Selected excerpts from Things Hidden Since The Foundation of the World by Rene Girard.
“The most we can do is to recognize as the one who produces symbolic forms, systems of signs, and who then confuses them with ‘reality’ itself, forgetting that in order to make reality meaningful he interposes an always particular system of signs between reality and himself.” P.6
The Victimage Mechanism as the Basis of Religion
“One might object that in children – as in animals – the existence of acquisitive imitation has been recognized by researchers. This can be verified experimentally. Place a number of identical toy in a room with the same number of children; there is every chance that the toys will not be distributed without quarrels. An equivalent situation rarely occurs among adults. That does not mean that mimetic rivalry no longer exists among them; perhaps it exists more than ever, but adults, like the apes, have learned to fear and repress rivalry, at least in its crudest, most obvious and most immediately recognizable forms.” P. 9
“We are always ‘against’ imitation, though in a very different way from Plato; we have excluded it from just about everything, including our aesthetics. Our psychology, psychoanalysis, and even sociology, accommodate it only grudgingly. Our art and literature take great pains to resemble nothing and no one mimetically. We have little idea of the possibilities for conflict contained in imitation. And neither the primitive prohibition nor Plato gives us any direct explanation of the fear of mimesis.” P. 17
The Process of Hominization
On the idea that there must be something more specifically human in games of chance than in other types of games.
“Caillois is of this opinion. He divides games into four categories and these correspond to the four principal phases of the ritual cycle. I will list these in the order corresponding to the unfolding of the founding process rather than in the order given by Caillois. There are first of all games of imitation: mime, masquerades, theatre etc. Then there are games of competition or struggle (agon), like racing, boxing, etc. These correspond to the antagonism of doubles. There are games of vertigo that Caillois designates with the Greek word ilinx, games that consist in turning very rapidly in one place, like the cabriole, etc. These games correspond to the hallucinatory paroxysm of the mimetic crisis. There are finally games of chance. The only games that are truly specific to man. All the other forms of play have precedents among animals.. The only thing lacking in animal rites is the sacrificial immolation, and the only thing an animal needs to become human is the surrogate victim.” P.101
Myth: The Invisibility of The Founding Murder
“How to diminish this encumberment? How to reduce the excessive crowding of the fiel so that one might get on there more easily? That is the question that is constantly posed. Behind the appearance of the coolest logic we can sense a fear of the spectre of overpopulation, which certainly has many psycho-sociological implications, one can detect it almost everywhere at the present time. It is the greatest fear of the so-called developed countries.” P.125
“The tragic situation of humanity today is stated not only in terms of a total destruction that has to be avoided, but also of the selective destruction that must be based on choice – which is precisely what has become impossible at a time when any selective destruction runs the risk of becoming total destruction. The question, then, is one of reducing the question and surely the ‘topological’ model of Levi–Strauss reflects it. The model also brings to ind the many urban situations of overcrowding, such as those of traffic or of a bus that is so full that ejecting a single passenger eases the congestion. In our own time the question of the scapegoat hides easily behind statistics and the specifically modern anguish caused by excessive growth.” P. 125
Texts of Persecution
“If man acts as he has in the past and abandons himself to mimetic contagion, there will be no victimage mechanisms to save him.” P.137
The Judaeo-Christian Scriptures
“People have asked why God, although he condemns the murder, responds to the appeal of the murderer. Cain says, ‘Everyone that findeth me shall slay me.’ And God responds: ‘Whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.’ God himself intervenes and in response to the founding murder he enunciates the law against murder. This intervention makes it clear that the decisive murder, here and elsewhere, has a founding character. And to talk in terms of ‘founding’ is also to talk in terms of ‘differentiating’, which is why we have, immediately afterwards, these words: ‘And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.’ I see in this the establishment of a differential system, which serves, as always, to discourage mimetic rivalry and generalized conflict.” P. 146
“He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in it there is no cause for stumbling. But he who hates hi brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and odes not know where heis going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. – John 2, 10-11” P.277
“The love of which John speaks manages to escape the hateful illusions of the doubles. It alone can reveal the victimage processes underlie the meanings of culture. There is no purely ‘intellectual’ process that can arrive at true knowledge because the very detachment of the person who contemplates the warring brothers from the heights of his wisdom is an illusion. Any and every form of human knowledge is illusory to the extent that it has failed to submit to the decisive test, which is the test of the warring brothers, a Nietzsche well showed. It may never confront that challenge and remain intact in its vanity and pride, but that will only result in sterility.
Love is the only true revelatory power because it escapes from, and strictly limits, the spirit of revenge and recrimination that still characterizes the revelation in our own world, a world in which we can turn that spirit into a weapon against our own doubles, as Nietzsche also showed. Only Christ’s perfect love can achieve without violence the erfect revelation toward which we have been progressing – in spite of everything – by way of the dissensions and divisions that were predicted in the Gospels. The present expression of these dissensions is our increasing tendency to load responsibility for all these divisions upon the Gospels themselves. We can only agree among ourselves in attacking the Gospel, which by a wonderfully revealing symbolism is in the process of becoming our scapegoat. Human beings came together in the first societies of our planet simply to give birth to the truth of the Gospel and now they are determined to deny that truth.
This will to deny the truth acquires a particular force of blindness and insight in Nietzsche’s The Anti-Christ, which explicitly rejects the epistemology of love set out by the New Testament.
Love is the state in which man sees things most of all as they are not. The illusion-creating force is there at its height, likewise the sweetening and transforming force. One endures more when in love than one otherwise would, one tolerates everything.” P. 277-278
“The more people think that they are realizing the Utopias dreamed up by their desire – in other words, the more they embrace ideologies of liberation – the more they will in fact be working to reinforce the competitive world that is stifling them. But they do not realize their mistake, and continue to systematically confuse the type of external obstacle represented by the prohibition and the internal obstacle formed by the mimetic partner. They are like the frogs who became discontented with the King Log sent to them by Jupiter and, by importuning the gods with their cries of protest, obtained more and more satisfaction. The best method of chastising mankind is to give people all that they want on all occasions.
At the very moment when the last prohibitions are being forgotten, there are still any number of intellectuals who continue to refer to them as if they were more and more crippling. Alternatively, they replace the myth of the prohibition with one that invokes an omnipresent and omniscient ‘power’ and can be seen as yet another mythic transposition of the strategies of mimesis. The greater part of Foucault’s work is erected on that false premise.” P.278
“All modern thought is falsified by a mystique of transgression, which it falls back into even when it is trying to escape. For Lacan, desire is still a by-product of the law. Even the most daring thinkers nowadays do not dare to recognize that prohibition has a protective function with regard to the conflicts inevitably provoked by desire. They would be afraid that people might see them as ‘reactionary.’ IOn the currents of thought that have dominated us for a century, there is one tendency we must never forget: the fear of being regarded as naive or submissive, the desire to play at being the freest thinker – the most ‘radical’ etc. As long as you pander to this desire, you can make the modern intellectual say anything you like.” P.287
“In archaic societies, prohibitions are closely interlocked and the different compartments they establish determine the distribution of disposable objects between the members of the culture. We have the impression that if it were possible some cultures would dispense with individual choice altogether and so entirely eliminate the possibility of mimetic rivalry.
In contemporary society, the exact opposite increasingly takes place. No more taboos forbid one person to take what is reserved for another, and no more initiation rites prepare individuals in common, for the necessary trials of life. Modern education does not warn the child that the same type of imitative behavior will be applauded and encouraged on one occasion and discouraged on another, or that there is no way of telling what will happen by simply paying attention to the models themselves or to the objects to which desire is directed. Instead, modern education thinks it is able to resolve every problem by glorifying the natural spontaneity of desire, which is a purely mythological notion.” P.291
From Object Rivalry to Metaphysical Desire
“R. G.: To untie the knot of desire, we have only to concede that
everything begins in rivalry for the object. The object acquires the
status of a disputed object and thus the envy that it arouses in all quarters, becomes more and more heated.
G. L.: Marxists will solemnly say that capitalism invented this escalation. Marxists hold that the problems we are discussing have been resolved once and for all by Marx, just as Freudians think that they have been resolved once and for all by Freud.
R. G.: As far as that goes, the real founders of capitalism, and also of
the Oedipus complex, are the monkeys. All that capitalism, or rather
the liberal society that allows capitalism to flourish, does, is to give mimetic phenomena a freer rein and to direct them into economic and
technological channels. For religious reasons that are far from simple,
capitalism is capable of doing away with the restraints that archaic
societies placed upon mimetic rivalry.
The value of an object grows in proportion to the resistance met with
in acquiring it. And the value of the model grows as the object’s value
grows. Even if the model has no particular prestige at the outset, even if
all that ‘prestige’ implies-praestigia, spells and phantasmagoria-is
quite unknown to the subject, the very rivalry will be quite enough to
bring prestige into being.
The mechanical character of primary imitation makes it likely that
the subject will misinterpret the automatic aspect of his rivalry with the
model. When the subject interrogates himself about this relationship of
opposition, he will tend to endow it with meanings it does not possess.
Moreover, all explanations that claim to be scientific, including those
given by Freud, do the same. Freud imagines that the triangle of rivalry
conceals a secret of some kind, an ‘oedipal’ secret, whereas in fact it
only conceals the rivalry’s mimetic character.
The object of desire is indeed forbidden. But it is not the ‘law’ that
forbids it, as Freud believes-it is the person who designates the object
to us as desirable by desiring it himself. The non-legal prohibition
brought about through rivalry has the greatest capacity to wound and
traumatize. This structure of rivalry is not a static configuration of elements. Instead the elements of the system react upon one another; the
prestige of the model, the resistance he puts up, the value of the object,
and the strength of the desire it arouses all reinforce each other, setting
up a process of positive feedback. Only in this context does it become
possible to understand what Freud calls ‘ambivalence’-a pernicious
force that he identified but was unable to explain adequately.
Legal prohibitions are addressed to everyone or to whole categories
of people, and they do not, as a general rule, suggest to us that we are
‘inferior’ as individuals. By contrast, the prohibition created by mimetic rivalry is invariably addressed to a particular individual, who tends to interpret it as hostile to himself.” P. 295
“The ‘metaphysical’ threshold or, if we put it a different way, the
point at which we reach desire properly speaking, is the threshold of the
unreal. It can also be seen as the threshold of psychopathology. Yet we
should insist upon the continuity, even the identity, between such a
level of desire and everything that passes as completely normal because
it is defined in terms sanctioned by society, such as the love of risk,
thirst for the infinite, stirrings of the poetic soul, amour Jou, and so on.” P.297
“J.-M. 0.: You are always referring to a subject who never gets the
upper hand in his struggles with his rival. But the opposite can happen.
What happens ifthe subject successfully gains possession of the object?
R. G.: For victory to change anything in the fate of the subject, it
must come about before the gap has started to widen between all that
possession can offer in the way of pleasure, satisfaction, enjoyment, and
so on, and the increasingly metaphysical aspirations that are brought
into being by the misconceptions of rivalry.
If the gap is too wide, possession will be such a disabusing experience
that the subject will put all the blame for it upon the object, not to mention the model. He will never blame desire as such, or the mimetic
character of desire. Object and model are both rejected with disdain.
But the subject sets off in search of a new model and a new object that
will not let him down so easily. From this point, desire seeks only to
find a resistance that it is incapable of overcoming.
To sum up, victory only speeds up the subject’s degeneration. The
pursuit of failure becomes ever more expert and knowledgeable, without being able to recognize itself as the pursuit of failure.
J. -M. 0.: In effect, whether he succeeds or fails, the subject always
courts failure. Rather than conclude that desire itself is a cul-de-sac, he
can always find pretexts for coming to more favourable conclusions and
giving desire one last chance. He is always ready to condemn the objects
he has once possessed and the desires he has already experienced-the
idols ofyesteryear-at the very moment when a new idol or a new object
comes over the horizon. But fashion works like this, as well. The person
obsessed by fashion is always ready to give up everything, himself included, so as not to have to give up fashion-so as to keep a way open for his desire.
So long as you have not triumphed over all the obstacles, there is still
one possibility-which admittedly gets slimmer and slimmer, but
never quite disappears-that behind the last rampart, guarded by the
last dragon, lies the treasure that has been sought for everywhere, just
waiting for us.
R. G.: Desire has its own logic, and it is a logic of gambling. Once
past a certain level of bad luck, the luckless player does not give up; as
the odds get worse, he plays for higher stakes. Likewise, the subject
will always manage to track down the obstacle that cannot be surmounted-which is perhaps nothing more than the world’s massive indifference to him, in the end-and he will destroy himself against it.
J.-M. 0.: People always refer to Pascal’s famous wager about the
existence of God as if it were the only one of its kind. What you have
been saying amounts to what Pascal perceives when he theorizes about
divertissement. Desire is also a kind of wager, but it is always a losing
wager. Betting on the existence of God is therefore betting on a God
radically other than the God of desire, a non-violent and benevolent,
rather than a violent and perpetually frustrating, divinity.” P.298
Desire without Object
“R.G.: In effect, desire is responsible for its own evolution. Desire
tends to become a caricature of itself, or, to put it another way, to cause
all the symptoms to become more and more aggravated. In contrast to
what Freud thinks in his constant preoccupation with the ‘unconscious’, desire knows itself better than any form of psychiatry does.
What is more, it gets better and better informed because it observes, at
every stage, what is happening to it. This knowledge governs the aggravation of symptoms. Desire is always using for its own ends the knowledge it has acquired of itself; it places the truth in the service of its own untruth, so to speak, and it is always becoming better equipped to reject everything that surrenders to its embrace. It always does its best, at
both the individual and the collective levels, to generate the double
binds in which it gets caught, seeking always to entrap itself in the culde-sac that is its very raison d’etre.
The idea of the demon who bears light is more far-reaching than any
notion in psychoanalysis. Desire bears light, but puts that light in the
service of its own darkness. The role played by desire in all the great
creations of modern culture-in art and literature-is explained by this
feature, which it shares with Lucifer.” P.304
“Everything that brings me up brings down my competitors; everything that brings them up brings me down. In a society where the place
of individuals is not determined in advance and hierarchies have been
obliterated, people are endlessly preoccupied with making a destiny for
themselves, with ‘imposing’ themselves on others, ‘distinguishing’
themselves from the common herd-in a word, with ‘making a career’.
As we have pointed out, only our society can unleash mimetic desire
in a number of different domains without having to dread an irreversible escalation in the system, the runaway defined by cybernetics.
It is because of this unprecedented capacity to promote competition within
limits that always remain socially, if not individually acceptable that we
have all the amazing achievements of the modern world-its inventive
genius, and so on. The price for all of this is perhaps not invariably the
aggravation beyond all bounds, but certainly the democratization and
vulgarization, of what we call neuroses, which are always linked, in my
view, to the reinforcement of mimetic competition and the ‘metaphysical’ aspect of the related tensions.
The ‘manic-depressive’ is possessed with a huge metaphysical ambition. But this metaphysical ambition does not form something apart.
It can vary according to the individual case, but it is the paradoxical
result of the obliteration of differences and the unleashing of mimetic
desire in its specifically modern form. All these factors hang together.
In a world where individuals are no longer defined by the place they
occupy by virtue of their birth or some other stable and arbitrary factor,
the spirit of competition can never be appeased once and for all. Indeed
it gets increasingly inflamed; everything rests upon comparisons that
are necessarily unstable and insecure, since there are no longer any
fixed points of reference. The manic-depressive has a particularly acute
awareness of the state of radical dependence that people occupy vis-avis one another, and the lack of certainty that results.
As he sees that everything around him consists of images, imitation and admiration (image and imitate derive from the same Latin root), he passionately desires the admiration of others. He wishes for all mimetic desires to be polarized around himself, and he lives through the inevitable lack of certainty-the mimetic character of what develops-with a tragic intensity. The smallest sign of acceptance or rejection, of esteem or disdain, plunges him into dark despair of superhuman ecstasy. Sometimes
he sees himself perched on the top of the pyramid of being-sometimes,
by contrast the pyramid is inverted and, as he is still situated at the
point, he is in the most humiliating position of all, blotted out by the
For this experience to reach the clinical stage, the individual terrain
must be particularly favourable. But, in a slightly milder form, the ordeal is that of most intellectuals. The manic-depressive is never wholly
out of touch with human relationships, particularly in the world in
which we live. The sick person is not completely justified in carrying to
an extreme, as he does, everything capable of affecting his relationships
with others. But neither is he completely unjustified, since the mimetic
and contagious nature of these relationships, and their tendency to
‘snowball’, in either are in no way products of the imagination. For
him, moderation is no longer possible, and in effect it is becoming less
and less possible in a society that becomes increasingly destructured
and so is increasingly threatened by the uncontrollable oscillations of
“R.G.: It is hard to believe that the mimetic context does not play a
central role in determining the particular susceptibility of certain professions to the psychopathological states we are describing; I refer to the various activities and vocations that depend most directly on the judgements of others in their most brutal and arbitrary, and least subtle,
forms. I am thinking of those who are in direct contact with the crowd
and live off its favours, like politicians, actors, playwrights, writers and
The person who pays attention, of necessity, to collective reactions
knows by experience that nothing in this area can ever be taken at face
value; turn-arounds can take place quite suddenly and unpredictably.
The man of the theatre can see the ‘flop’ of a premiere be transformed
next morning into a raging success, and vice versa, without there being
any ascertainable cause for the change. How is it possible to make a hard
and fast distinction between a manic-depressive tendency and the emotions registered by someone whose existence largely depends on the
arbitrary decisions that arise from mimetic contagion?
Desire is far too well informed that scapegoats and divinities are near
at hand when individuals and societies are in the process of becoming
destructured. To judge from Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, we might well
feel that psychosis always threatens when an individual’s intuition of
these matters exceeds a particular threshold. We have only to read Ecce
Homo in the light of what has just been said to understand that Nietzsche is in the process of tipping over into psychosis.
J.-M.0.: If the signs of incipient psychosis can be detected in the
works of Nietzsche, it is possible to note in Dostoevsky, by contrast,
the moment at which the writer overcomes the threat and produces his
first real work of genius, the first work that is to reveal and not merely
reflect mimetic desire and its paradoxes: Notes from Underground.
The oscillatory movements associated with cyclothymia flourish in
our society behind a whole range of cultural phenomena that people
would not think of associating with them. For example, just think of all
those manuals that claim to teach the secret of success in love, business,
etc. What they reveal is always a strategy for relating to the other person. The one secret-the ideal recipe that is repeated over and over
again-is that all you require for success is to give the impression that
you have it already.
Nothing could be more depressing for the reader than this cold
comfort. He is already more than convinced that everything depends,
in the encounters awaiting him, on the impression that is given and received. Equally, he is more than convinced that these two sides of the
impression will give rise to a struggle: each person will try to prove to
the other that he already possesses the stake, which in reality must be
reconquered all the time by being snatched away from the other-this
stake being the radiating certainty of one’s own superiority.” P.309
The Disappearance of the Object and Psychotic Structure
“J.-M.O.: What strikes me about all you have been saying is that there
is no longer any object. Everything comes down to the relationships
between the mimetic rivals, each of which is model and disciple to the
other. The fact that the object disappears must, I imagine, be an aspect
of desire’s tendency to become a caricature of itself and proclaim in its
own terms its own truth-the ascendancy of the mimetic model over the
object. From the outset, desire interferes with the way in which the
instincts are ordered and directed toward objects. By the stage of psychosis, the object is no longer there at all; all that remains is the mimetic double-bind, the obsessive concern with the model-obstacle. Madness is particularly human in so far as it carries to an extreme the very tendency that is furthest removed from the animal part of man – a form of
mimetic behavior so intense that it can take over from the instinctual
R.G.: Freud was well aware of this dynamic force driving man to
madness and death, but he could only cope by inventing a ‘death instinct’ in order to provide an explanation. We must return to this urge
to postulate an instinct. Desire itself leads to madness and death if there
is no victimage mechanism to guide it back to ‘reason’ or to engender
this ‘reason’. Mimetic desire can account for it all more directly and
efficiently. Thanks to it, we can come back to Edgar Morin’s excellent
formula: Homo sapiens demens. The mysterious link between madness
and reason takes on a concrete form.
At his own expense, the subject manages to release the logic of mimetic desire. Desire becomes detached from the object, bit by bit, and
attaches itself to the model. This development is accompanied by a
marked aggravation of the symptoms-for behaving normally is not a
matter of escaping from mimetic desire (no one can do that) but of not
giving in to it to the extent of losing sight of the object entirely and only
being concerned with the model. Being rational-functioning properly-is a matter of having objects and being busy with them; being mad
is a matter of letting oneself be taken over completely by the mimetic
models, and so fulfilling the calling of desire. It is a matter of pushing to
final conclusions what distinguishes desire-only very relatively of
course-from animal life and of abandoning oneself to a fascination
with the model, to the extent that it resists and does violence to the
subject. How do you, as psychiatrists, see psychosis from the perspective that I have sketched out?
G.L.: We are not very good at providing the right vocabulary because we are working-how could it be otherwise?-within a culture, a period, and an ‘order’ that are necessarily post-sacrificial. Yet when we talk, even from the moment that we exist, the founding sacrifice has already taken place.
Our weakness is conveyed by the fact that we are obliged to call
everything that existed previously-that is to say, everything that belongs to the pre-sacrificial period-by pejorative and negative names: non-culture, disorder, and so on.
J.-M.O.: This pre-sacrificial period is not in any sense ‘destructured’. It does not correspond to a dissolution of the structures of culture as we know them, let alone to a complete absence of structure. On the contrary, we know now that the disorder of the pre-cultural and pre-sacrificial stage possesses its own structure, which is exactly defined and is based, paradoxically, on the principle of absolute symmetry.
It is this mimetic symmetry-which generates disorder and violence,
and is in a perpetual disequilibrium-that is stabilized by the scapegoat
mechanism: the zero hour of culture and the zero degree of structure.
The culture produced by this differentiating mechanism will possess
a structure based upon asymmetry and difference. And, this asymmetry and the differences associated with it form what we call the cultural order.
That is how ‘order’ comes out of ‘disorder’. But we know now that
both are structured and that one is not a destructured form of the other.
Overall, one well-determined structure gives way to another through a
previously misunderstood mechanism, that of the scapegoat.
G.L.: What we have just been saying about order and disorder also
applies to logic and confusion. ‘Confusion’ is structured symmetrically
and organized with a view to lack of difference. Logic, on the other
hand, is structured asymmetrically and depends on difference.
We can appreciate that ‘consciousness’ comes out of differentiation.
But we can also see that the ‘unconscious’ has the same point of origin;
both, to the extent that they belong to a post-sacrificial and cultural
space-time, are structured through difference-both are ‘structured as
a language’. This point appears even clearer if we reflect that the presacrificial period is one of symmetry, undifferentiated violence and inarticulate cries.” P.311-312
Mimesis and Sexuality
“J.-M.O.: If I follow you correctly, the subject becomes weighed
down by failure and devalued in his own eyes, and at the same time the
surrounding world becomes enigmatic. Desire can easily see that
appearances cannot be trusted. It lives more and more in a world of
signs and indices. Failure is not sought for its own sake but in so far as it
signifies quite a different thing-the success of another, obviously, and
only this other is of interest to me, since I can take him as model; I can
enrol in his school and finally obtain from him the secret of the success
that has always eluded me. This secret must be in the possession of the
other, since he knows so well how to make me fail, how to reduce me to
nothingness, how to bring out my own inadequacy when confronted
with his unalterable being.
In the course of a long journey across a desert, the thirsty traveller
will be cheered considerably by the unexpected presence of animals,
however unpleasant and dangerous they may be. He sees it as a sign that
water is not far away; soon, no doubt, he will be able to quench his
thirst. It would be ridiculous to draw the conclusion that this unfortunate person takes pleasure in snake-bites and insect-stings-that his
‘morbid masochism’ draws an enjoyment from them that would be unintelligible to normal beings like ourselves.
Yet that is what is done by those who believe in masochism and stick
this obfuscatory label on forms of conduct that are easy to interpret in
the light of the mimetic hypothesis.” P.328
“G. L.: All you have said about the pseudo-masochistic structure of
mimetic desire seems to be controverted by the existence of a much
more spectacular, even theatrical, form of masochism on the basis of
which the theory of masochism was set up. I am thinking of the masochistic mise-en-scene as Sacher-Masoch describes it. In this interpretation, masochists are people who ask their sexual partners to make them undergo all kinds of insults and humiliations-whipping, spitting and so on-with the aim of reaching sexual fulfilment.
R.G.: This is only an apparent contradiction. In order to come to
terms with it, we have only to concede what we have already conceded-that desire, just like psychiatry but well in advance of it, observes what is happening but does not interpret it correctly. The false
conclusions become the foundations of further desires. Far from being
unconscious in Freud’s sense and only appearing in its true form in our
dreams, desire not only observes but never stops thinking about the
meaning of its observations. Desire is always reflection on desire.
From the basis of this reflection, it takes its direction and, from time to time, modifies its own structures.” P.329
“G. L.: You could also say that Freud’s system of narcissistic libido
tends to work in the same way as capitalism. The richer you are, the
easier it is to conduct increasingly lucrative financial operations without
really putting your capital at risk. Poor old object-directed desire
clusters around intact narcissism and gets poorer and poorer in the process. To sum up: money is only lent to the wealthy, and desire always
pursues desire, just as money pursues money.
R. G.: Metaphors taken from economics and finance are as pertinent
here as the great themes of the sacred, but we must not conclude that
they have any priority, any more than we must conclude that libido or
even the sacred has an absolute priority. Behind all of this, you always
have mimetic desire. The priority belongs to it, irrespective of the many
cultural contents with which it can be vested-but only as long as it has
not been fully unleashed and is still regulated, at least up to a point, by
mechanisms derived from the scapegoat. These vestiges of ritual make
it possible for the game to operate by blinding us a little to the fact that it
has no anchor in the real. The difference between what Freud saw and
what we are capable of seeing today results not from our greater perceptiveness but from the far greater rootlessness that has developed in
the half-century separating us from the last stages of Freud’s work.
The moralistic tone of the essay on narcissism is worth emphasizing.
Intact narcissism is presented as infantile, egoistic, perverse and inferior in all respects to object-directed desire, which all the same grovels
abjectly at its feet. Object-directed desire is the desire of the man who is
truly a man and who gives up his childhood illusions in order to launch
himself on the austere but noble path of great achievements for the sake
of his family and his culture. It is object-directed desire which-with a
little bit of sublimation, naturally-succeeds in inventing psychoanalysis.
What Freud gives away here, on the sexual level, is the fact that his
erotically charged rivalry is directed toward the other sex. Women appear both as obstacles and as rivals. As a result, the text takes on an
anti-feminine character despite Freud’s explicit denials.
We have it from Freud himself, I believe, that he broke off sexual
relations with his wife at a very early age. Zur Einfiihrnng des N arzissmus
shows him admitting quite ingenuously that a particular type of woman
has always fascinated him. This always makes me think of the wayward
innocence of the old bearded professor in the film The Blue Angel: a
close-up of Marlene Dietrich’s long legs, sheathed in black stockmgs…
At the time when he was writing on narcissism, Freud had a number
of vivacious female disciples, like Helene Deutsch and Lou Andreas Salome. When they failed to turn up at his seminar, he would write
them letters that were ambiguous, to say the least. They, in turn, were
attracted by the genius in him, the founder of psychoanalysis.
J.-M. 0.: Narcissism is in fact the final manifestation of the idol
worshipped by the Romantics. It gives its own mythological character
away when it turns uncritically to the narcissus myth and interprets it as
a myth of solipsism, while in reality the image behind the mirror (as in
the story of the nymph Echo) conceals the mimetic model and the
struggle between doubles.
R. G.: What gives the text on narcissism its particular charm and
makes it seem so lively in its observations and so youthful in its impact
is the fact that beliefs from another age and an almost naive faith in the
distinctiveness of the female sex are still very present in it. But there is
also a darker side to the essay, which is linked to the welling up of
Freud’s Puritanism. Narcissism is condemned because of the resentment invariably inspired by the mimetic model and obstacle-a resentment that plays a much greater part in our own intellectual world than it
ever did in Freud’s work.
Anything that puts itself forward as a form of ‘demystification’ nowadays has become the principal business of avant-garde researchers,
their passionate calling, their only raison d’etre after the advent of nihilism. If we think about this a little, we can see how the interpretation
called for by this demystificatory urge is to be sketched out from the
mimetic point of view. We have here a form of desire that frustrates the
great avant-garde researcher that Freud was, and projects around itself,
from his perspective, the metaphysical mirage of self-sufficiency that
he ascribes to intact narcissism.
Metaphysical desire experiences a violent rancour toward the object
that it desires-an object that insolently refuses access. A time will
come when this most advanced mimetic desire realizes that it is the victim of an illusion. But this will be no more than an intellectual awareness, an abstract form of disillusionment that will not liberate its
victims from the traps still being laid by desire the strategist, who exploits every appearance of indifference, whether real or imaginary.
Desire must convince itself that the other’s self-sufficiency is just a
superficial deception, something that has no right to exist. In order to
do this, it will commit itself increasingly to the task of convincing the
other that this is really so-of disenchanting and demystifying him, or,
in other words, of persuading him that he has no reason to believe in his
own happiness. If the other has not lost all confidence in the world and
in human beings, this must be because he is not perceptive enough (or
too ill-informed) to notice how pointless and desperate everything is,
including ourselves. The other is a victim of mystification and he must
be demystified, at all costs.
G. L.: If we take a broad view of modern literature and theory, we
can see that present-day thinkers are invariably obsessed by the people
whom they are trying to demystify-people who still to some extent
rely on the sacrificial mechanisms that keep all the values in place.” P.378