Monday, November 13, 2006

Excerpt from René Girard's Violence and the Sacred

I'm rereading Girard's 1972 classic work, in many ways the foundation for much of his later work (his earlier books were literary criticism on novelists), just to be sure I know what I'm talking about when I pull out his name during cocktail parties and obsessive blog posts about Pasolini.

Girard identifies the sacrificial act as his primary subject and outlines his task on the first page by stating that mystery surrounds sacrifice for a number of reasons; one is its resemblance to criminal violence (so that its perpetrators would have a vested interest in mystifying its origins), and the other is that because it has been deemed an institution almost entirely symbolic, "it is a subject that lends itself to insubstantial theorizing." (VS 1) Hopefully what we are about to read here is more substantial theorizing.

He goes on to reference other authors (Storr, Lorenz) on the physiology and sociology of violence, and then give us what I think is one of the most important paragraphs in the first chapter:
Violence is frequently called irrational. It has its reasons, however, and can marshal some rather convincing ones when the need arises. Yet these reasons cannot be taken seriously, no matter how valid they may appear. Violence itself will discard them if the initial object remains persistently out of reach and continues to provoke hostility. When unappeased, violence seeks and always finds a surrogate victim. The creature that excited its fury is abruptly replaced by another, chosen only because it is vulnerable and close at hand.
His use of the word "creature" here is telling; violence is a phenomenon that is spread across the animal kingdom, and violence among men naturally has its roots in his biological beginnings.


Post a Comment

<< Home