“A Happy Contrarian”: Praise for Conversations with René Girard… and Evolution of Desire, too!


Conversations with René Girard and Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard are featured in the current edition of Commonweal. An excerpt from the lively article by Costica Bradatan, a Professor of Humanities in the Honors College at Texas Tech University. It’s a great read and making the rounds – in 3quarksdaily and Arts & Letters Daily, among other venues:

René Girard’s best-known books, such as Violence and the Sacred and The Scapegoat, leave the distinct impression of an intellectual project plotted and forged in solitude. Serious strategy seems to be at work here: the books are both dense and lucid, their arguments not only tightly knit but also elegantly presented. One imagines the long hours of hard, lonely labor behind each of these titles. And yet Girard (1923–2015) was a rather social person and a compulsive conversationalist; he needed to be with others as much as he needed his solitude. Someone who knew Girard well observed that he was “doggedly dialogic”; he liked “working with people on things.” There is in fact a whole series of books—above all, the groundbreaking Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1987)—in which he involved other scholars as interlocutors. Girard was aware that much of what he was proposing was too new and too unusual (and sometimes too idiosyncratic) to go unchallenged. Always the strategist, he often invited people to challenge his arguments before he published them. Beyond the sheer human need to be with others, Girard needed the opposition and counterarguments of his conversation partners to test his ideas and push them to their breaking point.

And not only that. Dialogue itself can be a singularly creative process: something new is often born in your mind in the very process of addressing the person in front of you. You didn’t know that thing existed until you opened your mouth. Now that it has come out, you may be as surprised as your dialogue partner. Girard the conversationalist must have known a thing or two about this process.

Another excerpt:

In When These Things Begin: Conversations with Michel Treguer, Girard tells Treguer, “I’m not concealing my biography, but I don’t want to fall victim to the narcissism to which we’re all inclined.” For Girard, interviews served the same purpose as his “books of conversation”: to challenge and test his ideas while discovering new things in the company of others. Cynthia L. Haven, the author of a remarkably insightful biography of Girard, Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard, has now put together a selection of these interviews. They give us a good picture not only of the complexity and multifacetedness of Girard’s ideas, but also of the process through which a young professor of French literature originally operating in a rather narrow field turned into a visionary thinker of global renown, as revered as he was contested. As Haven puts it in her introduction, in “these interviews, over years and decades, Girard gradually becomes Girard, like an image slowly appearing in the developer of an old darkroom.”

Read the whole thing here. It’s fun.

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.