Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Girard Girard

During freshman orientation at Johns Hopkins I went to a lecture on cultural relativism given by Rene Girard. Both the topic and the lecturer were new to me. I came to understand that Girard was something of a rising star in the humanities and, thought I never studied with him, I was aware of him. When I went off to the State Universtiy of New York at Buffalo to get my degree in English, Girard was there in Comparative Literature. Again, I didn't study with him, but I was aware of him and I read his book on sacrifice, Violence and the Sacred. I got my degree and went out into the world and heard about Girard from time to time, getting the impression that he had become a significant figure.

But I had no idea!

And now there's an a private non-profit institute devoted to his work, Imitatio. The institute was founded by Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal, who'd studied with Girard at Stanford. Here's a lecture Thiel gave on Girard's ideas, Girard in Silicon Valley.

At about the time Theil was giving that lecture Joshua Landy published a skeptical essay on Girard's ideas, Deceit, Desire, and the Literature Professor: Why Girardians Exist. He argues that Girard's central ideas are weak and that they've gained adherents because they promise ready explanations of about everything.

FWIW, I haven't had much use for Girard's ideas. But this juxtaposition is amusing, a captain of industry funding a Girardian institute, a scholar debunding Girardian thought.


  1. Found the whole bit on Hamlet very odd. Give folk the text get them speaking it let them reach conclusions based on reaction of listener. What you could do is find a specific key behavioral trait to figure ask them to read text in minute detail leave for a few hours see what happens.

    People should be interacting directly with material full on and be allowed to reach conclusions unaided. Frankly if a few folk gave an alien reading of hamlet based on their own creative imagination all the better.

    Its a working script. A galaxy of possibility for anyone to explore in any way they see fit and to find a sense for themselves. Wonderful thing to get lost in not impose some other persons sense. No growth or beauty in that.

    Slightly of beam but just so alien to how I understand working with texts like this. how on earth do you learn anything if you are using someone else s thoughts rather than doing the work as intended. Zombie reading.

  2. Excuse my bad case of cultural shock. In all honesty I can read English lit criticism in regard to novels with stage craft I have to ignore it, its so alien to my training and with Shakespeare and Restoration Comedy differences are at the most naked. This is my original home and where my understanding of drama and how to read comes from.

  3. The notions of "reading" and interpretation that are in place in lit crit simply ignore what actors must do in order to realize a part.

  4. Yes. First response was very real jolt of cultural shock. It is a different thing. You are attempting to re-translate back into the sensation and feeling that produces such thing. Some aspects of English lit and instruction at university found and still find very perplexing. Don't mean that in a dismissive way. First learning experience very different and in the second no space to find a middle ground or to utilize what had been learned and adapt it. You no longer had any any expertise that was someone else s role.