Archive for June 11th, 2021

René Girard, Russia, and Evolution of Desire: “It’s hard to wish for a better biography of Girard.”

Friday, June 11th, 2021

Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard has just appeared in Russia with Moscow’s tony publisher N.L.O. (translated by Svetlana Silakova) – and the first review by Alexey Zygmont, about the serene Stanford professor who “exposed the nature of violence,” is glowing. The title of the article in Gorky Media is taken from a line in the book: Жирар, поджигающий под вами стул – in English: “Girard: Setting Fire to the Chair Beneath You.”

An excerpt:

Evolution of Desire is the long-awaited biography of the social scientist, philosopher and theologian René Girard (1923-2015). Girard is known as the creator of “mimetic theory” – one of the last “grands récits” of the humanities in the 21st century. Today, this theory finds application in a range of disciplines, from anthropology and sociology to psychiatry, biology, and the neurosciences. Through the efforts of Girardian scholars, it is gradually making its way in the universities, and it is really changing people’s lives. Actually, one of the facts facing us is that this first biography should be enough: even if the book were unsuccessful, it would still be used by both the historians of philosophy studying his thought and other researchers who adapt Girard’s theory to their own interests. The book, however, is a success, and its value is all the greater because throughout his life Girard spoke about himself reluctantly … It was difficult for an ordinary reader, familiar only with his major works, to imagine him as a living person; now that’s possible.

In Russian at last!

Often mimetic theory is presented as a kind of “sect,” consisting, as one author wrote, of the “disciples, translators, and proselytes” of the philosopher. This isn’t true – although some people are indeed unable to stop saying “Girard, Girard, René Girard, but Girard has…” and so on. In short, there was a high probability that the first biography of the thinker would be written by his apostle: there would be a risk that its objectivity and artistic merit would undermine the good memory of the teacher and the “common cause” bequeathed to him. But we were lucky with the author: Cynthia Haven is a professional journalist, author of biographies of Miłosz and Brodsky, and a longtime friend of the thinker. Hence the tone of the book: friendly, involved, critical when needed, and targeted for a wide audience.

The review concludes:

Until now, I have not yet said a single word of criticism about the book, and there is almost nothing to criticize it for. But Evolution of Desire is a biography almost written within his own lifetime, by someone close to the thinker and based on their personal conversations. Therefore, it lacks not only objectivity, but distance. The fate of Girard is almost devoid of “dark spots,” and he himself resembles a living icon: we constantly read about his merits and do not hear a word about his shortcomings – which would probably introduce something paradoxical to his image. The only thing we are told about is his childhood passion for practical jokes, his excusable youthful passion for “parties and cars,” and even the opinion of some colleagues that he dominated people and space too much. In an interview, Girard admitted that he was “very mimetic” and wrote only about what he experienced himself.

And yet, it’s hard to wish for a better biography of Girard. It will be of great service to both his followers and researchers, and deserves every possible recommendation.

Read the whole thing here. And you can order the Russian edition from NLO here.