lds-herm blog

Discussion of hermeneutics, esp. as it pertains to LDS scripture

The Scapegoat, chapter 1: “Guillaume de Machaut and the Jews”

Posted by joespencer on July 16, 2007

I wrote this (among other things) at the end of the first chapter in my copy of The Scapegoat: “The first chapter traces a kind of trajectory towards Lacan and Badiou.” I would like to articulate this without, if this is possible, leaving the text of the first chapter.

I think it is worth noting, from the very start, that The Scapegoat opens on a literary note, that Girard gives himself to his readers as a through-and-through literary critic. This would of course be of no surprise to someone familiar with Girard’s work (as is made quite clear in the biographical links Cheryl has provided us), but I think it does come as a surprise to those coming to Girard for the first time. I suppose I expected something more overtly political, or more overtly abstract, maybe something more overtly “philosophical.” Let me be sure to add: I was profoundly relieved by what I found.

The chapter is essentially summarized in the last two sentences of the first paragraph:

Some of the events he [Guillaume de Machaut] describes are totally improbable, others only partially so. Yet the account leaves the impression that something must actually have happened.

It is this “effect” of the text on the reader (on “contemporary readers” according to page 2) that deserves careful attention.

But if Girard begins on a self-consciously literary note, he moves by the end of page 2 into a kind of un-self-conscious literary task, that of simply thinking Machaut’s text. This continues for two pages until the bottom of page 4, where Girard returns explicitly to the question of literary criticism (and not just critical questions about the literature). These roughly two pages of literary work trace an interesting logic: psychoanalysis creeps into the text at the bottom of page 2 (with the theme of the unspeakable name), and then structural anthropology follows it on page 3 (with the theme of mythology, attributed at first to La Fontaine but then articulated perhaps more profoundly with this statement: “In his eyes the traditional scapegoats remain the cause of the first stages of the epidemic.”); then, over the course of most of page 4, these two disciplines are nicely intertwined in a segue to the question of literary criticism as such (the segue: Girard sees in Machaut’s inability to speak the name a textual scapegoating, in fact a doubling of the scapegoating event in the text). Brilliant, but let us not spend too much time here.

All of this allows Girard to step back and ask questions of literary criticism all over again. He points out something “remarkable” about the contemporary reader’s natural response to such a text as Machaut’s: “We even believe that we have discovered a truth not seen by the author and, with still greater audacity, do not hesitate to statee that he provides us with this truth even though he does not perceive it himself…. What gives us this ability?” (p. 5) The stakes of this question are great, especially within the broader field of Continental thought: what authorizes the reader of a text to transgress the text, to discover behind or beneath the text some actual event? This is as much as to ask, as Girard points out explicitly on page 9: what authorizes the reader of a text to disregard the immutable laws of literary criticism, which demand that the reader remain within the text alone? Girard’s answer comes at the bottom of page 7, and it must be noted that he only seeks to answer this question with reference to a particular kind of text, namely, persecution texts: “The modern Western world chooses to interpret ‘texts of persecution’ as real, this being the only possible way to demystify them.”

As if this weren’t a rich enough statement in itself, Girard almost immediately begins to draw on the language of psychoanalysis more consistently: he mentions the “unconscious nature” of “the unreliable testimony of persecutors” (p. 8), states bluntly that “Naive persecutors are unaware of what they are doing” (p. 8), describes these texts as “influenced by characteristic distortions” that are to “be identified and corrected” (p. 9), and finally introduces a binary opposition between the “real and imaginary” (p. 9). The implication seems to be that the reader of the persecution text takes the position of the analyst, with the task of “do[ing] violence to the text” so as not not to “let the text forever do violence to innocent victims.” (p. 8)

But if this is psychoanalysis, it is perhaps more Lacanian than Freudian, especially when Girard arrives at the language of the real and the imaginary (terms Girard uses to describe the structure of the doubling that is writing the persecution text, described above). The point is made perhaps still clearer with this statement on page 10: “The authors of these documents were there and we were not. We have access to no information that did not come from them. And yet, several centuries later, one single historian or even the first person to read the text feels he has the right to dispute the sentence pronounced on the witches.”

What all of this seems to raise is the question of the event as such and its relation to textuality. This question seems to me to be situated somewhere between Lacan and Badiou, somewhere around the last chapter of Badiou’s Being and Event. A couple of questions that might begin to articulate this question might be asked here. What is the relationship between events and texts? How are texts and events tied together by the structures uncovered by psychoanalytic thought? Are there any texts that are not fundamentally persecution texts? Are all Western texts persecution texts? What would a non-persecution text entail, or what would it look like? How would it be read? What can be read into Girard’s choice of the word “typology” for his declared project in chapter 2, which he introduces in his last paragraph of chapter 1? How might this relation to texts be connected up with Ricouer’s “double vow”? How especially might this relation to texts be connected up with this statement from Ricoeur: “if hermeneutics is always an attempt to overcome a distance, it has to use distanciation as both the obstacle and the instrument in order to reenact the initial event of discourse in a new event of discourse that will claim to be both faithful and creative” (Figuring the Sacred, p. 38)?

And, of course, what other questions or themes are worth taking up from this first chapter? I hope that everyone feels quite free to transgress my own violent reading…

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51 Responses to “The Scapegoat, chapter 1: “Guillaume de Machaut and the Jews””

  1. Cherylem said

    Joe,
    I’m writing from work (the day is over); just wanted to shoot a couple of sites your way:

    A triangle of thoughts: Girard, Freud, Lacan: http://www.psychomedia.it/jep/number14/meloni.htm

    Here also:
    http://www.uibk.ac.at/theol/cover/bulletin/xtexte/bulletin04-5.html

  2. cherylem said

    Joe and everyone,
    I started to write a lengthy response to this and realized I was really coming at chapter one from a different perspective. Would it be confusing if I wrote a separate post on chapter 1?

    I don’t know Lacan or Badiou . . . I’m willing to learn however and have already read the wikipedia stuff and other things that can be found on the net. I am enthusiastic about following Joe and others as you work through our text from a framework of knowledge that I don’t have.

    But my interests may be slightly different: I am interested in why the Bible is so violent, for instance. I am interested in why we are fighting in Iraq, and why Glasgow just received a terrorist attack. I am interested in why lynchings were a part of our history, and why scapegoating seems prevalant today. I am interested in why I can live in a house that is worth quite a bit of money and yet five miles from me people are living in terrible poverty – of spirit as well as wealth.

    I am interested in why my father beat my mother, and abused his own children.

    These are personal interests . . . and Girardian stuff speaks to me about this. And not only that, but I am interested in why, after studying Girard for a while, when I look in the mirror I see reflected back a mimetic being, capable of violence, small and great. I am interested in what happens when I deliberately turn from my rival to face another direction, a godly direction.

    So I would write a post on chapter one from that perspective . . . why does Girard speak to me about stuff like this. What does chapter 1 say to me about things that I should know, that I want to know, about life and how I can live it.

    This okay?

  3. joespencer said

    I’d like to hear Robert’s thoughts, but I’m inclined to say that it would be better for organization, if for nothing else, to keep all comments on a given chapter within a single post. Hmm….

  4. cherylem said

    #3 Joe,
    And this is fine with me too . . . I’m just trying to figure out the best way to do this.

  5. Robert C. said

    Joe #3, trying to make me the scapegoat here, eh? Sorry, I don’t have much of an opinion—if the posts are organized roughly in a chapter, sequential order, I don’t think starting another post is a problem, esp. if it raises rather different questions. And since there are only three of us (so far) leading the discussions, I can’t imagine this would get very confusing. But I’m not opposed to long comments either.

    Cheryl #2, I’m very interested in the personal issues also. I think we’ll be good foils to Joe’s more abstract, philosophical tendencies (though, I’m have a strong philosophical weakness too, perhaps I’ll play the part of mediator/scapegoat quite frequently!). Here’s how I see the connection between Joe’s more abstract post and the personal issues you describe (via Badiou, I’m less confident in my understanding of Lacan; also, I think there isn’t much on the web about Badiou…)—if nothing else, this might give something concrete for Joe to correct or at least respond to:

    Badiou has a notion of an event that is something that does not really have a basis. After all, if there is a basis of or justification for a particular action or thought, there’s a sense in which that action or thought is part of a pre-existing system or paradigm. An event, then, for Badiou, is somewhat analogous to what we might call a change of heart, or a conversion.

    So, I think Joe is implicitly (or explicitly, but abstrusely!) asking is, how can our reading of a text effect a change of heart or conversion? (I’m actually cheating here because I’ve read a draft of a book chapter Joe’s written where he takes up this issue in the context of Alm’s conversion as recounted in Alma 36.) “Reading of a text” here can be interpreted quite broadly though, since any action or statement or historical idea, whether political, personal, religious, etc., can be considered as a text, though it seems scripture is the text par excellence.

    Does that help at all? (If not, it was helpful for me to articulate, and hopefully someone will respond to help me understand all this better.)

  6. cherylem said

    Joe and Robert,
    I’ll write some more later – maybe tomorrow. We can decide together then whether it would be better to move my comments to a separate post or leave them here. But they’ll start here.

    It’s a funny thing about this discussion – we’re all likely to start talking about not rivaling each other . . . so just expect this and laugh and go with the flow.

    I have a concern that I’ll go off on my passionate bit and derail Joe’s discussion, in which I am truly interested. I plan on leaving The Scapegoat much more knowledgeable about certain things and ideas than I was when we started, precisely because of others with a more philosophical background. I am looking forward to this.

    So more later – both in response to Joe and with some ideas of my own.

  7. cherylem said

    Robert, thanks for the thoughts on Badiou. Did Jim F do some writing on “event” like you described? I think he did – on the transcendental vertical event that interrupts history in his article on Philosophy and Transcendence? Yes? Or am I misremembering?

    Is the Wikipedia article on Badiou a good description?

    And now that I’m thinking about this, I’m remembering threads of discussion on the blog and I think in Adam’s papers that maybe deal with the interruption – again, is this derived from Badiou?

    Here is an article that has a comment re Girard buried deep within, regarding, I think Badiou:

    http://www.philosophyandscripture.org/Issue1-2/Slavoj_Zizek/slavoj_zizek.html

    (I am not always sure how helpful these links are, but I am trying hard to come up to speed here.)

    This also may be interesting:
    http://www.othervoices.org/3.1/mmaidan/index.php

    So this may be very basic but it strikes me that just as The Scapegoat doesn’t exist by itself (outside of the rest of Girard’s work) so does all of Girard’s work does not exist in a vacuum – there are all these other thinkers who are thinking of related things, so that the thoughts of these people are bouncing off each other. (Of all the thinkers usually mentioned in these articles, the one I’ve read is Kristeva, by the way.)

  8. cherylem said

    Joe,
    Going back to the beginning post, thanks for your thoughts on chapter one. Your analysis of the structure of the chapter is very helpful. I liked what you pulled from the chapter as being important – especially noting the “effect” of the text on readers (and this is beginning to make a little more sense to me now).

    You’ve caught the idea very well that much of Girard is text-based. He thinks that our literary texts – that all texts, really, at one level or another – speak a basic truth to us.

    To me, the religious parallel to something that Girard is expressing is that ALL CREATION speaks basic truth, if we only had ears to hear and eyes to understand. That is, Girard has found something universal in texts – and he dissects certain texts – that seems to say to me that we can’t help but speak truth, only we don’t know we’re speaking it.

    I tend to think that if Girard is right, he still offers us only a part of the picture, of the truth that all creation cries out. But the part that Girard has found is very important.

    Or, put this another way, when someday we see things clearly, I think it very possible that we will discover that everything we participated in, everything we talked about, everything we WORE, . . . just everything, in some way, speaks the truth of the creator. And Girard has found something that does this, but what he has found is not the only thing that does this.

    When you say “the stakes of this question are great,” I am in full agreement. I am delighted with what you have pulled from the chapter and how you have communicated this, because still thinking about this comment of yours (the paragraph which includes the quote above) is expanding the way I am seeing the chapter.

    I’d like to talk a little bit about demystification. How would you define this? Describe it?

    I like your questions also:
    “What is the relationship between events and texts? How are texts and events tied together by the structures uncovered by psychoanalytic thought? Are there any texts that are not fundamentally persecution texts? Are all Western texts persecution texts? What would a non-persecution text entail, or what would it look like? How would it be read? What can be read into Girard’s choice of the word “typology” for his declared project in chapter 2, which he introduces in his last paragraph of chapter 1? How might this relation to texts be connected up with Ricouer’s “double vow”? How especially might this relation to texts be connected up with this statement from Ricoeur: “if hermeneutics is always an attempt to overcome a distance, it has to use distanciation as both the obstacle and the instrument in order to reenact the initial event of discourse in a new event of discourse that will claim to be both faithful and creative” (Figuring the Sacred, p. 38)?”

    There is much to think about here, before I plunge ahead.

    Thanks, Joe. Very much.

  9. robf said

    Just a brief note. This first chapter left me a little, I don’t know, maybe annoyed? The dense language and interminable dancing around, and around, and around–making subtle variations on the same statement–goes against my desire for concision. It reminds me a lot of Deleuze. While in some respects I have a strong deleuzian streak, I have a hard time actually reading Deleuze. Different temperments, I suppose. When I read Deleuze, and now this first chapter of Girard, I get the feeling that I’m being wrapped like a mummy, or that the truth that they are trying to speak is really to be found not in the language itself, but in the shape of the empty spaces left between the various statements.

    I look forward to wrestling with this–and have wanted an excuse to more thoroughly engage Lacan and Zizek, who are already popping up here. Please be patient with me if the Continental style gets me grumpy sometimes!

    I’m not sure how I feel about keeping all of the comments about a chapter together under one thread. I’m up for trying whatever works. We’ve already got more ideas starting here than we can probably even follow through on!

    Enough for now. Time to go back and re-read this intro chapter.

  10. joespencer said

    As far as the “several posts versus one post” business goes, I think I’d prefer all discussion to remain within one post. I would personally prefer someone to take issue with my reading by proffering another within the same thread so that I can take it as a response to my own response. I think I would learn more that way. (The Abraham Seminar has convinced me of this, I think.) For what it’s worth.

    Now, on to the important stuff here. I’ll be very interested to hear your thoughts on the text Cheryl, and I’d like to see them argued for at some length. This is perhaps especially because I’m new to Girard, and I come to him from the standpoint of my absolute immersion in the borderland between phenomenology and hermeneutics (the two fields in philosophy that have seemed to me for a long time now to be the most promising as interlocutors for my study of the scriptures and my engagement with the Church as an institution). What I mean is this: I’m reading Girard as a text, and it doesn’t even occur to me (for good or evil?) to look beyond the bounds of the text at what this stirs in me (I’m not even sure to what extent there is a me when I’m reading!). So bring on your responses (and keep them within this thread, so that they can bounce up against my pretension to strict reading) so that I can let them take issue with my reading, and so that I can take issue with them.

    Demystification. I’m not sure what to make of it, since Girard passes over it so quickly. I’m reminded, though, because I’ve been reading it lately, of the fourth chapter of Derrida’s Gift of Death (p. 112): “The critique or polemic of [Baudelaire’s] ‘The Pagan School’ would have the virtue of demystification. The word is no longer fashionable but it does seem to impose itself in this case, does it not? It is a matter of unfolding the mystagogical hypocrisy of a secret, putting on trial a fabricated mystery, a contract that has a secret clause, namely, that, seeing in secret, God will pay back infinitely more; a secret that we accept all the more easily since God remains the witness of every secret.” Thus, might we say that our desire (neurosis speaks in that word!) to transgress the text is a desire to reveal a secret contradiction of sorts at work in the text? That our wish (do not miss the neurotic spirit of this word!) to transgress the text is a desire to denude a material (do not, for the obvious connection to Feuerbach and Marx, miss the connection between this word and mater, “mother”) substrate of the text that we can only regard with abjection (yes, I have Kristeva very much in mind here)? That our vow of suspicion (Ricoeur) is a signal that we are scapegoating (Girard of course allows the word “violence” to describe the transgression of the text) something else, some other matrix we call a text (which is always written on flesh)? In a word: demystification as violence to the veil, to the Shekinah, to the aura of mystique (Betty Friedan: The Feminine Mystique). Demystification: the primal murder?

    But let me speak far more coherently, now in the spirit of my post. Is Girard moving too quickly to some behind or beneath of the texts? (And if Lacan and Badiou do move to some behind or beneath of the texts, how quickly do they do it?) Or am I moving too quickly in reading Girard? Might he be raising questions about whether we should so transgress the text? “The modern Western world chooses to interpret ‘texts of persecution’ as real, this being the only possible way to demystify them,” writes Girard (p. 7, emph. added). Is this affirmation or critique? I assumed in my post that it was affirmation, based on this from page 8: “Faced with Guillaume de Machaut the choice is clear: one must either do violence to the text or let the text forever do violence to innocent victims.” (emph. again added) Should I read the Aufclaerung (the Enlightenment) into this word “clear”? I did yesterday, and I do today. However, yesterday I assumed that that clarity was a deciding factor for Girard. Today I am wondering whether he means “simply” to point out that such is the clarity of a Western reading. The choice is clear, is clarified in the Aufclaerung, is seen distinctly only in light of the distinctions introduced by the Enlightenment: one must choose one violence or the other.

    But is this so Western (to move a bit further from the spirit of my post)? Isn’t this a double bind imposed by the very structure of the family, as Lacan might tell us (and as Girard the anthropologist simply must be aware of)? Well, no, or at least no “clear choice” is imposed by the structure of the family. The clear choice of page 8 is certainly a function of the oversimplification of the Enlightenment: I render the choice clear precisely because I am one of those who are “thinking they have foreseen everything.” (p. 9) The binary opposition between real and imaginary is a product of the enlightenment, and we would do far better to give ourselves to the complexity of a Lacanian matheme: a circle with three letters equally spaced around it (R, I, and S; Real, Imaginary, and Symbolic). But I grow far too abstract all over again.

    In a word (and here is my one-sentence summary of the first chapter): Girard seems to be claiming (or at least laying a foundation for the claim) that the first step towards the disappearance of real violence is authentically to take up the task of imposing imaginary violence.

    Are we okay with that?

  11. cherylem said

    Are we okay with that?

    Hmmm. Hmmmm. I’m not sure.

    I have about 30 minutes. Let me see what I can do.

    First, when I mentioned to some friends that we were going to start with The Scapegoat, universally they (all 2 or 3 of them) said, what? Why that text? (They would have rather we started with Bailie, or the Girard reader). I do want us to keep in mind that this is one of several of Girard’s works, and this text is 20 years old. Stuff has been added on since this book, both by Girard and by others. So we need to view The Scapegoat as a work in progress, I think.

    One thing that happens when COV&R meets, for example, is that some people are in one corner discussing philosophy, others are in another corner discussing economics, others are in another corner discussing scripture and religion, others are in a fourth corner discussing psychiatry. And still others are in another corner discussing a variety of of other issues, including domestic violence and world violence, and even violence we do the earth around us. All are using Girard as a starting point for their discussion.

    So I am coming from a different point of view.

    By the way, Robf #9, I sympathize. Sometimes I wish these guys would just say something straight out. Cut to the chase. Make the point. Fini. The circular talk gives me a headache.

    I’m not sure why this is. Because I am not continental? Is this peculiarly American? English? To want to just say something clearly, and go from there?

    But I sympathize.

    On to chapter one:

    First point:
    Girard gives us a text in which the writer says, among other things, that some – many – deaths are the result of the wickedness of the Jews and their Christian accomplices. They poisoned rivers.

    Heaven-sent justice (p. 1) revealed the evil doers to the rest of the community, who then “massacred them.”

    Still, the deaths did not stop, until suddenly one day it was spring and laughter, and “courtly poetry could begin again.”

    Girard’s point, I think, in giving us this 14th century story, is to tell us that the author, de Machaut, was not making up anything. WE read this text and think: of course these deaths were not caused by the Jews. We make ourselves superior to the text because we understand how false this understanding was. And we believe, in our heart, that something did happen that caused de Machaut to write this – deaths, terror, disease, mass killing of Jews and their sympathizers, etc. And we understand that the killing of the Jews was wrong.

    But . . . Girard says, wait. de Machaut was writing his truth. He was not lying. He really believed that Jews poisoned the water, that God gave the community this information. Therefore, he would be surprised to see that we are reading the text any differently.

    I have to stop here and think about 9/11. After 9/11 I had a conversation with a fellow church member who told me seriously, very seriously, that 9/11 happened because the US had lost its divine protection because we were tolerating and encouraging homosexuality. As the conversation continued, it was clear that she thought the more homosexuality could be limited, the safer we would be from terrorist attack. God had shown us what we needed to do: we needed to contain and punish homosexuality.

    Her inner text is not unlike that of de Machaut’s. It is a text she believes, and expresses without shame or doubt.

    My own text, in this instance, is that if only the church had fewer people believing stuff like this, it would be a better church. But . . . in an instant I am setting myself against my friend in argument and rivalry.

    There are other similar texts being lived in our time. Within groups, nations, and families, a similar text is read into our relationships.

    But to continue:

    The plague, in deMachaut’s world, has become so terrifying that even to name it gives it power. It must remained unnamed, whenever possible. Only in the most extreme circumstances must the plague actually be named.

    In our world, similar themes continue. In the church, we refuse to name certain things because to name them gives them too much [evil] power: abuse has been one of those things traditionally; sexual love is another. In the current Harry Potter series, Voldemor is “the one who must not be named.”

    So we see the themes of Girard’s text all around us, all the time.

    On page 3, Girard continues to tell us things about de Machaut’s text: we are introduced to the “process of collective bad faith which recognizes the plague as a divine punishment.”

    Back to 9/11, MANY saw this event as divine punishment. When things go wrong in our personal lives, we wonder why God is punishing us. When things go wrong in the Church, surely God is punishing us for not being good enough, faithful enough, . . . we are just not enough, and thus must be punished. Back to the issues of sexual difference, how many saw AIDS as divine punishment? Or what about a draught that can be ended by our repentance?

    For many, God is an angry God (still page 3). We placate him with our repentance and with the punishment and cutting off of sinners.

    Our texts have not changed much. The thing that has changed is that we can read de Machaut and KNOW that the text is showing us something that is in error, but we do not see our own texts as showing the same thing. For the texts of our lives, we are deMachaut. But when we read deMachaut, we are the literary and historical critic. Therefore we think ourselves superior to deMachuat’s text, but our superiority is a lie.

    Girard then begins to question the text, and through questioning the text, questions all of us. Is not all historical knowledge uncertain? (not really, he says, I think). On page 6, Girard says: “The text we are reading has its roots in a real persecution described from the perspective of the persecutors.”

    So this is not new to us. The victors write history. The American Indians were savages and deserved to be killed. The German civilians in Hamburg and other places were the enemy and had to be killed (in WWII) – were worthy of bombing. The Jews brought their catastrophe upon themselves.

    But somewhere in this writing of history the voice of the persecuted (the victims) is lost, buried. Their “truth” according to their persecutors, is simply this: they were guilty, they deserved what they got, and thank God we found this out and were able to take care of them as God wanted – angrily, violently.

    (I’m reminded of Mosiah 4:17-18: 17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
    18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.)

    So, now we understand that texts are written by those who will see themselves as righteous and their fallen, murdered, punished ones as guilty. – this will call into question many Biblical texts which claim that God ordered a murder, a massacre, a flood, but more on that later.

    Back to our chapter, on page 8, Girard says:
    Naive persecutors are unaware of what they are doing. Here we come to the part Joe quoted: “One must either do violence to the text or let the text forever do violence to innocent victims.”

    Girard is laying a foundation here: a little later he will begin to do violence to Biblical texts. He will read them as he is reading de Machaut.

    On page 9 Girard makes a point: “the distortions of the text must be identified and corrected in order to reveal the arbitrary nature of the violence . . . ”

    Ah. Here is something. Violence is arbitrary. not ordered and orderly. not commanded.

    In Mauchaut’s case, we are not moved by the unanimity of the persecutors (p. 10) or their belief in their own rightness. In the case of all our persecution texts, we need to find the stereotypes, in order to . . . well, in order to move to chapter 2.

    I have to quit – I am flat out of time. I was going to engage some of Joe’s comments more directly, but that will have to wait.

  12. robf said

    One thing that I’m interested in exploring with this is the question: is violence/killing always wrong? My knee-jerk reaction to this question is close to “yes”. But I wonder, and I’m not sure from where I can find an adequate position from which to answer that question. So, its in the back of my mind. I’m trying to be open here. I’d be happy to have my presuppositions supported here. But also happy to have my understanding expanded if need be.

    Cherylm, thanks for the comments. As for 9/11, I never saw God’s hand in it (my lack of vision?), but also reacted negatively to the view that there was no logical reason for what the perpetrators had done. I saw American corporate citizens and Arab dissidents as both caught in webs of violence, supported and sustained by each other. I saw the atrocities of 9/11 as an opportunity for soul searching, and an opportunity to seek greater understanding. But our own violent culture had little use for such feelings. I was shouted down elsewhere in the bloggernacle for suggesting that we “renounce war and proclaim peace” and take D&C 98 and the nonviolent Jesus as our guide. I was told that I was an idol worshiper who had devised my own “mamby pamby” Jesus and that the real Jesus was a warrior who occasionally demanded genocide if needed. I retreated from those discussions.

    I look forward to more productive and thoughtful discussions on related topics here. Thanks!

  13. joespencer said

    I guess, Cheryl, that I’m anticipating quite in advance Girard’s will to question the scriptural texts. But I’ll be very interested to see how this develops. For now, I’ll sit back and wait for your promised direct engagement.

  14. Robert C. said

    OK, I was finally able to read the chapter, which means I’ll probably have much less to say about the chapter than before I read the chatper….

    First, robf, I sympathize with your impatience with the meandering Continental style, though I confess I’m becoming more patient. I think this is indeed can be related to aspects of American culture (and economic culture esp.), but I’ll try to resist saying more about that tangent. In Girard’s case, I think the repetitive feel to the first chapter might be related to the fact that he’s sort of tying in to approaches that are usually kept rather separate in academia. That is, he’s writing as a literary critic, philosopher, anthropologist, historian, psychologist, etc. So perhaps his repitition is a way of rephrasing his point in the language of, or targeted to, each of these different disciplines.

    Next, it seems to be a pretty bold move on Girard’s part to start his book this way, since his book will explicitly deal with sacred texts. That is, it’s hard for me not to read this chapter as a sort of throwing down of the gauntlet: “Look, it’s pretty obvious that we need to read between the lines with Guillaume’s text, so it would be silly not to read sacred texts the same way.” I know this take on the chapter isn’t really fair, but I can’t help anticipate this conflict, esp. since our original discussion precipitating this reading project was largely related to violence in the Book of Mormon, and much of the violence there is described in ways that seem to rather overtly claim God’s approval (I have the rather curious and prevalent “thus we see” phrases particularly in mind here, though I’m not sure how directly they apply to violent episodes…).

    The main question, then, that this chapter has me thinking about is what it means to read a sacred text. Can I read a sacred text with the same kind of suspicion that I read Guillaume’s text without desacralizing the text? Hmm….

  15. Cherylem said

    Regarding continental thought (and even Joe Spencer thought) – because I wrote quickly without rewriting yesterday, I spent a little bit of energy in regretting that I hadn’t added something important . . . even though I often read Girard and (longer ago) Kristeva with my head swirling and aching, after working through the text slowly, I am almost ALWAYS REWARDED with some of the grandest AHA moments of my life.

    From my point of view, I am perceiving Joe as speaking continental language as almost a first language. Robert is a great translator/mediator, and I am the person using the second language dictionary (even though I brought us Girard in the first place). I started reading Girard with Deceit Desire and the Novel and it took me forever to get through this book. I had to read each paragraph again and again, and finally outline the sentences so I could figure out what was going on.

    I am tremendously left brained. Dense texts are NOT a pleasure to me, but the outcome is a pleasure. If that makes sense.

    So Robert, I especially appreciated your take on the various disciplines in chapter 1. Even though I’ve read this chapter very recently, and have read this book in the past (I had previously underlinings and margin notes in the text) I wouldn’t have seen that aspect so clearly so soon. If ever.

    Regarding your question of desacralizing the text, my question is, do our texts have to be sacred? What does it mean for a text to be sacred?

    I have stopped thinking of our texts as “sacred” – from God’s mouth to the writer’s ear kind of sacred – long ago. We need to work them like we do other texts, I think. Marvel when they are sublime, to be sure, but still, not exactly . . . sacred.

  16. Cherylem said

    #12 Robf,
    Very interesting comments. I think you will really like this study.

    I do not think Jesus, either as the Jehovah of the OT or the eschatological figure of the New, orders genocide. Ever.

    We have certainly made god (and our texts, and/or our reading of our texts) in our own image.

  17. Cherylem said

    Joe #10,
    Thanks for your comments on demystification. Girard uses this term repeatedly and I’ve never quite figured out precisely what it means.

    Can we talk about this some more?

    You write (and I’m going to do some interjecting):

    Demystification. I’m not sure what to make of it, since Girard passes over it so quickly. I’m reminded, though, because I’ve been reading it lately, of the fourth chapter of Derrida’s Gift of Death (p. 112): “The critique or polemic of [Baudelaire’s] ‘The Pagan School’ would have the virtue of demystification. The word is no longer fashionable but it does seem to impose itself in this case, does it not? It is a matter of unfolding the mystagogical hypocrisy

    Me: mystagogical hypocrisy = interpretative or instructive? hypocrisy? am I reading this right?

    Joe:

    of a secret, putting on trial a fabricated mystery, a contract that has a secret clause, namely, that, seeing in secret, God will pay back infinitely more; a secret that we accept all the more easily since God remains the witness of every secret.”

    Me: I don’t get this. I don’t understand this. Can you help me?

    ie. putting on trial a fabricated mystery = putting the myth on trial???

    The myth has a secret clause? is the secret clause (God, seeing in secret will pay back . . . ) truth, or hyprocisy?

    I really don’t get this. Help.

    Joe:

    Thus, might we say that our desire (neurosis speaks in that word!) to transgress the text is a desire to reveal a secret contradiction of sorts at work in the text?

    Me:
    I understand this though. I think. We desire to transgress the text to find the thing hidden in the text. This would be the secret contradiction of the text, yes?

    Joe:

    That our wish (do not miss the neurotic spirit of this word!) to transgress the text is a desire to denude a material (do not, for the obvious connection to Feuerbach and Marx, miss the connection between this word and mater, “mother”) substrate of the text that we can only regard with abjection (yes, I have Kristeva very much in mind here)?

    Me:
    I am afraid you are rolling your eyes, Joe, but I don’t get this either. denuding the ematerial is to make it naked and bare, yes? So, you are saying our desire is to strip away the outer layers to the original language of the material hidden in the substrate, which we then regard abjectly, with absolute humility and humiliation?

    I am out of time (drat!), but if I am understanding what you said above, I can move to what you say below:

    Joe:

    That our vow of suspicion (Ricoeur) is a signal that we are scapegoating (Girard of course allows the word “violence” to describe the transgression of the text) something else, some other matrix we call a text (which is always written on flesh)? In a word: demystification as violence to the veil, to the Shekinah, to the aura of mystique (Betty Friedan: The Feminine Mystique). Demystification: the primal murder?

    Me:
    I like very much your parenthetical comment about a text which is always written on flesh – yes, I think. Yes.

    But your next sentence is once again difficult for me.
    demystification is violence to the veil, to the Shekinah, to the aura of mystique. . .

    In other words, demystification is the denuding of these things also?

    Then, are you saying demsytification IS murder, or demystification reveals murder?

    And do you mind doing this? But I really DESIRE to understand you . . .

  18. joespencer said

    Robert, I think, has essentially translated my concerns here into a simple question: “Can I read a sacred text with the same kind of suspicion that I read Guillaume’s text without desacralizing the text?”

    Cheryl responds with two questions, nicely phrased: “do our texts have to be sacred? What does it mean for a text to be sacred?”

    I’m reminded, in response, of these words by Paul Ricoeur, found at the end of a short but remarkably dense paper called “The ‘Sacred’ Text and the Community”: “Revelation is a historical process, but the notion of sacred text is something antihistorical. I am frightened by this word ‘sacred.'” (Figuring the Sacred, 72)

    Should we not all be frightened by this word, paired by none other than Girard with the word “violence” in the title of one of his books?

    Is it not interesting, then, that it is almost a given among New Mormon historians that Mormonism collapses the distinction between the sacred and the profane, between the spiritual and the temporal?

    But is the distinction collapsed? Or is it infinitely reinforced and one or the other of the distinct categories simply expelled? I’m not sure.

    But either answer would lead me to think that moving in the direction of the “sacred” is not quite the right direction. D&C 128 provides a most striking “origin” of texts from the perspective of a Mormon theology: they are written up and sealed by those who have been given the authority to do so. Which is to say, paradoxically, that they are infinitely historical.

    Perhaps D&C 128 is something we should take up at length on the wiki or the blog. (Incidentally, I’ve been asked to give a fireside this Sunday on D&C 128 to the single adults—not the young single adults, but the single adults—and I’ve been wondering what direction the Spirit will go. Is the wind already blowing?)

  19. joespencer said

    Cheryl writes: “I am perceiving Joe as speaking continental language as almost a first language.”

    It gets worse: I think I was speaking this language long before I came across continental philosophy! I think I fell for continental thought primarily because its academic status implied some kind of justification of my inability to communicate clearly. 🙂

    I should probably add that I am very, very impressed by those who can communicate about continental thought in a clear and accessible way (Jim especially impresses me on this account). Which is as much as to say that I’m quite thankful for those who are willing to work through my own incoherency in order to sort out what all I might be saying.

    And so I’ll take up, in a separate comment, Cheryl’s direct response to my thoughts.

  20. joespencer said

    I’m sorry I threw so much Derrida on you, Cheryl, without any warning or contextualization! This paragraph comes late in a rather complex book that discusses the nature of secrecy from start to finish. He draws on “The Pagan School” because Baudelaire makes a case for a giving without a gift, since the actual gift that is given always compromises, to some extent, the givenness of the giving (this is wrapped up, unfortunately, in a rather complex debate between Derrida and Marion that was brought to an end with Derrida’s death a couple years ago). More than anything, though, I wanted to use Derrida to get to my own question: “Thus, might we say that our desire (neurosis speaks in that word!) to transgress the text is a desire to reveal a secret contradiction of sorts at work in the text?” Let me take up this question, and its two companions, at some length.

    My whole series of questions means to ask whether our desire to get behind or beneath the text is actually a desire to recognize something within the text. That is—and this is something Girard almost says explicitly, though he never seems to go far enough on this point—because all we have is the text (we were not there for the event), we cannot get behind or beneath the text. The secret contradiction is a contradiction within the text, one that the text sets up precisely in trying to cover it over. In a sense, the text itself is neurotic, or more specifically hysteric: the text wants to be the object of the other’s gaze, and so she (cf. Lacan) dresses provocative (with a veil draped in just the right way, hiding and yet revealing, making secret by putting on display: here is the contradiction). The reader, of course, is also neurotic, though obsessive rather than hysteric: the reader wants the object that is the text, wants to gaze on (to freeze or to totalize—to render an object) the text, and so he (again cf. Lacan) desires with a constant (and hence never realized) desire to transgress the woven fabric of the text, undressing the object of his desire (thus uncovering the contradiction), an object he regards, in the end, as abject (he humiliates her with his stare).

    Now, if Lacan can say that there is no such thing as a sexual (that is, gendered) relationship, I will add here that there is no such thing as a reader-text relationship: the reader and the text allow each other to be what s/he is, but precisely by failing to enter into the consummating act of reading. Which is to say: the reader and the text allow each other to be what s/he is, but precisely by allowing violence to remain instead of distracting (but not transgressing) that violence with love (agape: charity).

    Hence: “In a word: demystification as violence to the veil, to the Shekinah, to the aura of mystique (Betty Friedan: The Feminine Mystique).” To clarify, according to your question, I mean that the “de-” and the “-ification” of “demystification” imply violence, and the violence is inflicted on the “-myst-” of “demystification,” hence, on the veil, etc. To demystify what I am saying here, so as to pretend to satisfy your DESIRE, let me put it this way: by giving in to the will-to-demystify, we allow ourselves (but without a will) to be determined by the fallen world of violence. Demystification as translation: to translate the violence we hope to eradicate into another violence, but just so never to do away with violence.

    Hence: “Demystification: the primal murder?” I have reference here, of course, to Freud’s Totem and Taboo, where the “primal murder” is the immemorial collective murder of the lawless (lawless because law-imposing) patriarch. Am I not, in taking up the text demystifyingly, giving myself to mob mentality (and “mentality” is so important a word here) and becoming complicit in a violence we have decided in advance to cover up or to pretend never happened?

    Another way to say this: I personally believe, with all my heart, the story of the Fall.

    And I have to ask myself if that means I was predestined to read, predestined to be excluded from the blind and violent determinism that guides the psychologically interpreted will as much as the scientifically interpreted cosmos.

    It is a question I can only ask in fear and trembling.

  21. robf said

    Hmmm, Joe. Very poetic. Are we to become so Continentally intertextual as to make perfect sense, and nonsense at the same time?

    According to Kurt Vonnegut, “Any scientist who cannot explain to an eight-year-old what he is doing is a charlatan”. While I’m not opposed to complex thought, I think becoming like a little child may have its merits here.

    Case in point:

    “The secret contradiction is a contradiction within the text, one that the text sets up precisely in trying to cover it over.”

    What the heck? I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean.

    “The secret contradiction…” what do you mean by that? Why is it a contradiction? Why is it secret?

    “…is a contradiction within the text…” how much of this is redundant? How much information is added with this phrase?

    “…one that the text sets up…” Why is the text an actor here? How does the text “set up” anything, let alone a contradiction. Is it really the text or the author of the text?

    “…precisely…” What do you mean by this? Do you really need this word? If so, what is it really pointing to?

    “…in trying to cover…” Again, what?

    “…it over” Huh?

    I wish I knew what you were talking about here, Joe. Can you put it in a way that my kids could understand?

    I think there’s a temptation to use all these philosophically charged words poetically, in that they have so many different meanings that can take you in so many different directions that they become very rich in texture, but unable to convey any precise meaning. Maybe we can improve mutual understanding if we take it a bit slower, and take time to define our terms, use them precisely, and keep our sentences simple. Its a challenge when dealing with a tradition of texts that violate most of these principles, but is it worth a try?

    To start, Joe, can you explain what you mean by
    –contradiction
    –secret
    –text
    –text as actor

    Some of this is basic in hermeneutics, but I think we’d all be better off if we spelled this stuff out.

  22. joespencer said

    Yikes! Just when I thought I was being most lucid!

    contradiction: two things that just don’t add up (though in a sense broader than the logical), like when we call someone a “walking contradiction.” The text contradicts itself in spirit or in intention rather than logically.

    secret: something covered over by something else. The contradiction that is within the text itself (that is, is not behind it or beneath it, is not in my head or a matter of “semantics”) is secret because the text (again: in spirit or in intention) attempts to cover it up. A rhetorical question would be a good way to do this: “Can’t I be kidding once in a while?” might suggest that some contradiction in my story is not really a contradiction, but because I’ve made this suggestion in the form of a question, the contradiction is not really dissolved, only covered up.

    text: I don’t think I mean anything strange here, just something written. de Mauchat’s text, for example.

    text as actor: a bit more difficult. I suppose I’m drawing on the spectrum of phrases in relatively common use like “the world of the text,” “the life of the text,” “the text’s voice,” “the effect of this text,” etc. By divorcing the text from the intentions or purposes of the author, we are enabled to recognize things that the text does with or without the author. Regardless of what Shakespeare thought (in whatever technical sense), his text implies, suggests, speaks, etc.

    Hence: “The secret contradiction [Girard’s word “demystification” implies that there is some kind of secret the (Western) reader is always trying to uncover, and Derrida’s thoughts on “demystification” suggest that the secret to be uncovered is always a contradiction—this is implied in the whole project of deconstruction] is a contradiction within the text [“information is added with this phrase” in that I am (far too implicitly, as I now recognize) opposing “a contradiction within the text” (or a contradiction between two things that are both within the text) to a contradiction between the text and something else, as well as to a contradiction entirely outside of the text that the text attempts to hide], one that the text sets up [hopefully my notes on the text as actor above help clarify this] precisely [I use this word for two reasons: on the one hand to point to the precision with which the act of hiding naturally introduces contradictions into something, and on the other hand to anticipate a surprise (that is, for rhetorical effect)] in trying to cover it over [I’m suggesting, in the end, that the contradiction and the secret arise together, that the text creates the contradiction it attempts to hide precisely (again, precisely) by trying to hide that contradiction, that the contradiction and its hiddenness are structurally related].”

    Now, I confess that I think my explanation is far more confusing than the original! But I do hope this helps. Ironically, I’ve found that really difficult continental thought (just like the Isaiah chapters) is far more comprehensible to young children than is analytic or scientific thought.

    As for intertextuality: as someone studying to be a librarian, I tend to be a walking bibliography (read: walking contradiction). Unfortunately, the number of intertextual references in my writing is directly (not inversely) proportional to how rich a text or an idea is, to how much a given text requires me to think.

    And Robert thought he would be the scapegoat! 🙂

  23. cherylem said

    How about these definitions of demystify:

    Verb
    1.
    demystify – make less mysterious or remove the mystery from; “let’s demystify the event by explaining what it is all about”
    clarify, clear up, elucidate – make clear and (more) comprehensible; “clarify the mystery surrounding her death”
    mystify – make mysterious; “mystify the story”

    Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1) – Cite This Source
    de·mys·ti·fy [dee-mis-tuh-fahy] Pronunciation Key – Show IPA Pronunciation
    –verb (used with object), -fied, -fy·ing.
    to rid of mystery or obscurity; clarify: to demystify medical procedures.

    [Origin: 1960–65; de- + mystify]

    —Related forms
    de·mys·ti·fi·ca·tion, noun
    de·mys·ti·fi·er, noun
    Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
    Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

    American Heritage Dictionary – Cite This Source
    de·mys·ti·fy (d_-m_s’t_-f_’) Pronunciation Key
    tr.v. de·mys·ti·fied, de·mys·ti·fy·ing, de·mys·ti·fies
    To make less mysterious; clarify: an autobiography that demystified the career of an eminent physician.

    de·mys’ti·fi·ca’tion (-f_-k_’sh_n) n., de·mys’ti·fi’er n.

    Can we read Girard within the framework of these definitions?

  24. Robert C. said

    [Apparently Joe’s #22 and Cheryl’s #23 were posted as I was writing this—sorry for the redundancy.]

    Joe #18, thanks for the reference to D&C 128. For reference, it seems verse 14 is the key verse—we should probably take this up furhter on the wiki.

    robf #21, I only vaguely followed parts of Joe’s #20, but here are a few attempts to articulate my interpretation of Joe’s comment (though this will likely be more of a midrashic commentary on his comment than actual interpretation):

    Overall, I think Joe’s is using Lacanian language to think about the ways in which we might interact with a text, using a sexual relationship as an analogy. If we simply gratify our own presuppositions in reading the text, it is like we are raping the text. To “enter into the consummating act of reading,” in contrast, is to genuinely respond to the text—in particular, it seems that we must let the text move us in the sense that we will allow our presuppositions to be altered in the act of reading the text.

    In order to be moved or changed by the text in some way, we must accept that the text has something to offer us—that is, we must allow the text to be other than us. It is this aspect of the text that is a secret to us—if it weren’t a secret, then the text would not be able to move or change us since we would already know what the text would be saying to us before reading the text.

    The secret of the text, then, appears to us in the form of a contradiction because it is something that does not make sense to us. That is, the secret the text keeps from us is not just something that we don’t notice or can’t see at all; rather, the secret is something that is covered or hidden. Derrida talks about this in terms of the difference between invisibility and hiddeness. If the secret of the text were invisible, there wouldn’t be much hope of ever discovering the secret—we wouldn’t even notice the presence of the secret. That’s not a very interesting case to talk about. But if the secret is hidden, then whatever hides the secret is visible to us. In this case, the secret is hidden by a “contradiction,” a contradiction that is visible and which Joe is likening to seductive clothing.

    I don’t think I’m really getting to Joe’s point yet, but hopefully this helps in understanding the context in which Joe is making his point (which I think is drawing on more Lacan than I understand; somehow I think we are to let the text act as a therapist or a teacher, helping us see things about the world and ourselves that are hidden so that we can overcome our own neuroses and see the world more clearly, or at least interact with the world more charitably, as opposed to rapaciously…). Does that help, robf? Am I even close, Joe?

  25. cherylem said

    After all this discussion, I have just reread chapter 1. I find I am reading it with new insight and with new ease (or something like ease). When I read this text a decade ago I discussed it with no one that I can recall, so this experience is really great for me.

    During tonight’s reading I find I am interested in the idea on page 3 that the refusal to name the plague becomes a type of linguistic sacrifice, a scapegoat. Since the scapegoat in Leviticus served the purpose of having the sins of the people placed upon his head and then driven into the wilderness, later, according to Eastons Bible Dictionary, to be driven off a cliff so it could not return to the community, I am trying to understand how the refusal to name the plague serves as a scapegoat, a sacrifice. How does the refusal to name the plague bear the sins of the people? Does anyone have any ideas about this? is this even a reasonable way to look at a linquistic scapegoat?

    I am also interested at the bottom of page 6, where Girard describes de Machaut’s text . . .” If the text describes circumstances favorable to persecution. . . ff.” I am thinking again of scriptural texts which share these characteristics.

    I am also rereading the bottom of page 7: “The modern Western world chooses to interpret “texts of persecution” as real, this being the only possible way to demystify them.” For now, I am substituting the very simple definition: to clarify them, for “demystify.” Nevertheless I am remembering Joe’s word: denude, and the ongoing conversation we are having about this term.

    The statement we have referred to before on page 8: “one must either do violence to the text or let the text forever do violence to innocent victims,” is becoming more powerful to me, more true.

    And on page 9, when Girard said that Ernest hoeppfner’s introduction talks about Guillaume’s courtly poetry, but never mentioning the massacre of the Jews, I am again thinking of scriptural parallels. We introduce our scriptures the same way, really – teaching about their sublime nature, and ignoring their dark side.

    And when Girard writes about the unanimity regarding the witch trials texts (p. 10), which unanimity even includes the “witches” themselves, I think about the Biblical apocryphal story of Susanna, who raised her voice and called out her innocence – thereby NOT colluding with her persecutors, not accepting their text for her life. Of course it is the text that reveals this, amazingly enough.

    Robert, I continue to appreciate your mediation between joe’s language and ours; I hope you do not tire of doing this.

    Joe, tomorrow I want to continue to do a line by line discussion with you; I was so wrong on the way I read you the first time.

    Robf, thanks for your comments. I do think it is important to explain things simply, as to a child. I have my doubts whether Joe can do this however. And Joe, I mean no offense by this. I’ve lived for many years with someone who thinks somewhat like Joe (my son Ben) and the language he speaks is simply different than ours. Speaking that language carries with it its own kind of loneliness, though Joe may not have experienced this. If I could ask one thing of Joe, it is to limit the parenthetical remarks. They stop me in my tracks in reading what already makes my brain work in counter-intuitive ways.

    And if you could explain your thoughts, at least some of the time, as you would in a WRITTEN text for someone 8-10 years old, it would be helpful. Again, I mean no offense, and I don’t mean to say that we all think like pre-adolescents either (;->).

    I think the rest of us need to discuss the text where we are in our understanding; one way of thinking about this is neither better nor worse than another, in my opinion. There is so much here, so much richness and such an open door to seeing in a new way. Anyway, I’ve loved rereading chapter 1 tonight, again, after all this discussion.

    and that is all I have time for tonight.

  26. cherylem said

    Joe #18,
    I’m very interested how you develop D&C 128. Keep us posted.

  27. robf said

    Thanks Joe. As I lay in bed thinking about this last night I was hoping I hadn’t been too offensive in my comments. Your latest comment was more helpful for sure. As I was, probably too obscurely intimating in my last post, there is a fine line between rich poetic use of language, and obscurantism! With each word potentially spinning off several different meanings, I myself often succumb to the temptation to leave the words to carry a multitude of meanings without without helping the reader to know which meanings I may have in mind. I’m writing a PhD dissertation right now, and its a constant struggle for me. I want each term to carry whole thoughts and theories that my advisor is unfamiliar with. Unfortunately, while that may make for good poetry–or scripture–it does not make for clear communication. In exploring a text I’m all for going it slow–parsing out different meanings of words if need be, and exploring multiple meanings of passages. Please have patience if I slow things down by requesting clarification as I try to demystify our posts.

    BTW, I still think there is some unstated purpose or theory behind the concept of “demystifying” a text. Is there something about this word that makes it better than saying “making clear” or “seeking a hidden or unintended meaning”?

    And I’m trying to think more clearly about my own thoughts about texts. While I resist the notion that they act on their own–perhaps they are like linguistic machines that perform actions of conveying potential meanings–though I’m still not sure they do this by themselves without a reader. I guess I see texts more as catalysts that readers can use to obtain meanings (whatever meaning really means!)–many of which may be unintended by the original writer of the text. As far as a text or language both revealing and concealing meanings, I guess I’m coming from a Heideggerian perspective–but its been a long time since I’ve read Heidegger. When we talk about demystification, are we talking about trying to see how the language of the text both reveals and obscures truth/reality/being (this is where it gets muddled for me)? What might be the purpose in doing this? To reveal the violence hidden by a text?

    In the case of de Mauchat’s text the violence wasn’t hidden, so what are we looking for? What seems to have been deliberately hidden in de Mauchat was the word “plague”. Why was this hidden and what does it matter?

    Then there’s the case of the cultural understanding of the illnesses that were experienced by de Mauchat’s contemporaries. These were apparently–we bring this interpretation to the story–interpreted as the result of an evil crime perpetrated by a suspect minority (“the Jews”). Is it really doing violence to the text to seek a historical understanding of the event without accepting what the writer of the text explicitly states? If so, what does that mean and why would it matter? How is Girard setting this up?

    What I see Girard saying is that we can’t understand what happened in the past without the text, but that the texts themselves can’t tell us exactly what happened because they were written by people with prejudiced or limited understanding. So we have to rely on the text, but that it only points towards a historical event rather than accurately portrays what actually happened. We have to interpret the text, perhaps interrogate the text and do violence to it, in light of our modern understanding of history, psychology, etc. I get this, but not sure where Girard is trying to go with this. Why is this important?

  28. joespencer said

    Lots to respond to here.

    Robert #24, verse 14, yes, but verse 9 perhaps far more. Also, I think your translation of my comments was pretty good. At least, I don’t think I have any major problems with it.

    Cheryl #25, let me echo that this reading is far, far more productive for me as a group than it would be for me otherwise. I began working through the first two or three pages of chapter 2 last night, and I found that I was getting a great deal more from that than I otherwise would have after all we’ve been working through together here. I will have to take up some of the questions you raise later (today?). As for the clarity issue, I’ve certainly known the loneliness you mention (at times I wonder if I’ve ever known anything but that loneliness, but at times I wonder if anyone else has ever known anything but that loneliness either). And I am more than happy to write quite clearly at times.

    In fact, let me demystify my methodology in at least one particular (and this may help in the future). When I’m teaching seminary, once or twice in any given lesson, we’ll come to some part in the text where suddenly a dozen or so different directions will occur to me at once, where I will suddenly feel quite poignantly the violence that I am being forced to do to the text by teaching it in so limited a manner and in so limited a time. In a desperate attempt not to let my students think that what we are about to do is the only way the text can or should be taken—not to let them grow complacent in their treatment of the scriptures in the name of this teaching experience—I will take a minute to list all the directions we could go but will not. I throw the list out as fast as possible, always fast enough that no one could remember the list well enough to write it down or remember them all, etc. What I hope the kids sense in that moment is that there is a great deal more to the text than we might otherwise be letting on. In a more limited vein, I tend to say things like “And that ought to take us to the opening words of Second Isaiah, but we haven’t the time to go there today” a dozen times or so during any given lesson, for the same effect.

    The reason to mention all of this is to explain what is happening here when my prose becomes so dense, and especially when it becomes so intertextual and parenthetical: I’m trying to disturb the regular flow of discourse in the name of warning us all that we are radically oversimplifying everything, that we are never paying enough attention to the texts, that we are only having some fun with things in a kind of song and dance before God, that we had better not take ourselves very seriously at all. Rob’s link to “nonsense verse” is quite appropriate then: I write with a laugh. And yet I am dead serious (that is, I mean what I write: my laugh is not to suggest that I don’t mean what I write). If ever I grow too dense, you are probably all being given full license to skip that paragraph and look at the one following it, where I will grow (I hope) far more lucid and usually go in a direction completely different from the denser material.

    Hope that helps.

    Cheryl #26, I will. I’ll be very interested myself to see what comes of that section on Sunday.

    Rob #27, you and Cheryl are both looking at the unspeakable word “plague.” I’d like to take that question up at some length, but not right now (too busy!).

    I think your last paragraph is right on in interpreting Girard. I think that is exactly what he is saying. And it is precisely that claim that I am uncomfortable with. Like you, “I get this,” and I’m, like you, very interested to see where Girard is going with this. But if he is headed where I think he is, I don’t think I’ll travel the same road, though I’m very happy to give him a listen. I’m almost completely convinced that this first chapter is the most important one in Girard’s book for our own uniquely Mormon concerns (namely, about how to interpret scripture). I think Cheryl (and others?) will take issue with my opinion in the end, but I suppose I’ve been so vocal in this first post because I see Girard’s project as fractured from the very start.

    Though it was all too dense before, perhaps I can state my complaint clearly by drawing on your own words: “We have to interpret the text, perhaps interrogate the text and do violence to it, in light of our modern understanding of history, psychology, etc.” I think Girard is saying this, but I don’t think Girard has fundamentally understood “history, psychology, etc.” My former (dense) comments especially point to what I think he has misunderstood in psychology (namely, the insights of Lacan and his feminist followers). But I think his understanding of history needs some fine tuning as well. Etc.

  29. robf said

    Joe, feel free to throw out a long list of “directions not taken” whenever you like. The same thing happens to me all the time, and I think I do the same thing when I’m teaching. So many interesting leads to follow, so little time!

  30. cherylem said

    i haven’t been able to get back to this. Hope to soon.

  31. joespencer said

    I’ve too been quite busy, buried mostly in writing (I’ve had a marvelous time with Abinadi this week!). I’ve just about finished reading chapter 2. Who is posting next?

  32. Robert C. said

    Yeah, I’ve been swamped too. Cheryl wrote that intro post and Joe wrote on Ch. 1, so I think I’m up for Ch. 2. I started reading it today, but got interrupted about half-way through, but I should be able to finish the chapter and post something Mondayish….

  33. cherylem said

    I thought I would spend a few minutes on this tonight before we move to chapter 2. I spent a little time this afternoon rereading chapter 1 and all the posts on the chapter. Again, I am feeling/experiencing a certain pleasure from the discussion. After having put this all aside for a couple of days, my readings of our text and everyone’s comments seemed easier.

    So again, thank you for this effort.

    I’m going to divide my further comments into three sections, to follow.

  34. cherylem said

    I reviewed the questions we asked of and because of Girard’s text. This is especially fun because Girard gives us a text within a text (Guillaume de Machaut’s Judgment of the King of Navarre, with a side trip to La Fontaine’s Animals Sickened by the Plague). So when we ask questions of Girard’s text, in a way it feels like we are mimicking his process of asking questions of the earlier texts.

    Here are some of the questions we asked:

    Questions within Joe’s original post:

    What is the relationship between events and texts?

    How are texts and events tied together by the structures uncovered by psychoanalytic thought?

    Are there any texts that are not fundamentally persecution texts? Are all Western texts persecution texts?

    What would a non-persecution text entail, or what would it look like? How would it be read?

    What can be read into Girard’s choice of the word “typology” for his declared project in chapter 2, which he introduces in his last paragraph of chapter 1?

    How might this relation to texts be connected up with Ricouer’s “double vow”?

    How especially might this relation to texts be connected up with this statement from Ricoeur: “if hermeneutics is always an attempt to overcome a distance, it has to use distanciation as both the obstacle and the instrument in order to reenact the initial event of discourse in a new event of discourse that will claim to be both faithful and creative” (Figuring the Sacred, p. 38)?

    Questions within our comments:

    Cheryl #2 (admittedly written as questions in statement form):
    I am interested in why the Bible is so violent, for instance. I am interested in why we are fighting in Iraq, and why Glasgow just received a terrorist attack. I am interested in why lynchings were a part of our history, and why scapegoating seems prevalant today. I am interested in why I can live in a house that is worth quite a bit of money and yet five miles from me people are living in terrible poverty – of spirit as well as wealth.

    I am interested in why my father beat my mother, and abused his own children.

    Joe #10
    The modern Western world chooses to interpret ‘texts of persecution’ as real, this being the only possible way to demystify them,” writes Girard (p. 7, emph. added). Is this affirmation or critique?

    In a word (and here is my one-sentence summary of the first chapter): Girard seems to be claiming (or at least laying a foundation for the claim) that the first step towards the disappearance of real violence is authentically to take up the task of imposing imaginary violence. . . are we okay with that?

    Rob #12:
    One thing that I’m interested in exploring with this is the question: is violence/killing always wrong?

    Robert C#14
    The main question, then, that this chapter has me thinking about is what it means to read a sacred text. Can I read a sacred text with the same kind of suspicion that I read Guillaume’s text without desacralizing the text? Hmm….

    Cherylem#15
    Regarding your question of desacralizing the text, my question is, do our texts have to be sacred? What does it mean for a text to be sacred?

    Rob #27
    Then there’s the case of the cultural understanding of the illnesses that were experienced by de Mauchat’s contemporaries. These were apparently–we bring this interpretation to the story–interpreted as the result of an evil crime perpetrated by a suspect minority (”the Jews”). Is it really doing violence to the text to seek a historical understanding of the event without accepting what the writer of the text explicitly states?

    If so, what does that mean and why would it matter?

    How is Girard setting this up?

    What I see Girard saying is that we can’t understand what happened in the past without the text, but that the texts themselves can’t tell us exactly what happened because they were written by people with prejudiced or limited understanding. So we have to rely on the text, but that it only points towards a historical event rather than accurately portrays what actually happened. We have to interpret the text, perhaps interrogate the text and do violence to it, in light of our modern understanding of history, psychology, etc. I get this, but not sure where Girard is trying to go with this.

    Why is this important?

    ____________________________________________

    Our questions ran the gamut of the personal to the theoretical. As we continue to read The Scapegoat, it will be interesting to see if and how these questions expand, get answered, provoke further discussion and what new questions we raise.

  35. cherylem said

    In rereading our text and our comments this evening, I also tried to summarize the main ideas presented thus far, or . . . perhaps more accurately, the ideas that jumped out at me. You may have other ideas that seemed more important to you. I also have some further questions regarding these ideas, included below:

    In Joe’s opening post, he says that Girard, via our text is on a course (trajectory) toward Lacan and Badiou.

    Joe, my question is: did you see this trajectory as between two kinds of thought, with Girard in the middle, or is Girard the source of the trajectory?

    Joe says:
    Girard sees in Machaut’s inability to speak the name a textual scapegoating, in fact a doubling of the scapegoating event in the text. Brilliant, but let us not spend too much time here.

    Me:
    Can someone explain to me (Joe or anyone) what it means to have a “doubling of the scapegoating event.”

    Joe says:
    “The modern Western world chooses to interpret ‘texts of persecution’ as real, this being the only possible way to demystify them.”

    Me:
    This led to our discussion on demystification, something that will continue to interest me, I think.

    Robert C #5
    Robert clarifies some of Joe’s comments, and adds some of his own:

    Robert:
    Badiou has a notion of an event that is something that does not really have a basis. After all, if there is a basis of or justification for a particular action or thought, there’s a sense in which that action or thought is part of a pre-existing system or paradigm. An event, then, for Badiou, is somewhat analogous to what we might call a change of heart, or a conversion.

    Robert asks:
    how can our reading of a text effect a change of heart or conversion?

    Later, Robert C #20 continues this discussion:
    In order to be moved or changed by the text in some way, we must accept that the text has something to offer us—that is, we must allow the text to be other than us. It is this aspect of the text that is a secret to us—if it weren’t a secret, then the text would not be able to move or change us since we would already know what the text would be saying to us before reading the text.

    Robf #9 talks about the density of the text and the density of the discussion; we discussed this some. The entire Scapegoat project is likely to remain dense.

    Joe #10 gives us some personal insight:
    I’m new to Girard, and I come to him from the standpoint of my absolute immersion in the borderland between phenomenology and hermeneutics (the two fields in philosophy that have seemed to me for a long time now to be the most promising as interlocutors for my study of the scriptures and my engagement with the Church as an institution)

    Me: I found this interesting; Joe is telling us what helps him stay connected to the institutional church.

    Later, in Joe #28, we learn more about why he writes in a way that seems dense to some of us:

    The reason to mention all of this is to explain what is happening here when my prose becomes so dense, and especially when it becomes so intertextual and parenthetical: I’m trying to disturb the regular flow of discourse in the name of warning us all that we are radically oversimplifying everything, that we are never paying enough attention to the texts, that we are only having some fun with things in a kind of song and dance before God, that we had better not take ourselves very seriously at all. Rob’s link to “nonsense verse” is quite appropriate then: I write with a laugh. And yet I am dead serious (that is, I mean what I write: my laugh is not to suggest that I don’t mean what I write). If ever I grow too dense, you are probably all being given full license to skip that paragraph and look at the one following it, where I will grow (I hope) far more lucid and usually go in a direction completely different from the denser material.

    Robert, in # 14, summarized some aspects of the first chapter that were enlightening for me:

    First, robf, I sympathize with your impatience with the meandering Continental style, though I confess I’m becoming more patient. I think this is indeed can be related to aspects of American culture (and economic culture esp.), but I’ll try to resist saying more about that tangent. In Girard’s case, I think the repetitive feel to the first chapter might be related to the fact that he’s sort of tying in to approaches that are usually kept rather separate in academia. That is, he’s writing as a literary critic, philosopher, anthropologist, historian, psychologist, etc. So perhaps his repitition is a way of rephrasing his point in the language of, or targeted to, each of these different disciplines.

    Me:
    I found Robert’s teasing comments regarding the difference between the Continental Style against American culture seductive. I’d like to pursue this more, though maybe not in this particular forum.

    Robf, in#27, continues to address the idea of demystifying a text, and brings us the idea of text as catalyst (building, I think, on comments made before about texts bringing about a change of heart):

    Robf:
    BTW, I still think there is some unstated purpose or theory behind the concept of “demystifying” a text. Is there something about this word that makes it better than saying “making clear” or “seeking a hidden or unintended meaning”?

    Robf continues:
    And I’m trying to think more clearly about my own thoughts about texts. While I resist the notion that they act on their own–perhaps they are like linguistic machines that perform actions of conveying potential meanings–though I’m still not sure they do this by themselves without a reader. I guess I see texts more as catalysts that readers can use to obtain meanings (whatever meaning really means!)–many of which may be unintended by the original writer of the text. As far as a text or language both revealing and concealing meanings, I guess I’m coming from a Heideggerian perspective–but its been a long time since I’ve read Heidegger. When we talk about demystification, are we talking about trying to see how the language of the text both reveals and obscures truth/reality/being (this is where it gets muddled for me)? What might be the purpose in doing this? To reveal the violence hidden by a text?

    Joe, in # 28, challenges Girard.

    Though it was all too dense before, perhaps I can state my complaint clearly by drawing on your own words: “We have to interpret the text, perhaps interrogate the text and do violence to it, in light of our modern understanding of history, psychology, etc.” I think Girard is saying this, but I don’t think Girard has fundamentally understood “history, psychology, etc.” My former (dense) comments especially point to what I think he has misunderstood in psychology (namely, the insights of Lacan and his feminist followers). But I think his understanding of history needs some fine tuning as well. Etc.

    ____________________________

    As I said, these are comments and ideas that have stuck with me, probably idiosyncratically. I summarized them for myself; I hope the self-indulgence of posting them here is helpful, or at least interesting, to others.

  36. cherylem said

    I wanted to mention that the very beginning of the chapter, the first paragraph, tells us that the de Machaut’s courtly poem follows a violent introduction. I think this concept – beauty following conflict, the ability to create beauty following chaos – is important to Girard.

    And I wanted to ask just a few more questions:

    Joe or anyone: What is Ricouer’s “double vow?”

    Joe, in #20 you give us a couple of paragraphs on demystification, and then say: “Another way to say this: I personally believe, with all my heart, the story of the Fall.”

    Can you explain this further, especially as it relates to your preceding paragraph?

    And my last question is: Why is the most horrible/most terrifying the most unspeakable? (i.e., the plague, for instance. or the name of God). I don’t have a background in either psychiatry or philosophy; this inability to speak the name puzzles me. Can someone explain this?

  37. joespencer said

    Cheryl, thank you for this marvelous murder of the guardian—apparently more and more imposing, given our busyness and silence these past few days—of our (patri)archive on chapter 1. I haven’t the time tonight to take any of this up, but I think I will have some rather extensive responses early tomorrow morning (before I set myself to work on Abinadi).

    Incidentally, I finished reading chapter 2 this morning, and I think it will weave many of our questions and concerns together in an interesting new way.

    Until the morning!

  38. cherylem said

    One thing that occurs to me is that we have all circled the text. It is possible that by circling the text, and talking about it, we have almost not engaged it directly.

  39. Robert C. said

    Cheryl,

    These review-type posts are very helpful, esp. as I think about what to post on Chapter 2. Warning, I’ll probably continue to circle the text rather than engage more directly. I’m not really sure why that is, but here’s one reason I might put forth to defend that approach: I want to allow the text to change my core beliefs in some way. In order to do this, I must put my “core beliefs” on the table, or take up the text from the perspective of my core beliefs, or rethink (aloud) some of these core beliefs. I think this approach differs from the way that I read scripture because I am willing to trust scripture more in terms of allowing scripture to form my core beliefs, rather than just engaging my beliefs.

    I think this is related to your question about Joe’s question about the doubled-scapegoating at work, and the more general and fundamental question about how a text affects and changes us. This is why psycholanalysis, esp. a la Lacan, fascinates me (and presumably Joe), because it helps us think about the conscious and unconscious issues at work in our mind as we engage with others (a text in particular). By thinking carefully about what goes on as we read a text, we are more likely to learn from the text, and to allow ourselves to learn from a text.

    Now, different texts say different things, oftentimes quite contradictory of each other. The core beliefs I put in square quotes above are indeed a scary matter because I think they often work as blinders, at least in a sense. But I wonder if this is avoidable or not. I’ve been listening to a book about ancient philosophy (Gotlieb’s Dream of Reason) and so the skeptics and the critics of certain extreme forms of skepticism come to mind esp. here: can we make our way through life without something resembling core beliefs?

    Another big question I have that might help explain some of my circling of the text, is regarding the way I reinterpreted one of Joe’s early points in terms of a change of heart. Probably more than the intellectual changes a text can effect in me, I’m interested in the supra-intellectual effects, which again suggests good reason to be interested in Lacan and all of post-modern-ish thinkers who question the modernist tendency to approach everything merely intellectually/rationalistically.

    I’m partly thinking about all this in response to the recent Harry Potter hype, esp. in light of my love for literature. I think that at least in many ways, fiction has more real effect on society (esp. contemporary society) than scripture. In some ways, I think this is a result of “shallowness” in society. But in many ways not. My tendency is to take up scripture more intellectually and I’ve wondered why. I think it is largely because fictional characters are usually written in a way that “pulls me in” more—emotionally, I guess. And the best literature, I think, pulls us in and then exploits that effect in a way that changes us for the better. A simple example might be Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment—inasmuch as we relate to Raskolnikov as a character, as a human being, then we are allowed to see something terrifying in ourselves (since he murders a woman). I think this way of pulling us in and allowing us to see something in ourselves that is usually hidden is what is remarkable. (I think, by the way, that J. K. Rowling does this rather effectively also.) I think I’ve had more “truly moving” (read: “cry-inducing”) experiences with literature than with scripture, and I think I’m typical. Is this because of the way I approach literature vs. fiction, or something inherent in fiction vs. non-fictional (or less fictional!) scripture? (Joe, somehow I think all of this touches importantly on our many discussions about “personal application,” at least in terms of the inability to really know something without “living it” in the sense of allowing the text to pervade your being….)

    In contrast to great literature, I think shoddy literature can be characterized (or caricatured) as reinforcing a baser belief in ourselves. The easiest stereotype for this is perhaps the revenge play: someone is wronged and the reader/viewer is pulled into the drama because of a desire for revenge which is achieved in the end, though sometimes rather tragically. The catharsis at the end of such fiction is what I think Girard is getting at with this notion of persecution texts—the joy we feel when the bad guys “get what they deserve.” In great literature, we see the “bad buys” more sympathetically, and we learn more about the tenuous balance between good and evil, and we learn to see evil more compassionately, with new respect for our own capacity for evil, etc. etc.

    Sorry to be so rambly here. I’m partly trying to get some of the many thoughts I’m immersed in out, so that perhaps I might write something at least loosely coherent that doesn’t appear completely unrelated to Chapter 2….

  40. joespencer said

    Hmmm, Cheryl, I’m not sure why you feel we’ve circled round the text. I’m inclined to say that we have engaged the text rather quite directly. Of course not in every comment nor in every question we’ve raised, but on the whole…

    At any rate, I’d like to engage much of what has been raised in the last twenty-four hours here. Answers first.

    Regarding trajectories: I don’t know that there is any other good way to summarize chapter 1 than to say that it is a kind of call beyond the text, a summons to the evental truth that speaks without speaking (unconsciously or what have you) in the persecution text. (The very idea of taking up a typology of persecution stereotypes is based on this: there are some necessary features of the persecution text that render it a text that allows the event behind it to speak without speaking, etc.) I call this summons a trajectory towards Badiou and Lacan for two reasons. First, Lacan and Badiou were both fascinated by the event that speaks (in) the text, and they have uniquely posed among French (post-modern) thinkers a call to the truth as such, to some kind of uncompromised, robust sense of the truth. Girard seems to be doing something like this (though I’m still trying to figure whether he is doing so naively—that is, modernistically—or knowingly). Second, more and more as the chapter proceeds, key terms in the work of Lacan and Badiou begin to emerge, primarily terms like “real,” “imaginary,” and, of course, “event” (and it is this what-I-almost-have-to-think-of-as-conscious use of these terms that disrupts my almost automatic assumption that Girard is being naive: if he is making reference to Lacan and to Badiou, or to the strains of thought that are at work in their work, then there may be more going on here than any of us is realizing). I hope that helps.

    Doubling the scapegoating event: I think Girard begins to anticipate his second chapter when he discusses the inability to speak the word “plague.” That is, he is trying to uncover a kind of typology of persecution texts, a kind of rubric for recognizing a text as allowing the persecution event, again, to speak without speaking in the text. That is, I’m understanding his discussion of the unspeakable name to be a kind of exergue, a conceptual summary of the typology he will work out in chapter 2. Or in still other words, because Girard himself calls this unspeakability a kind of scapegoating of a word within the text, he seems to see this as summing up or gathering together the several textual stereotypes that point to the scapegoating event. The scapegoating event outside the text is doubled by a scapegoating of a word within the text, and this is the overarching or archetypical clue that the text is a persecution text and that it allows the persecution event to speak without speaking. In the end, though, I wonder if I can’t really explain this until we take up chapter 2 together, but see below when I consider the unspeakable name more thematically.

    Ricoeur’s “double vow”: This is something Ricoeur formulated relatively early in his career (relatively early in his hermeneutical period, that is), and it seems to me to have characterized basically all of his work on hermeneutics from there out (Ricoeur, sadly, died a little over a year ago). Two vows, he suggests, characterize the hermeneutic: one makes to the text a vow of rigor (or a vow of suspicion), and one makes to the text a vow of obedience (or a vow of faith). The former: in order to interpret a text, one must be willing to question the text, whether in the name of Freud (in terms of the psychical economy), of Marx (in terms of ideologies and material history), or of Nietzsche (in terms of genealogies). The latter: at the same time, in order to interpret a text, one must give oneself to the text, must trust it absolutely and thus allow it to question one, to call one and one’s presuppositions into question. Ricoeur suggests that these two vows enter, in the hermeneutical act, into a dialectic: one’s suspicion and one’s obedience, thrown together in one act, play with and alter each other, so that one’s altered suspicion and one’s altered obedience play with and alter each other, so that one’s doubly altered suspicion and one’s doubly altered obedience play with and alter each other, so that on’e triply… you get the point. The hermeneutic experience thus becomes an event in which the text (which calls for the vow of obedience) and the reader (who calls for the vow of rigor) come to mean something new, come to inhabit the world in a new or different way. (What I’ve been trying to think about throughout our discussions of this first chapter, then, is this: to what extent does Girard agree with this model of hermeneutics, and to what extent is he “simply” asserting that we should take up only a hermeneutic of suspicion? Is his assertion that it is the text itself that gives us reason to suspect something an assertion that we only come to suspicion because we have first given ourselves to the text in faith? More and more, though, I’m convinced that Girard he calls only for a text of suspicion, but I’d really, really like to be convinced otherwise.)

    Believing the Fall: Perhaps in anticipation of chapter 3 (nothing of which I’ve read, but the title itself suggests something of what is coming), I’m sensing that Girard does not believe in the Creation/Fall myth, that he will claim that all myths are persecution texts or ways of covering over a kind of primal murder (as in Freud’s Moses and Monotheism). I suppose this is just as much as to say that Girard’s ideas seem to me to imply a rejection (I’d simply love to here this seeming questioned) of the idea of the Fall, because the Fall myth would be the persecution text par excellence. So I suppose I’m formulating my discomfort with Girard to this point as a kind of defense of the Fall, of the scriptures as much as of the endowment drama: I can approach these texts with a vow of suspicion, but not without a radical vow of obedience as well. (Ricoeur, incidentally, marvelously interprets the Creation/Fall myth, along with exegete Andre LaCoque, in Thinking Biblically. The whole book is on my “recommend to as many people as possible” list.)

    The unspeakability of the name: Oh, this topic is so rich! Ancient history: to speak a name is to call or to summon, to bring into presence or into reality; hence, to speak the name of the terrible or the horrible is to give it place, to present it or to bring it here and now, which is obviously something one does not want to do. Psychoanalysis and (good 🙂 ) philosophy: the name-of-the-father is unspeakable because it is the name/word/metaphor that allows all language to be language (as opposed simply to a physical or animal mimic). That is, inasmuch as language is a system or a structure (cf. structural linguistics, Saussure, etc.), it must be built or structured by something outside of itself, and that is the unspeakable name, the name that allows all other names to take on meaning (within the structure). To speak that name that is outside the system—a name that does not differ or defer, that has no differance, and this is very wrapped up in chapter 2… again we’ll have to take this up more explicitly in our discussion of chapter 2—is to threaten the system’s own systematicity, to threaten the possibility of speaking at all. To speak that name is to destabilize the structure or body of language in a movement of pure ecstasy (ecstasy, literally: out of stasis or stability), as one does in speaking the unspeakable tongue of angels or speaks (negatively?) the unpronounceable name of God (YHWH). (Mysticism, right?) Hence, Girard: speaking and writing also have their scapegoats, something that must be thrust from the community or system in order to maintain the systematicity of the system. To speak the name of the exiled (which is forbidden in so many societies in history) is to question the system; to speak the name of what reduces the differences that structure the system to nothing is to summon that threat right into the system, or perhaps to allow oneself to be summoned out of the system into the realm of exile (again, ecstasy). Either way, the threat is very, very real (or imaginary… or symbolic… or symbolically real in the imagination, or really imaginary in the symbolic, or etc.).

  41. joespencer said

    No time to do more this morning. Onward, though!

  42. Robert C. said

    I mentioned at the Feast blog this post about remembering feelings. I think this is a profound way to get at some of the issues I was trying to think about in #39 (and I think, Joe, it’s profoundly related to your typology per Alma 36 also…). That is, what I think is profound in life, as in fiction and any text, are the remembrances of love and grace. Girard then, in this light, seems to be pointing to ways in which we remember things other than love or grace, like grudges. Human nature is to be unforgiving, to remember wrongs, to hold a grudge. A scapegoat is a powerful symbol for remembering-no-more these wrongs and injustices. I was looking at Jim’s notes on Romans 1 the other day and he talks about God’s righteousness/justice as his ability to right wrongs (as in “ad-just” I was thinking…). This divine attribute seems to begin with a gracious forgetting of wrongs. The satanic lie is in the accusation of others which brings others’ faults or particular wrongs to our mind—into our memory, so-to-speak—which leads to our belief that a price must be paid for that wrong, otherwise we will not be able to forget that wrong. But salvation is free. Agency is free. The Son’s suffering shows us that all we need to do is choose to forgive, to choose not to worry about “what’s fair,” but to respond graciously….

  43. cherylem said

    Re my comment in #38:

    I was picturing us all kind of circing the text and poking it with sticks. I’m not sure why I had this image, but there it was. I was thinking that if I was an artist I would draw this image.

    The image would work for a lot of different texts, not just this one.

    The idea probably does do us a disservice; we have interacted with the text pretty directly, as Joe says. And yet, I have this picture in my head.

  44. cherylem said

    Robert and Joe,
    Regarding your latest comments, I appreciate the time you both took to engage my questions and my summarizing attempt. Your thoughts are deep and wide.

    Thank you.

    Joe, of course the idea of the unspeakable name is not new to me, but it is not OBVIOUS to me. I loved your explanation.

    Do you believe in the story of the fall literally?

    I see the story as almost all symbol, and yet, what literal truth there is in is in our following that pattern. That is we see Adam and Eve in a pre-existent state, choosing humanity, choosing choices. As we all do, before we come here. We all choose to eat the fruit, to enter mortality. That’s my belief right now, tonight, and has been for some time, actually.

    Thanks for your other comments (trajectories, Racoeur, doubling). They were excellent.

    Robert, also thank you for your thoughts. I like seeing your your mind interacts with our subject(s), not only here but also on the blog. I am a little different than you because I don’t assume that scripture is telling me how to act and believe and be IN EVERY INSTANCE; that is, scripture is open to interpretation and even to being wrong. I am really one of those people who believe that when I know, or think I know, how best to be, this understanding comes from a combination of personal experience, learning from the experiences of others, and certain interactions with certain texts, and sometimes, through the direct intervention of Spirit. But I really trust my “gut.” More than any text, I trust the voice within. Thus I read Girard with both openness and resentment, openness because most of the time I believe him, resentment because Girard does say that sometimes our inner voices are not correct.

    But . . . I’ve also learned directly from Girard not to take offense (as often), not to try to get the best of most arguments, to walk away from conflict. These counterintuitive actions are a result of changes I’ve made because of the text he gives – I mention this because of your comment about being open to being changed by a text.

    And by the way, Girard has written about Crime and Punishment in Deceit Desire and the Novel, and also in To Double Business Bound.

    I liked very much your ideas expressed in #42: the way of the accuser vs the way of the atoner.

    As a final aside, I love great literature also, and I’m a Harry Potter fan, but I also love baser literature. I do. Give me a panting, page turning, quick read and I’ll devour it in one sitting.

    In other words, I read practically anything.

  45. joespencer said

    Cheryl: “Do you believe in the story of the fall literally?”

    I’m not sure I know what “literally” means, but I think I will respond “yes” nonetheless. I’m not sure I can find any coherent way to understand Mormonism (Joseph’s and Brigham’s Mormonism) without a very real Adam figure: some real Adam and Eve must have held the keys on earth and must now hold the keys over the council; some real Adam and Eve must have walked in Jackson County and then in Caldwell County; some real Adam and Eve must have sacrificed until angels came with further light and knowledge; some real Adam and Eve must have been given the heavenly gift of writing; some real Adam and Eve must have held a council in the valley and witnessed the appearance of the Christ; some real Adam and Eve must have died; some real Adam and Eve appeared to Joseph on a few different occasions; some real Adam and Eve will come to Adam-Ondi-Ahman to hold another council; some real Adam and Eve will come to set things in order; some real Adam and Eve will take us back to the Garden; some real Adam and Eve will stand as the heads over a great celestial family; some Adam and Eve will be our parents and our gods and the only gods with whom we have to do; etc. If I buy all of that, I’m not sure how to get around the Fall.

    But that doesn’t mean that the Fall isn’t symbolic precisely as you describe as well: what else could the endowment mean?

    Robert, I’d like to get back to your comments, but I don’t know if/when I’ll have time, especially because I’ve got to go read your post on chapter 2 right now!

  46. cherylem said

    Thanks Joe, re your thoughts on Adam/Eve

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