding, which is of course tightly-centered on Christ as the principle of unity. Schwager takes up the Pauline themes of the cosmos yearning for salvation and the symbol oft he body as an expression of our solidarity both in sin and in Christ.
Our solidarity in sin is discussed in terms of the figure of Satan. Schwager suggests four principle themes in our understanding of the demonic: the accuser before God, self divinization, the deceiver, and the phenomenon of possession. All can speak of Satan as a collective dimension of evil, though he holds back from declaring the reality of Satan to be no more than this, not wishing to minimize or reduce the full mystery of evil. As for our solidarity in grace: such unity is seen by some to be ambiguous or dangerous (the example of Nietzsche is cited), since any ethical theory which requires of the individual a universal answerability is or can be a temptation or striving after God-like responsibilities. Once again the ambiguity of our graced history comes to the fore; shouldn't such temptation be avoided in favor of more local allegiances?
Schwager's discussion of this objection prepares the way for the political reflection which concludes the book and draws this remarkable range of themes together. Christian solidarity requires, precisely, this universal responsibility of all for one another: and yet any attempt to realize this must recognize the fundamental importance, in Carl Schmitt's term, of what always divides us: the 'friend-enemy' distinction which is the basis of all societies, of all human attempts at solidarity as well as conflict (Schwager acknowledges Wolfgang Palaver's work on Schmitt, and cites Poliakov's assertion in La causalitéé diabolique, that the three great European revolutions--English, French and Russian--were not possible without conspiracy theories and a strong scapegoating element). So deep-rooted is this mechanism that it is not enough simply to recommend an emancipatory anamnesic praxis, as does J.B. Metz (though a chapter on 'the organism as memory' does acknowledge the anamnesic dimension of evolution theory); on the other hand, theologians like Metz understandably shy away from the extreme right implications of Schmitt's line of thought.
In fact, according to Schwager, the mimetic theory of Girard offers a third way between the old and newer political theologies: it takes seriously Schmitt's pessimistic analysis of sinful patterns in human society and behavior, but recognizes the possibility of fundamental alternatives, and of a resistance (especially in institutions such as the Church) to these mechanisms, even when, under modern conditions, their power seems to be as great as ever. "The doctrine of original sin does not solve political problems, but it describes the scale of the exercise. It makes possible a judgement as to which proposed solutions are realistic, and deters us from those which are utopian, counterproductive and laden with bitter consequences; it also makes clear that only a faith which can move mountains is capable of bringing about a real improvement in history". This final declaration sounds comparatively modest: the book as a whole, however, is a remarkable summary and focusing of a great many themes from Schwager's previous work, and a testimony to the range and collective imagination of the 'Dramatic Theology' research project.
Michael Kirwan S.J.
Special Lecture by
Professor Renéé Girard
under the auspices of the
Martin D'Arcy Lectures,
Title: Violence, Victims and Christianity
Wednesday, 5 November, 1997, 5,00 p.m.
in the Examination Schools
In connection with this Special Lecture three Seminars, "An Introduction to the Thought of Renéé Girard", will be held on Wednesday, 2nd, 3rd and 5th weeks (22, 29 Oct., 12 Nov.) 5.00 p.m. in the Campion Hall Lecture Room organized by the Revd. William Hewett, M.A.
Professor Girard will also lecture at the Maison Franççaise on a date to be announced (between 3 and 10 November).
Saint-Denis en France (near Paris), May 27
Organized in co-partnership with the Saint-Denis city council, Paris 8 University, CREA, NATHAN ed., UNESCO, European Council...
Call for Papers
Violence, in all its appearances, is dangerously challenging our modern societies. It seems to resist all regulating endeavors. The preventing role education is meant to have seems now powerless. Actually, school and family are now privileged fields where a multiform violence is produced and reproduced.
This wave of violence should be taken with all due seriousness and calls for the raising of fundamental questions. The analysis of the phenomenon will stress the crisis of moral values. It will also be a reminder of how social gaps and exclusion are widened by unemployment and economic problems. Nevertheless, these issues have to be linked to the basic anthropological process generating tension, resentment and violence between people and at the institutional level.
How can the work on mimesis, on violence and the sacred, on the scapegoat mechanism offer a new understanding of the aspects of violence in education? In which respect to these works lead to question drastically what's at stake at the core on the learning and teaching relationship?
Referring to Renéé Girard's works, the symposium will study the conditions in which latent violence within the educational relationship, in its mimetic pattern, is susceptible to eruption thus tearing the social fabric, or, on the contrary, to ritualizing itself spontaneously or being channeled by deliberate strategies so as to become a factor of social cohesion.
The symposium will essentially focus on the relevance of the Girardian hypothesis as far as reflection on education is concerned: taking into account together the different aspects of educational violence in their utmost paradoxical forms, revealing the dynamics between institutional violence and essential endemic violence, recognizing the positiveness of conflicts regarding the consensus over the violent sacred, giving the opportunity to re-think the interface between anthropogenesis and ontogenesis, casting a new light on epistemological violence and its consequences, tackling the means of surpassing violence, etc.
The issue of education will not strictly refer to school education but will be open to family, or even on a wider basis, to the relationship between generations.
The symposium will call for communications from members of COV&R but the contribution of other researchers as well as education data will also allow for a rich and critical confrontation.
We particularly wish to ensure a variety of points of view (hermeneutics, philosophical and anthropological works about language, etc.) and a cross-fertilization between different subjects (human sciences, educational sciences, philosophy, theology, juridic, etc.) in order to enhance, through dialogue and analysis, the proposition of alternative solutions.
The Paris team
Please send paper proposals to
e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
CNEFEI (Centre National d'Etudes et de Formation pour l'Enfance Inadaptéée)
Bureau des Relations Extéérieures
58 -60 Avenue des Landes
tel :00 33 I 41 44 31 21(or 22 or 23)
fax : 00 33 1 41 44 31 23
e-mail : email@example.com
To enroll for this conference please send 100
Francs or 20 US $ to the above mentioned address at the
Two deadlines are extremely important:
December 1: submission of paper proposals (abstracts no longer than 200 words)
March 1: submission of papers
(The Advisory Board has decided that with the precirculation
of papers it is not necessary to read them in their entirety.
Presenters should be prepared to summarize them or present
highlights in 15 minutes)
Municipal Hostel in Saint-Denis (only for 50 persons)
rooms of 3-6 persons - 100 F/day
26 May 26, 1997 to May 31, 1997
(If you choose this option please contact M. Louise
Martinez as soon as possible)
Hotels in Saint-Denis
room (1 person) 250 F/day
room (2 persons) 195 F/day
196 Bd Anatole France 93200 Saint-Denis
room (1 person) 305 F
room (2 persons) 185 F
Hotel Campanile Paris Saint-Denis-Basilique
14 rue Jean-Jauréés 93200 Saint-Denis
(If you choose a hotel please make your own reservation as soon as possible)
San Francisco, November 23, 1997: annual
brief meeting in conjunction with the American Academy of
Religion and Society of Biblical Literature. We will meet from
9 to 11:30 a.m. in the Corintia Room of the Parc 55 Hotel to
hear and converse with Renéé Girard about his current book in
progress on Christ and mythology.
Paris (St. Denis), May 27
-30, 1998 (Advisory Board May
26). The theme is "Mimesis, Education, and Reduction
of Violence." The organizer is Marie-Louise Martinez of Centre
National d'Etudes et de Formation pour l'Enfance Inadaptéée.
The deadline for abstracts (300-500 words) is December 1 and
for papers accepted is March 1.
Emory University, Atlanta 1999--exact date and theme to be announced. Thee Smith is the organizer.
Palaver, Wolfgang. Die mythischen Quellen des Politischen: Carl Schmitts Freund-Feind-Theorie. Beiträäge zur Friedensethik 27. Stuttgart: Verlag W. Kohlhammer, 1997.
Sombart, Nicolaus. Wilhelm II: Süündenbock und Herr der Mitte. Berlin: Verlag Volk & Welt, 1996.
Tomelleri, Stefano. Renéé Girard: La
matrice sociale della violenza. Milan: Franco Angeli,