Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Alastair on Girard on mimetic desire

Alastair, who has been having a lengthy break from blogging over the last year or so, is back and he has now graduated from the University of St Andrews. He has a wonderful summary of René Girard's influential and insightful concept of mimetic desire.

Girard claims that we learn what to desire by imitating the desires of others. This form of behaviour is easiest to observe in the case of children. Put two children in a room with a hundred toys and it is quite likely that they will end up fighting over the same one. Rather than arising spontaneously or being fixed on predefined objects, each child’s desire for the object is mediated and reinforced by the desire of the other. Girard argues that desire is ‘mimetic’ in character; our desire does not directly fix itself on objects, but is mediated by the desire of others for certain objects. Invested with the aura of the other’s desire, certain objects can become suddenly greatly desirable to us.
This simple idea is then applied to all kinds of areas: love triangles, rumours, Oedipal attraction, scapegoating, masochism and, ultimately, sin. If you're unfamiliar with Girard, this is a great introduction.


Unknown said...

Interesting implications for desiring God - and evangelism.

Does a rich western nation with infinite distraction make evangelism difficult? Is this is the eye of the needle?

Or does it simply reinforce that evangelism is inherently relational - and not axiomatic?

byron smith said...

Yes, I was thinking about this - discipleship too. Girard speaks of evil desires being contagious, but are healthy desires similarly contageous?

I'm not sure I'd put an either/or on your last question, though I do think the relational aspect is usually underestimated by most "evangelism courses" that I have seen.