Posts Tagged ‘Paul Dumouchel’

René Girard in Penguin Classics – now out! “This is a big deal, so buckle up.”

Sunday, June 25th, 2023

Finally! All Desire is a Desire for Being, a Penguin Classics anthology of Stanford Prof. René Girard‘s “essential writings,” is officially out this week! To my knowledge, the French theorist is the first Stanford faculty to be celebrated in the eminent series. I was honored that Penguin invited me to create this collection of Girard’s finest essays.

Prof. William Johnsen, who directs the publication of a series of books on René Girard and his mimetic theory at the Michigan State University Press, spoke about All Desire is a Desire for Being at the Paris centenary conference for Girard’s 100th birthday, at the Institut Catholique de Paris last week. Here are Bill Johnsen’s words on that occasion:

Since All Desire is a Desire for Being is 95 percent pure Girard, it would seem that only the editor’s preface, selections and apparatus would be left to discuss. That’s all fine, I love what is in it, I am really happy to see especially the piece on Nietzsche from Paul Dumouchel‘s collection which shows the high-flying, often joyful colloques that Jean-Pierrre Dupuy and Dumouchel organized to integrate Girard with his intellectual peers in the Eighties, but I want to emphasize where Girard now appears (Penguin) and what that means: as my President says, this is a big deal.

In his interviews with Nadine Dormoy in 1988, René Girard attributes the 20,000 dependable French readers of serious books to the Écoles, and the smaller American audience to the silos of academic specialization. I have heard the same figure of 20,000 assured readers from Benoît Chantre so I assume that French readership is steady.

In 2006 I was invited by Girard and Robert Hamerton-Kelly to be Publications Chair of Imitatio, a project funded by The Thiel Foundation. One of the earliest projects was the public launch of Achever Clausewitz and Imitatio in Paris in 2007.

Imitatio had begun supporting production costs for books on mimetic theory at Michigan State University Press to find this readership. (We all should be grateful for their more than ten years of support, the slowest startup in Thiel’s stable). When Lindy Fishburne of The Thiel Foundation later assumed the directorship of Imitatio, she urged us to follow our core mission, to develop Girard’s ideas, to find them a greater recognition and circulation worldwide but also in the English-speaking world to catch up with the breadth of his readership in France and Europe.

I have spent my entire adult life in universities. As the editor of the series, I had some plans for how to spread ideas from the university to that outer world by influencing teachers who would influence their students who leave when they graduate, but I had no idea on how to approach the public directly, or whether America, despite its number of educated readers (my university alone granted 9,500 degrees this last spring), had any number approaching 20,000 dependable readers of serious books.

If Girard was besieged by reporters in Paris after Achever Clausewitz was published in 2007, nothing like that happened in America in 2009 when we published it in English as Battling to the End. In 2011, at a conference on Mimetic Theory and World Religions at Berkeley, I suggested to Cynthia Haven that she write a book about René Girard, something personal and accessible enough to help find him a wider audience in English. Girard had told me in appreciation that Haven had written specifically about the Clausewitz book in The San Francisco Chronicle, as well as other public venues in her one-person publicity campaign.

Evolution of Desire (2018) is informative both about Girard and his ideas, placing him effectively in a historical context by reference to his life and work and interviewing many people who knew him. She is both respectful and warm to her subject. It would be impossible to disentangle the circumstances that have made her book so popular: Girard himself, this century’s recognition of him with honorary degrees and awards, his election to the L’Académie Française, several organisations worldwide devoted to his work. But Haven has played a key role with her book and her reputation – she is a well-known and respected serious author for serious readers who bridges the academic and the public book world. She has her sights always on the dependable core readership of serious books in English.

My field is British Studies, I could go on and on about Penguin so I need to just summarize here. Penguin books has been the most successful venture in gaining a wide audience for serious books in English for the last one hundred years. Nothing else even comes close. So congratulations to Cynthia on publishing All Desire is a Desire for Being at Penguin, and to everyone else working in mimetic theory: this is a big deal, so buckle up.

Anders Behring Breivik: the “victim of nobody”

Monday, March 5th, 2012

I remember reading about the Norway massacres as the story unfolded on Twitter last July.  First suspicion focused on Islamic terrorist groups that had (it was supposed) made good on their stated threats. Then the drift of the tweets began to turn, like a river rounding a bend, toward a different perp. Finally the murderer had a name, and it was someone unknown, a misfit named Anders Behring Breivik.  I wrote about it here, wondering if, perhaps, Breivik wasn’t insane after all, as so many had immediately assumed:

Perhaps we are dealing with a new psychology, a new class of criminal – aided and abetted by technology and mass communication – and none of our usual boxes fit.  Perhaps psychology itself doesn’t fit.  As [Jean-Marie] Apostolidès said, some in this growing class of murderers are more than willing to kill brutally to promote their ideas.

A scary thought, and apparently a contagious one.  Each atrocity attempts to outdo the other in scope and depravity.  It seems like we are trapped, globally, in an irreversible spiral of imitated violence.  Violence, as René Girard notes, spreads mimetically like a fever over the planet.

Someone else has picked up on the René Girard theme. Anthropologist Mark Anspach at Imitatio (the foundation launched to promote and study René’s ideas) describes Breivik as “a hopeless nebbish,” yet a dangerous one: “being taken for a nobody filled him with murderous rage. He was bent on venting that rage in a way that would make people finally remember his name.” Anspach discussed what we’ve learned from the recently released police tapes, after Breivik telephoned the police following his first round of murders.

The call began smoothly enough. “Hello,” he said, “my name is Commander Anders Behring Breivik of the Norwegian Anti-Communist Resistance. I am in Utoeya at the moment. I want to hand myself in.” Clearly, he had rehearsed those words many times and managed to recite them with only a slight catch in his voice.

Camus's antihero gets another look

But the policeman didn’t stick to the script in Breivik’s head. He asked a question that stumped the self-styled resistance commander. “What number are you calling from?”

Breivik was using a phone he had picked up off the ground. He had no idea what number he was calling from. Like a pupil caught unprepared by a pop quiz, he tried to finesse the question. “I am calling from a cell phone,” he said.

But the policeman wouldn’t let him off so easily. “You’re calling from your cell…?”

“It’s not mine,” Breivik explained helplessly. “It’s another phone.” The conversation must have bewildered him. Why did it matter what phone he was using when he had just mowed down scores of young people with an automatic weapon?

Didn’t the policeman understand that he, Commander Anders Behring Breivik of the Norwegian Anti-Communist Resistance, had just carried off the biggest terrorist operation in his country’s postwar history?

The policeman’s next question was crushing. “What was your name again?”

That was the last straw. Breivik hung up and went back to killing unarmed civilians.

Anspach says that with the dissolution of traditional bonds of families and communities, some fall through the cracks: “They are the victims of nobody in particular and of everybody in general,” he says.  Anspach cites French-Canadian philosopher Paul Dumouchel‘s recent book, Le Sacrifice inutile,  which calls this new class of people “victims of nobody, individuals against whom no one has committed any offense.” According to Dumouchel, they are “the victims of generalized indifference. An indifference that must not be construed as a psychological disposition of certain agents, but as a new institutional arrangement.”

Anspach also cites René’s discussion of Albert Camus‘s L’Etranger in his essay, “Camus’s Stranger Retried,” in which René argues that the antihero “prefers to be persecuted rather than ignored.”

Read the rest here. It’s fascinating.