Saturday, August 11, 2007

Speaking of secrets...

René Girard
A view askew?
(Image from COV&R)'s how Christianity works.

According to René Girard, anyway ... well, actually, according to Roger Scruton's reading of Girard in "The sacred and the human" (Prospect Magazine, Issue 137, August 2007):
In his study of the scapegoat, Le Bouc émissaire (1982), Girard identifies Christ as a new kind of victim -- one who offers himself for sacrifice, and who, in doing so, shows that he understands what is going on. The words "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" are pivotal for Girard. They involve a recognition of the need for sacrifice, if the guilt and resentment of the community is to be appeased and transcended, and the added recognition that this function must be concealed. Only those ignorant of the source of their hatred can be healed by its expression, for only they can proceed with a clear conscience towards the tragic climax. The climax, however, is not the death of the scapegoat but the experience of sacred awe, as the victim, at the moment of death, forgives his tormentors. This is the moment of transcendence, in which even the cruellest of persecutors can learn to humble himself and to renounce his vengeful passion. Through his acceptance of his sacrifical role, Christ made the "love of neighbour" -- which had featured in the oldest books of the Hebrew Bible as the standard to which humanity should aspire -- into a reality in the hearts of those who meditate upon his gesture. Christ's submission purified society and religion of the need for sacrificial murder: his conscious self-sacrifice is therefore, Girard suggests, rightly thought of as a redemption, and we should not be surprised if, when we turn away from our Christian legacy, as Nazis and communists did, the hecatombs of victims reappear.
This is complex, fascinating, controversial stuff, and it reminds me that for some time, I've been wanting to get into the works of Girard. He's been recommended to me for years now, beginning around 1981 or so, when he first began teaching at Stanford, where one of my friends, Denise Albanese, was then working towards her doctorate in English literature and mentioned Girard and his theory of "mimetic desire" -- which I won't pretend to understand but which I suspect would be congenial with some of my own interests in literary theory and religious studies.

Since I'm short for time this morning, I'll not comment on the passage above, which I'm posting more as a note to myself to read Girard than as any sort of musings about what Girard means. I don't yet know what Girard means, and I am quite puzzled by one of Scruton's remarks:
Only those ignorant of the source of their hatred can be healed by its expression, for only they can proceed with a clear conscience towards the tragic climax.
If this correctly presents one of Girard's points, then what can it mean? I suppose that I need to read Le Bouc émissaire, which has been translated as The Scapegoat (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986). Reading Girard's own words would enable me to 'scrutinize' this more closely myself.

But for now, I leave us with this puzzlement of mine.

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At 9:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Jefferey for that lead to a thinker that I was entirely unaware of. Having started with Leviticus 16 to prep me as it were I am reading his essay on 'Are the Gospels Mythical?' in 'First Things'

His writing on mimesis seems so timely in this era of the travelling symptom when Jews become oppressors and even a Rationalist like Dalrympyle espouses keeping Muslims out of Britain in the same manner as the Saudis keep Christianity, etc out of their holy land.

At 9:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Michael (and call me "Jeffery"), for the website address. Leviticus is fascinating, especially the stuff on holiness (about which I've written but haven't yet published).

As for Jews being oppressors and Dalrymple keeping Muslims out ... well, these are complex topics. Islamism is a problematic, thorny issue to deal with, and is tangled up in these topics, but save that for a different post sometime.

I'll take a look at First Things, which I always find interesting...

Jeffery Hodges

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