- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: W.W.Norton & Company (January 1, 1979)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0801822181
- ISBN-13: 978-0801822186
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #145,623 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Violence and the Sacred
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"His fascinating and ambitious book provides a fully developed theory of violence as the 'heart and secret soul' of the sacred. Girard's fertile, combative mind links myth to prophetic writing, primitive religions to classical tragedy."(Victor Brombert Chronicle of Higher Education)
Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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He ultimately argues that there was an original act of violence which ultimately led to the possibility of the destruction of all people in the community, and so to avoid the ever-increasing cycles of violence, the community selected a ritual victim (a human or an animal) that would both carry the guilt of the community as well as the violent tendencies into death, thus satisfying the demands for revenge and the blood lust that comes with it.
He argues that much (all?) of our violence comes from a desire to imitate or have what belongs to another, and this desire leads to a violent action by which we seek to obtain the belongings or knowledge of the other being.
There is much more that Girard argues, but I do not recommend it for the average reader. His method of argumentation is laborious and while a discerning reader will benefit much from what Girard writes, the amount of work it takes to find these insights makes this book hardly worth the effort. Though I have not read them yet, I expect that “Things Hidden from the Foundation of the World” and “The Scapegoat” will prove to be more reader-friendly.
It is impossible to give an adequate summary of this comprehensive and closely reasoned book. But briefly, Girard argues that - pre-historically - it was precisely acts of communal violence and the resulting shock and collective repression that resulted from these acts that generated our very sense of the sacred. And our continuing violence, in all its forms, is a history of attempts to re-experience transcendence.
(A word of caution: Early on, those with religious convictions may be tempted to conclude that Girard is reducing religion to a form of collective guilt. **He is not.** Girard is a Christian, and has progressed from literary criticism to critical theory to active efforts to promote methods of constructive, peaceful conflict resolution.)
In fleshing out this theory, Girard leans heavily on his insights into the mimetic and violent nature of desire (see his earlier "Deceit, Desire, and the Novel"), and he links mimetic desire, our tendency to marginalize and scapegoat those who are "different," our tendency toward violence, and our experience of ultimate otherness (the sacred). One of the most impressive aspects of this book is that it constitutes, simultaneously, a response not only to the questions of the origins of violence and religion, but to the key 19th century theorists Marx , Freud (the primal horde scenario, and repression), and Nietzsche, **and** to their late-20th century heirs - Foucault, Lacan, and Derrida (differance).
In the end, however, it was not simply Girard's argument that convinced me, impeccable as it seems. Rather, after working through this book, I began to see the mechanisms of mimetic violence in operation all around me - and within me, as well: consumerism driven by manufactured "needs," road rage, sibling rivalry, not to mention shamefully misdirected nationalism.
In my opinion, this is a very important book. By exposing the mimetic nature of violence and its subtle, often hidden workings, Girard - like a good therapist - gives us a tool to identify and begin to change deeply entrenched patterns of response, in ourselves and the world. But this is not a self-help book. It's a mature work of social and critical theory, and is definitely not light reading. If you take on "Violence and the Sacred," stick with it. It will change the way you see the world!
Girard tackles the seemingly taboo origins of sacrifice, cultural order as a result, and how violence is as ingrained in our humanity as much as our need for nourishment. Particularly how the act of sacrifice (born out of violence) has influenced societies collective notion of what is "sacred" and what is not.
This aspect of necessary sacrifice and violence has manifested in religious rites, particularly the "theory of the surrogate victim." This key part of Girard's theory of generative violence offers an explanation of the primordial role that religion plays in primitive societies and of man's ignorance of this role.
Girard also discloses the nature of violence not only during life but after death. The passage into death, Girard asserts, "by a member of the community may provoke (among other difficulties) quarrels among the survivors, for this is always the problem of how to redistribute the dead man's belongings. In order to meet the threat of maleficent contagion the community must have recourse to the universal model, to generative violence; it must attend to the advice of the sacred itself."
From modern religious beliefs to the metaphorical tales and parables of mythology Girard shows that violence is a natural outgrowth and need of our physical composition and mental attributes. The truth of Girard's assertions can be found in the historical annals of every race and culture by examining their cultures and beliefs; all of which idealize instead of unilaterally eschew violence through sacrifice. This is not to be confused with the prohibition of murder, for example, which has been and is enforced in nearly every society.
I see Girard's work as unique, powerful, and more important, insightful. This text represents a seminal thrust into previously unchartered territory. A hallmark at five stars without reservation.