Posts Tagged ‘Trevor Cribben Merrill’

“Everything Came to Me at Once”: my new opuscule on René Girard!

Friday, July 28th, 2017
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The première of my opuscule at University of Notre Dame. It’s the one with the bright blue cover.

I was finishing Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard (out next spring with Michigan State University Press), when Joshua Hren, founder of a fine-press publishing house called Wiseblood, approached me to see if we could adapt and republish one of the chapters as a stand-alone. Dana Gioia had suggested the project to them, so … how could I say no?  Voila! This week’s publication of Everything Came to Me at Once: The Intellectual Vision of René Girard.

From the jacket:

French theorist René Girard promulgates a sweeping vision of human nature, human history, and human destiny, but few understand the mysterious experience that gave birth to his theories: “Everything came to me at once in 1959. I felt that there was a sort of mass that I’ve penetrated into little by little,” he said. “Everything was there at the beginning, all together. That’s why I don’t have any doubts . . . I’m teasing out a single, extremely dense insight.”

The tough question was: what color for the cover? Blue. It had to be blue. But Dana had already made a clear and dignified blue statement with his covers. Blue was “taken.” Red was simply out of the question. Yellow, Joshua suggested. How about yellow? But René was not a yellow kind of guy. So I picked a bright sky blue. But I nervously awaited the final to see if the white letters would “pop” enough. I think they do.

Artur Rosman, literary scholar, translator, and blogger at Cosmos the in Lost, (we’ve written about him here and here) generously served as a blurber: “René Girard devoted his career to tracking down the twists and turns of mimetic desire in literature, philosophy, and anthropology. Cynthia Haven’s primer makes an invaluable contribution to Girard studies by tracking down the places where Girard discussed how his theories emerged from a personal process of intellectual and spiritual conversion—and its public consequences. What emerges is a compelling picture of Girard as a post-secular thinker who tears down artificial boundaries, such as the ones between the religious and the secular, between the private and public. Haven invites would-be Girard readers to see themselves as participating in a common struggle rather than scapegoating each other. This is a must-read book for a time when mimetic competition, shorn of scapegoating safeguards, rends the fabric of civil society.”

Trevor Cribben Merrill congratulated me on the final essay – an “opuscule,” he called it. That was a new word for me, and I liked it. Now I use it all the time. I roll it around my tongue. I find ways of working it into the conversation. “Have you seen my little opuscule?” Well… I guess “little” is redundant.

Any, the opuscule (see? I did it again) begins this way:

“Midway in the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood, for the straight way was lost.” – Dante Alighieri, Inferno, Canto 1, trans. Charles Singleton

René Girard had reached the traditional midway point of life—35 years old—when he had a major course correction in his journey, rather like Dante. The event occurred as the young professor was finishing Deceit, Desire, and the Novel at Johns Hopkins University, the book that would establish his reputation as an innovative literary theorist. His first book was hardly the only attempt to study the nature of desire, but Girard was the first to insist that the desires we think of as autonomous and original, or that we think arise from a need in the world around us are borrowed from others; they are, in fact, “mimetic.” Dante’s “dark wood” is a state of spiritual confusion associated with the wild, dangerous forests. Three beasts block his path; the leopard, the lion, and the wolf represent disordered passions and desires. Dante’s conversion begins when he recognizes he cannot pass the beasts unharmed. Girard experienced his “dark wood” amidst his own study of the disordered desires that populate the modern novel. His conversion began as he traveled along the clattering old railway cars of the Pennsylvania Railroad, en route from Baltimore to Bryn Mawr for the class he taught every week. …

Buy it here.

Postscript on July 31: Kind words from Frank Wilson over at Books Inq.: “Perhaps the most interesting thing I’ve read this year is a mere 20 pages long and takes less than half an hour to read.” Read it here.

 

Noam Chomsky thinks the U.S. is “one of the most fundamentalist countries in the world.” René Girard replies.

Friday, February 12th, 2016
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Chomsky

Curmudgeonly? (Photo: Duncan Rawlinson/Creative Commons)

The Académie Française memorial service for René Girard in Saint-Germain-des-Prés will take place this weekend. The Book Haven has written much about the French theorist, who died on November 4 (see here). I will not be in Paris, alas, except in spirit. So René was much in my mind when I read the latest headline from Noam Chomsky. According to The Wirethe controversial public intellectual thinks America is “one of the most fundamentalist countries in the world.” Really? He’s including Pakistan, Libya, Saudi Arabia in the competition? I wondered.

In fairness, his comment is much is much more nuanced than that … well, not much more. According to the article: “There are not too many countries in the world where two-thirds of the population awaits The Second Coming, Chomsky said, adding that half of them think it is going to be in their lifetimes. ‘And maybe a third of the population believes the world was created 10,000 years ago, exactly the way it is now. Things like that are pretty weird, but that is true in the United States and has been for a long time.’” Guess I haven’t been hanging out in the right circles. How quick we are, however, to distance ourselves from those people. That should be a tip-off.

I returned to what René had to say on the subject in a short (about 100 page), very readable Q&A book, When These Things Begin: Conversations with Michel Treguertranslated by Trevor Cribben-Merrill and published by Michigan State University Press in 2014. An excerpt:

MT: What do you think of the “creationists” who take the Bible literally?

RG: They’re wrong, of course, but I don’t want to speak ill of them because today they are the scapegoats of American culture. The media distorts everything they say and treats them like the lowest of the low.

MT: But if they’re wrong, why not? You speak of scapegoats, but, as far as I know, nobody’s putting the creationists to death, are they?

girard4

I’m with René. (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

RG: They’re ostracized from society. It’s said that Americans can’t resist peer pressure, and it’s generally true. Just look at academia, that vast herd of sheep-like individualists: they think they’re persecuted, but they’re not. The creationists are. They’re resisting peer pressure. I take my hat off to them.

MT: But what if they’re absolutely wrong? For someone who places such emphasis on the truth, whatever the cost, I suddenly find you very indulgent.

RG: And what do you do with freedom of religion? In America, as elsewhere, fundamentalism results from the breakdown of an age-old compromise between religion and anti-religious humanism. And it’s anti-religious humanism that is responsible for the breakdown. It espouses doctrines that start with abortion, that continue with genetic manipulation, and that tomorrow will undoubtedly lead to hyperefficient forms of euthanasia. In at most a few decades we’ll have transformed man into a repugnant little pleasure-machine, forever liberated from pain and even from death, which is to say from everything that, paradoxically, encourages us to pursue any sort of noble human aim, and not only religious transcendence.

treguerMT: So there’s nothing worse than trying to avert real dangers by means of false beliefs?

RG: Mankind has never done anything else.

MT: That’s no reason to continue.

RG: The fundamentalists often defend ideas that I deplore, but a remnant of spiritual health makes them foresee the horror of the warm and fuzzy concentration camp that our benevolent bureaucracies are preparing for us, and their revolt looks more respectable to me than our somnolence. In an era where everyone boasts of being a marginal dissident even as they display a stupefying mimetic docility, the fundamentalists are authentic dissidents. I recently refused to participate in a supposedly scientific study that treats them like guinea pigs, without the researchers ever asking themselves about the role of their own academic ideology in a phenomenon that they think they’re studying objectively, with complete and utter detachment.

What can I say? He will be missed. No one like him. And I wish I were in Paris this weekend.