- Paperback: 470 pages
- Publisher: Stanford University Press; 1st edition (June 1, 1987)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0804722153
- ISBN-13: 978-0804722155
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #192,517 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World 1st Edition
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"A necessary companion piece to Violence and the Sacred for those interested in Girard's grand theory of society and human nature. . . . Girard expounds his vision of the foundational place of mimesis, violence, and scapegoating for all human cultures. . . . More forcefully stated here than elsewhere is Girard's conviction that his thesis is merely an uncovering of the message heretofore buried in the Christian scriptures." (Virginia Quarterly Review)
Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I really think Girard is on to something with his theory of mimetic rivalry. However, Girard is not easy reading. Maybe it is the translation from French that is the problem.
Regardless, if you can wade through all the technical stuff of the first 150 pages, the last 150 pages of this book are quite insightful and helpful for understanding how violence occurs and what God is doing about it in Jesus Christ.
However, since the book is so difficult to read, I only recommend it for those who like reading about psychology and cultural anthropology. Some of Girard's other books (or books that have spawned from his thesis) would be better suited for the average reader who wants to understand Girard's mimetic theory.
His lens is what he calls mimeticism by which he seems to mean as I understand it a near total or total lack of individuation, being incapable of thinking outside of the box, being incapable of really seeing, and becoming in effect "Mass Man". At it's lowest level it seems to amount to "monkey see, monkey do". He never once though mentions the word individual or individuation. The scapegoater and scapegoat is central to his thesis and who or what after all is the scapegoater if not the denier of what the scapegoater himself is actually doing. The scapegoater therefore is the unconscious man incapable of seeing himself and/or other.
There is something powerful true about what the author is writing about and for that reason it is worth reading Gerard but his category, mimeticism is like a lens through which he sees only the mimetic and never reaches into a deeper level like he got stuck there and cannot proceed. On everything he puts the same suit of clothes. He does, despite this fault see much of great interest and will continue to read Gerard to try to discern what seems to be missing.
There is of course the introject which is integral to mimeticism but introjection could not cover all the territory Gerard is cover with mimeticism so in reading I have to try to keep from choking on the reductionist word he uses ad infinitum - mimeticism (choke, choke, choking )-:))))))))=
I do though find his writing very interesting.
The author was recommended by a friend. I have not read and do not intend to read Girard’s other works. Those on the relationship of violence and the sacred are commended by others. This topic, I believe, is adequately covered in Things Hidden.
From the positive to the negative, my comments follow.
Girard receives 5 stars for the relevant conclusions drawn from his lifelong, multi-threaded research into psychology, anthropology and cultural/religious history. The Wikipedia entry more clearly explains his accomplishments than he does in this book. Under the general heading of Mimesis or Mimetic Theory, he has developed a handful of significant perspectives about the role of violence in the origins and history of religions and cultures in general. The two primary components include: Mimetic Desire with its triangular relationships and double-bind aspects; and the Victimization Process, which can lead to a scapegoat episode, which in turn can result in a deified victim, the release of tension within the community, and subsequent rituals re-enacting the episode in order to maintain peace (with many variations on this theme possible). There are more sub-components and proposed consequences for individual and cultural psychology. Girard has a good reputation for respectable science in areas less examined.
Five stars are also earned for his descriptions of how certain authors, Proust and Dostoevsky in particular, have clearly presented the crucial aspects of his Mimetic Theory in their plots. This is the only aspect of his writing where he himself steps out of the limelight and gives deserving credit to others.
This book review is reduced to 4 stars for the irritating running gun battle Girard plays with Freud, whom he apparently identifies as his primary intellectual competitor. According to Girard, Freud could have discovered Mimetic Theory. He describes, with apparent pride, Freud’s many near misses. With some irony, in my mind, there seems to be a bit of Girard’s own Mimetic Desire going on here. The Object is fame. The Model and Obstacle is Freud. Perhaps. Perhaps not.
The overall review value of 3 stars is anchored in the delivery of the content. The format is that of an interview with Girard by two (well-known??) French psychologists. The text is very obviously not conversational. It is dry, ponderous and academic, and apparently cut and pasted from other writings of Girard. It’s a self-serving format in which the interviewers ask few questions. They make statements supporting Girard and telling him how wonderful it is that he has discovered all this. They express how appalled they are that no one has done so until now, and how his landmark theory is meeting unreasonable resistance. No difficult questions are asked, as one would expect in a serious interview. Girard talks on and on. The air of toadyism on the part of his interviewers is irritating.
This book is very French-centric and extremely difficult to read. Because the presentation doesn’t need to be as obscure as it is, a 2-star review value is factored into the total. The text is not written for the popular market. If that were his intent, Girard certainly could have arranged for some professional assistance. It seems to be written as an ongoing argument with his fellow academics. The content is unconventional and challenging, to be sure, but the presentation is much more ponderous than it needs to be. The text is translated from academic French. The topic is steeped in French references (check the Bibliography!), as if only things French could be of any value. Girard rarely acknowledges significant non-French academics and intellectuals, except for those he cannot avoid, such as Freud, Marx and Darwin.
The final demerit is awarded for Girard’s attempt to tie his theories to Judeo-Christian culture. Because I personally think this was very unnecessary, I factor in a review value of 1 star. Girard lost significant credibility as a scientist in the section entitled Book II: The Judeo-Christian Scriptures. Had he used scriptures as literary examples of the application of his theories, as he did with so well with the writings of Proust and Dostoevsky earlier, his arguments would have been significantly enhanced. He starts to do this, but then veers off to say, in essence, that THE primary Gospel message is that we (modern civilization) are to let go of mimetic violence and victimization. Furthermore, he argues that this is not merely a message, but that there is in reality a Gospel-based controlling FORCE over (all?) cultures that is derived primarily from the Gospel text of John. This conclusion is summarized at the end of the book (page 446), where he describes this divine force as “…the implacable functioning of the gospel law in our world.”
Were there no other situations in human history, outside of the belt of land immediately surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, when enlightened individuals or cultures attempted to break the vicious cycle of violence, scapegoats and ritual victimization? True, Judaism may have gotten the message in 70 CE. Early Christianity did, until Constantine gave them an offer power they couldn’t refuse. If my understanding of Islam is correct (I am not a Muslim), the non-sacrificial, mostly non-violent community culture that Mohammed initially established got the message. The same with early Buddhism. There are, I’m sure, other examples that do not rely on John’s Gospel text to empower peaceful cultures. Of course, none of these cultures operate in a stable peace today, but that fact should not detract from what can be learned from the fundamental insights of a Girard, Buddha, Mohammed or other perceptive minds.
Although one can criticize Girard’s writings, his insights are important to comprehend. I simply wish they could have been presented in a reasonably comprehensible manner. He seemed to have missed an opportunity to clearly state a stunning conclusion from his theories without insisting that a marvelous Gospel power is enforcing HIS theories today for the betterment of civilization. From my understanding of what I read in this book, I had hoped he would have said something like this (I am speaking my own thoughts, paraphrasing what Girard has written):
“I’ve told you how a community becomes unstable by feeding on greater and greater levels of mimetic desire, frustration and reciprocal anger. A victim is selected. Together as a mass, the community deems the victim as the source of all their problems. The victim accepts his guilt. The community, as one, murders the victim in a process in which everyone contributes. Stoning serves this purpose. With the scapegoat dead, a calm settles over the community. All is settled.
“Peace prevails. But, now there is a dead body, a corpse. What to do with it? They deify the victim for the peace that he has brought. They hide the corpse, preferably underground, where it will never be seen again. Then, when tensions inevitably arise again the community, the murder is ritually re-enacted in the name of the deity. This must be done before the situation escalates to the level at which it can only be resolved with yet another actual scapegoat murder.
“The same process happened, according to the Christian gospels, to Jesus Christ. However, there was one pivotal difference. Jesus accepted his fate, but the gospel texts insist that he was guilty of nothing. He was truly an innocent victim. The gospel texts also show that the process to make Jesus guilty of something utterly failed. In all other communal murders, the victim is always unquestionably guilty of everything that was upsetting the community.
“Jesus is dies in a conventional, communal, scapegoat murder. Peace is restored. The corpse is concealed in a tomb. This time, however, the tomb cannot hold or conceal the corpse. The message is that the old Mimetic Victimization and scapegoat processes no longer work. Violence to enable peace must no longer be invoked. The vicious cycle is broken.”
Net, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World deserves 3 stars.