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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Girard's work is important but not 100% spot on., 31 Aug 2004
This book is Girard's brief discourse on a theme that he's made a career out of. It is based on his assertion that the most important anthropological fact to note when considering religion, politics, people as a whole, is what he calls the "mimetic cycle". This is the process by which people covet each others' possessions or status and thereby come into rivalry with those they are jealous of (read the book for a more detailed description of this). Thereafter, the jealous duelers are caught in a scandal of trying to do each other harm. This continues and is the source of violence in society until a larger focus of mimesis arrives for them to turn to. Finally, the violent society, comprising of many scandalous rivalries, gradually converges on one collective victim, the scapegoat. The mob, reconciled with itself, but united by the chosen victim, lynches their object of hatred collectively. Thereby the community reestablishes peace from the belief that the source of all their anguish is destroyed. Having been relieved of their violence and unpleasantness by the death of the scapegoat, the community deify him in the belief that he brought the remedy to their violent contagion. This, Girard believes, is the mechanism by which ALL violence and gods in mythology are produced. He cites various examples of this such as the miracle of Appolonius of Tyana and Oedipus. He criticises those anthropology experts and mythologians who fail to recognise the violence inherent in society in this way.
Girard then produces his intellectual defence of Christianity. Far from being an extremist, his analysis is rather sound in light of the ground work he's already laid down at this point, with which I personally have some disagreements. Anyhow, the Christian angle on all this is that The Bible, Gospels and the story of Christ in general are stories that refuse to shy away from the violence of victimisation and that highlight the innocence of the scapegoat. In contrast, Girard asserts, mythology that is non-Christian or non-Biblical fails to see that it is deeply associated to this violence. In fact Girard believes that the very process by which the mimetic contagion spreads is by it being unconscious in the minds of the perpetrators, hence Jesus' famous "forgive them Father for they know not what they do". Christianity reveals the process of mimetic contagion by overtly displaying its outcome on the cross at Golgotha. It's revelation brings the whole matter to the fore, defeating the evil of it. Girard proposes to interpret Satan or the Devil as the textual personification of the single victim mechanism. Consequently, he argues, there is an intellectual sense in which the Devil is vanquished by Christ (and therefore God).
Besides all this, Girard takes the opportunity in the book of criticising some thinkers who seem to rub him up the wrong way. Voltaire, Derrida (and deconstructionism generally), and Nietzsche all get an intellectual pummelling. Personally, though it is a slight detour from the book's original brief, I find the remarks Girard makes relatively sound and deserved.
My largest problems with Girard are these: (1) His style is unnecessarily verbose. Some important concepts in the book are skimmed over with the briskest of pace and obscure vocabulary whilst the central theme of the book (one which is easy to grasp throughout) is summarised and resummarised over and over, (2) Girard is mildly a reductionist, believing his worldview to encompass the truth of ALL anthropology, globalisation, mythology, violence and religion. This is naive at the very least. He neglects to adequately criticise previous interpreters of mythology (Jung, Campell, etc). I don't expect him to do it extensively by authors' names, but some mention of the errors Girard thinks they have made would be nice. As I understand it, Girard dismisses alternative interpretations of the origin of myth and religion as inaccurate because they are blind to the violence in engenders from the start. There is no specificity to his critisicm when it comes to individual ideas. For example, one interpretation of a deity in mythology is that of it being the psychological projection of unconscious attitudes of the worshipers. That is a very specific interpretation, usually found in the works of various psychologists more interested in the effect of mythology and its causes, but nonetheless Girard does nothing to dispell these kinds of hypotheses by directly attacking their structure or evidence. Girard only briefly cites blindness as a reason for their invalidity.
Overall, this book is a very interesting one. It is an alternative angle on many important topics and as of yet Girard's claim that few, if any, significant modern authors have recognised the mimetic cycle in literature, religion and mythology (society in general) seems to hold. The book itself is relatively short (some 200 pages) and is certainly thought-provoking. Girard identifies something very important and should be given plenty credit for this as well as the analysis he develops, but we should be wary of his generalisations and reductions. I would recommend it. I intend to read his other books Scapegoat and Things Hidden Since The Foundation Of The World and see if any of my reservations are addressed in these more intense tomes.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An impassioned plea for the uniqueness of the text of the bible in taking the side of the victim, 28 May 2010
By 
Aquinas "summa" (celestial heights, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: I See Satan Fall (Paperback)
Girard has become famous (obviously in certain circles only! But I note that the preacher to the papal household, Fr Cantalamessa, referred to Girards theory in his homily for Good Friday) for his great anthropological theory of contagious desire (which he calls mimesis). This desire which he notes that Shakespeare was very much aware of leads to the scapegoating of an innocent victim followed by what he calls double transference - the process by which the scapegoat, by being the means through which the conflict in the community is resolved, thereby restoring order and peace, becomes divinised. In Girard's view, the myth of ancient Greece and Rome follow this pattern. A key factor however is that the participants in the scapegoating must be ignorant of the process - they are so involved in the process that they really believe in the necessity of the scapegaoting and the subsequent divisinisation of the scapegoat. Thus, what is revealed in the myths is the insiders' view - this has the effect of disguising what is really going on. For Girard, the myth is actually disguising perfectly an original foundational murder.

So how does Girard find out what was really going on in the mythic stories if what is really going on is disguised from the participants themselves? In a sense, this is one of the problems with his theory. However, he does provide a part answer when he analyses a transitional text, namely "The life of Apollonius", a stoning incident where scapegoating does not quite work - the mechanism, for whatever reason, has become ineffective.

Anyway, the above gives an insight into Girard's theory which appears in all his books but what is the purpose of this book. Well, this book seems to have been written with a view to articulating how in the process Satan does indeed casts out Satan thereby ensuring that the mechanism can continue to be effective down through the millennia. Pausing here, Girard seems to regard Satan as a process rather than a diabolic spirit - I am not sure I would agree with that and further there is something too deterministic about defining Satan, like evolution, as a process. Why should there be such a process without a personal agent? Related to proving that Satan does indeed cast out Satan , Girard wants to show that religion, particularly religious sacrifice is a foundation block of all cultures but it is only in the Bible that mimesis and scapegoating misfires or rather that whilst in myths the identification is with the perpetrators of the crime against the scapegoat, it is only in the Bible that we the text identifies with the scapegoat.

Pausing here, it is because of the Bible's concern for the victim which has stuck even when Christianity has been largely abandoned in Europe, that we find an obsession in modern socity for finding victims. An excellent book on this is Gil Bailie's "Violence unveiled" which popularises Girard's theory.

Thus, in the old Testament we note the story of Cain and Abel, the story of Joseph and his brothers, the story of Job and, of course, the Psalms, where we identify with the man who is surrounded on all sides by his enemies. But, it is in the New Testament, particularly the passion narratives that the scapegoating which has been going on since the foundation of the world becomes truly unmasked. There is indeed a striking correspondence between myths and the passion narratives - after all in both the victim is recognised as a divinity in the end but Girard brings to our attention some unique features. Whilst he contagion is there in the passion narratives (ensnaring Herod and Pilate - I liked his analysis of the fact that Pilate and Herod became friends being a classic manifestation of the effect of scapegoating )causing the disciples to be caught up in the scapegoating (albeit they run way rather than are active participants) something astonishing happens, the death of Christ does not bring about the reconciliation of the whole community - it does not have a cathartic effect - instead it leads to 2 camps - those who were against Jesus and those who were for Jesus. Girard says the explanation of this is the resurrection!

What is most intriguing about Girard's analysis is that any reader of the passion narratives cannot but be puzzled by how the Jesus who was hailed as a king on entering into Jerusalem suddenly becomes almost overnight the scapegoat (to use Girard's language) - what happened to bring about this extraordinary transformation. Girard's theory helps to bridge this gap - he explains how the contagion spreads. But what precisely where the conflicting desires in the community that fanned into a flame? Girard disappointingly does not attempt to answer this.

An interesting question not answered by Girard is whether Anselm's theory of atonement is dead in the water - can it be reconciled with Girard's theory. It is difficult to see how it can as ,for Girard, Jesus points to us that the paschal mystery unmasks scapegoating, showing that murder of the innocent is the foundation block of all cultures and further Jesus shows us that to avoid being caught up in bad mimesis and its attendants effects we must imitate Him, whose will is always to do the will of the Father.

As one who is very much taken by Girard's theory, I found this book riveting reading - I particularly liked the fact that Girard is so palpably passionate about his theory - he really believes he has decoded a mystery hidden since the foundation of the world. If you want to get a feel for what such passion must be like, well then, read the book!
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I See Satan Fall
I See Satan Fall by Rene Girard (Paperback - April 2001)
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