René Girard’s Sacrifice and Dana’s daily reads


When I ran across Bill Johnsen at the 50th anniversary fête for the seminal Deceit, Desire and the Novel a few months back he gave me three copies of René Girard‘s newest volume, a small, elegant paperback called Sacrifice.  One was for me, he said.

“Who are the other two for?” I asked.  “Two famous people you know,” said the Michigan State University professor.   Did he have anyone in mind?  “Yes, Dana Gioia,” he said.

The turnabout was sweet.  In 2007, when Dana was invited to be a commencement speaker at Stanford, Dana was knocked for not being famous enough.  Gioia acknowledged some students’ disappointment: “A few students were especially concerned that I lacked celebrity status. It seemed I wasn’t famous enough. I couldn’t agree more,” he said. “As I have often told my wife and children, ‘I’m simply not famous enough.'”

I sent him the book with that comment, and added a poem by Tomas Venclova and another little-known one by Rainer Maria Rilke, in the James Leishman translation.



Bill gift was a nice followup to an earlier event: One of the joys of life is being to introduce your favorite people to each other – so I was honored to have the chance to invite Dana to Palo Alto to meet René some months back.  I hoped the meeting would be fruitful.

And it was, I learned, in the followup that followed the followup.  A few minutes ago, jazz scholar Ted Gioia‘s Facebook page offered a link about his big bro.  From Evan R. Goldstein Q&A in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “My Daily Read: Dana Gioia“:

Q: What books have you recently read?  Do they stand out?

Not famous enough in 2007 (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

A. I still read a great many books. I travel almost every week, so I have long stretches of quiet time on planes and in hotel rooms. I’m also a terrible insomniac so I read for hours late at night.  At the moment I’m reading Meryle Secrest’s Modigliani as well as Peter Humfrey’s Painting in Renaissance Venice, which must seem like an odd pair chronologically.  I’ve also been reading through René Girard’s books on mimetic theory and just finished Sacrifice, which deals with religious violence in the classical Vedic texts. I also enjoyed Kevin Starr’s survey of  California historians, Clio on the Coast.

During my visit to his Santa Rosa home last summer, we had discussed some of the same themes that emerged in the Q&A.  Here’s what I wrote then:

“Dana, Mary, and I sipped wine on the balcony overlooking the valley and the hills.  We talked about the increasing commercialization of society, where marketed celebrities famous for being famous in turn market corporate brands for us to buy — how to keep Guess jeans, Netflix, Jimmy Choo shoes, and apps from monopolizing our remaining memory banks and our lives?  We discussed the crazily increasing speed of 21st century communications and life.  He liked, he said, living in a place where impressions are taken in and thought occurs no faster than the speed of walking.”

He’s clearly still of the same mind – and he dismisses the celebrity phenomenon he had decried in 2010 (and been denied in 2007):

Q. Do you use Twitter?  If so, whom do you follow?

A. I  never use Twitter. In fact, I am deeply suspicious of the massive communications overload that the media obsesses over and glorifies. So much of this activity is just covert advertising for products and celebrities. The objective is to capture and commercialize every moment of people’s time. What we really need is more quiet and less phony connectivity.

Dana’s reading is far more disciplined than my own.  My attention, admittedly, has been blown to bits by the world wide web.  Meanwhile, it’s good to know Dana and I have something in common:  I am currently making my way through René’s classic Deceit, Desire and the Novel, with plans to hit Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World next.

Tags: , , , , ,

Comments are closed.