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

The Scapegoat, chapter 2: “Stereotypes of Persecution”

Posted by Robert C. on July 24, 2007

Here are a few of my thoughts and questions (esp. questions) in response to Chapter 2 (I’m probably going to be pretty busy over the next several days, so I’m hurrying to at least write something up):

First, before talking about sameness, difference, and the system/structure underlying community which Girard seems to discuss in the bulk of the middle of the chapter, I’d like to think a bit more about this notion of exchange as it pertains to violence, or as we commonly say, the cycle of violence. On page 13 Girard writes,

The reciprocity of negative rather than positive exchanges becomes foreshortened as it becomes more visible, as witnessed in the reciprocity of insults, blows, revenge, and neurotic symptoms. That is why traditional cultures shun a too immediate reciprocity.

Reciprocity, I think, is key to understanding what makes violence cyclical. And I think carefully uncovering this question of the cyclicality and attraction of negative exchange will help us understand atonement better (as perhaps an eternal foreshortening of reciprocity), for it seems the “love begets love” notion that Joseph Smith seemed fond of is an important means by which atonement works.

Near the end of the chapter, Girard says,

The fact that some of these acts of violence might even be justifiable today is not really important to the line of anlaysis I am pursuing. [p. 19]

Girard goes on to give an example of “a black male who actually rapes a white female” (p. 20). And on page 22 Girard talks about the Greek term krino which is a very important scriptural term as well as an etymological linkage between what I think amounts to justice or judgment and scapegoating. I think it is a misguided understanding of justice that is most frequently used by us (in Mormon culture esp.) as a rationalization for seeking violence. We typically think that if someone did something wrong, they must be punished—why do we think this? Where does our understanding of what is fair come from? Does this come from mimetic desire and rivalry? If so, how? What are other possible sources of this desire for reciprocity? How does it relate to our understanding of Satan as an(/the) accuser?

One main reason that Girard seems to give in answer to this why is to protect the community. What binds us together as a community (in sameness) is what makes us different from the deviant. So the deviant must be changed, typically in the form of punishment. My question is whether Girard is ultimately calling all forms of punishment into question, or only “irrational” (see penultimate sentence on p. 20) punishment—or is there ever such a thing as rational punishment?

I think that because we live in a liberal democracy where rule of law reigns, we are inclined to say that there is an important distinction here: punishment is a means of deterring crime. Is this what Girard is effectively questioning, or is he only questioning the thirst for vengeance that typically accompanies prosecution. Is all prosecution persecution?

I’m reading Girard here very much through a lens of justice, which itself might be obscuring the key issues more than clarifying anything interesting. But, again, I’m very interested in what the implications are of Girard’s thought on this topic, and I think this does get at the core of many of Girard’s thoughts. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to clean this up or raise many of the other fascinating issues from the chapter. I trust, however, that this won’t stop you from discussing what you think is interesting in the chapter (I know Joe in particular already has a lot he wants to talk about which I don’t think directly relates to any of the issues I’ve tried to raise here, so comment away, please).


64 Responses to “The Scapegoat, chapter 2: “Stereotypes of Persecution””

  1. joespencer said

    I’m not sure if this is a manifestation of the same questions you’re raising here, Robert, but I found myself a bit surprised at the relative lack of passion in chapter 2, at the constant reassurances Girard gives the reader to let her know that he’s speaking very, very abstractly. I suppose it made/makes me wonder if we (I) misread chapter 1: might he simply have been making abstract assertions about Western civilization? But did he not take sides?

    I was fascinated by the same snippet Robert excerpts on reciprocity. It seems to me that Girard is suggesting something like a pragmatics of systematicity (an explanation of why human beings set up systems) here: the establishment of the system (of exchanges) is not an attempt simply to set in motion of exchange (which would happen nonetheless) but an attempt to delay exchanges, to slow them down if not, in fact, to defer them infinitely. System-building as the will to sublimation (in whatever sense): we interweave implicit differences with deferral through institutionalization so that the exchanges that enact and realize differences can be sublimated (reciprocity becomes economy, etc.).

    I think, in the end, that this model is a key to making sense of chapter 2: system-building as the institutionalization of differance (difference and deferral) gives way to the trinitarian play of the three persecution text stereotypes. But I’ll have to take up this trinitarian play later: I have a date with 3 Nephi 11.

  2. cherylem said

    by the way, in trying to understand what Girard means by banal, I came across this, which is interesting to me: no one really knows how to pronounce this word. From

    Usage Note: The pronunciation of banal is not settled among educated speakers of American English. Sixty years ago, H.W. Fowler recommended the pronunciation (bān’əl, rhyming with panel), but this pronunciation is now regarded as recondite by most Americans: no member of the Usage Panel prefers this pronunciation. In our 2001 survey, (bənāl’) is preferred by 58 percent of the Usage Panel, (bā’nəl) by 28 percent, and (bə-näl’) by 13 percent (this pronunciation is more common in British English). Some Panelists admit to being so vexed by the problem that they tend to avoid the word in conversation. Speakers can perhaps take comfort in knowing that these three pronunciations each have the support of at least some of the Usage Panel and that none of them is incorrect. When several pronunciations of a word are widely used, there is really no right or wrong one.

    And . . . more later on the actual post and chapter 2.

  3. cherylem said

    In trying to make sure I understand Girard’s three stereotypes, I came across this;

    Within the article is an extended reference/explanation of chapter two in The Scapegoat

  4. cherylem said

    Before I engage either of Robert or Joe’s ideas, I’d like to discuss the 3 stereotypes of persecution texts:

    I confess that I am having trouble listing the three stereotypes, so I’m going to list them here as I understand them:

    1st stereotype (page 14): stereotype of crisis; culture is somehow eclipsed as it becomes less differentiated.

    but then on page 17 we read, regarding the 2nd stereotype:
    “the crisis caused by the lack of differentiation as the second stereotype”

    and again on page 17 the third stereotype is explained as the selection of the victim; the particular way the victim is selected.

    So I don’t see a huge difference between 1 and 2.

    What I do see included in 1 is the search for people to blame; this brings about the accusation. So then, the stereotypes are:

    1st stereotype (page 14): stereotype of crisis; culture is somehow eclipsed as it becomes less differentiated. This eclipsing of culture brings about the search for someone to blame, or, in other words, the accusation.

    but then on page 17 we read, regarding the 2nd stereotype:
    “the crisis caused by the lack of differentiation as the second stereotype”

    Included in the 2nd stereotype is a further explanation of the accusation, which is an accusation of crimes which remove difference (incest, bestiality, etc.)

    and again on page 17 regarding the third stereotype is explained as the selection of the victim; the particular way the victim is selected.

    Included in the 3rd stereotype is a further refinement of the accusation: the who in the who is to blame.

    So I see all three stereotypes carrying within them an ever deepening sense and meaning of accusation.

    Does this make sense?

    Along this line, here is someone else’s explanation of the 3 stereotypes:

    “It is important to note that when Girard speaks of persecutions, he is specifically referring to collective persecutions, or, in other words, “acts of violence committed directly by a mob of murderers.” [10] Within this context he concludes, as the first stereotype of persecution, that circumstances of such tyranny arise out of either an internal or external social crisis situation. [11] Conflict within a group has the effect of weakening social norms, thereby creating a favorable situation for mob formation. [12] From this assertion, one can deduce that with the loss of social order comes the innate desire to immediately rebuild some sense of identity and social solidarity which produces, what one might refer to, mob mentality, or, in the modern political context, extreme nationalism. With this stated, Girard’s second conclusion regarding stereotypical characteristics of persecution seems plausible. Once the mob is mobilized it seeks an outlet to issue blame, rather than investigating the “natural causes” of the situation. [13] It identifies an “enemy” and convinces itself that that particular group or individual “is extremely harmful to the whole of society.” [14] In other words, the crowd “looks for an accessible cause that will appease its appetite for violence” by singling out a certain group or individual and accusing them of injuring society. [15] Which leads us into Girard’s third stereotype: the marks of a victim.”

    This is from SLOBODAN MILOSEVIC: THE GUILTY PROPHET, found here (author not given)

  5. cherylem said

    Also I am thinking about the idea of the accusation as mediator. In terms of Robert’s comments here, this is especially interesting. What is the role of the accusation, or the accuser?

    Here is a schematic I came up with regarding this:

    accuser as mediator

    This also make me think of the different mediating role Christ has in similar situations.

  6. cherylem said

    All for today. More tomorrow.

  7. cherylem said

    Well, one more tonight.

    Robert and Joe: I too think the idea of the reciprocity of exchanges, and the delaying of these, is critical.

  8. joespencer said

    I left off with a promise yesterday morning: “I think, in the end, that this model is a key to making sense of chapter 2: system-building as the institutionalization of differance (difference and deferral) gives way to the trinitarian play of the three persecution text stereotypes.” Let me take this back up and in terms of the several questions Cheryl raises.

    First, then, let me lay out what I think are Girard’s three stereotypes. Here’s what I wrote in the margins of my text: “Stereotype #1: decrease in differentiation” (middle of page 14); “Stereotype #2: mediating accusations” (middle of page 17); and “Stereotype #3: signs for selecting the persecuted” (top of page 18). I did (and do) not see the three stereotypes as a series of deepening analyses of accusation, though I think Cheryl’s reading may prove to be quite fruitful; rather, I am taking the three stereotypes as three kinds of textual clues that betray what is, according to Girard, the transgressable text. Or rather, as three clues that take on their full signification when they are given, on pages 21-23, to a trinitarian play. In the end, I think these last three pages of text are the most important in the chapter (and they certainly begin to sketch in advance the general aim of chapter 3, which I still have not at all read).

    Girard speaks on page 21 of “the close relationship that exists between the first two stereotypes.” This close relationship seems quite obvious to me. Social crisis reduces or cancels differentiation and deferral (cancels the system or the systematicity of the system), and the mediating accusation functions precisely to link up (and this is its very mediation) the enormous event of systematic collapse and the miniscule minority being blamed for the collapse. What Girard seems to be doing here is suggesting that what seem at first simply to be two clues in the text (a persecution text is going (1) to report the collapse of differentiation/deferral and (2) to bear mediating accusations) turn out to be structurally related facets of the persecution event in the name of which the reader is given to transgress the persecution text: the accusations, because they accuse the sanctioned minority with crimes against differentiation, are linked directly to the collapse of systematicity. This seems very straightforward to me.

    When this structural relation between the first two stereotypes is taken up into the still broader structure of a full trinitarian play (among all three), the question of systematicity really emerges nicely. But this requires a shift in our thinking, as Girard suggests on pages 21-22. He suggests that what really gets those within the system of differences and deferrals concerned is the sameness that speaks in what differs from the system: it is inasmuch as something outside the system is like the system that the system can be threatened in its very systematicity. That is, when the system witnesses the systematicity of another system, the security of its own systematicity is questioned (it could be otherwise), and a crisis results. And the persecution is waged precisely in an attempt to undo (systematically) the systematic other.

    Bringing all three stereotypes together, then, we have something like the following. The given system (say, a society, an economy, a church, or even one’s body) witnesses a parallel system (society, economy, church, body) whose systemticity is undeniably structured and yet differently so (systematizes different differences in order to defer, etc.). This act of witnessing in itself threatens the (totalitarian) systematicity of the first system because it relativizes it, suggesting that systematics can be undertaken in some other way. In order to guard against this relativization or threat, the witnessing system vocalizes its witness in an accusing testimony: it gives voice to accusations that (with or without deception) claim that the other system is decrepit or deformed because it is not built on a few “absolutely necessary” differences (taboos, perhaps, such as incest, familial murder, etc.). When a crisis happens, and the systematicity of the first or witnessing system is called into question (for whatever reason), those making up the system allow their accusing testimony to become actively condemnatory: violence becomes more than vocal. Thus, once all three clues (the systematicity of the other, the mediating accusations, and the collapse of the systematicity of the same) appear in a text, it is “clear” that real violence in a real event gave birth to the text, and the reader is given to transgress the text in imaginary violence.

    To make this more concrete, let me put it in terms of religious persecution. A Latter-day Saint who feels threatened by evangelical theology will feel threatened essentially because he (I’m choosing the masculine for a reason) discovers that evengelism has a systematicity about it, that one could work out a systematic theology based on evangelical presuppositions that is not internally inconsistent. This coherence of evangelical belief, this lack of contradiction in the systematicity of evangelism, is threatening because it suggests that the Mormon religion is only contingent (the Mormon’s religion hypothetically should be the only consistent worldview). As an apologist, or as a polemicist especially, he likely dedicates some time to proving that the evangelical’s theology is inconsistent somehow (hence the Socratic method in apologetics, right?). When a major crisis then happens in Mormonism (say, some twit in Utah starts forging documents or something like that), and the Mormon’s own pretended systematic theology is suddenly canceled, he begins to make accusations that belittle the systematicity of other religions so as to strengthen the failing systematicity of his own faith. Whatever he writes in that situation will bear the three stereotypes of persecution, and we readers would be “justified” in transgressing his text to seek out the violence of the event behind it. (It would be interesting, would it not, to look at persecution texts written by Latter-day Saints during crises of Mormonism. It seems, from the example I’ve just given, that they have been almost systematically overlooked. A curious phenomenon in itself.)

    At any rate, that is my basic reading. I’d still like to link all of this up with Girard’s suggestion of deferral of reciprocity in systematization. Perhaps I’ll have time later today.

  9. Cherylem said

    This from today’s Writer’s Almanac is interesting:

    It’s the birthday of Elias Canetti (books by this author), born in Ruse, Bulgaria (1905). He’s best known for his novel The Tower of Babel (1935). As a child, he learned to love languages. He grew up in an area of Bulgaria that was so ethnically diverse that his grandfather had to speak 17 languages in order to succeed as a grocer.

    He went to high school in Frankfurt, Germany, and it was there that he first saw a workers’ street demonstration turn into a riot. He was so disturbed by the sight of a mob that it haunted him for years. Then, in 1927, he was passing by the Vienna Palace of Justice after an unpopular verdict had been announced. A crowd of people on the street suddenly erupted into a riot, and Canetti was surrounded. He later wrote, “I had become part of the crowd, I fully dissolved in it, I did not feel the slightest resistance to what the crowd was doing.” He rushed forward with the others and participated in the burning down of the Palace of Justice.

    Canetti later said that his experience participating in a riot was the most important day of his life, and he spent the rest of his career as a writer researching crowds and their effect throughout the history of civilization. Most of his plays and fiction are about mobs and riots, and he believed that the 20th century was defined by the mob mentality. He fled the Nazis and lived in England during World War II, and finally published his masterpiece, Crowds and Power, in 1960. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981.

    This can be seen at

  10. Robert C. said

    Cheryl, thanks for your many interesting thoughts and insights. I don’t have much time, so forgive my only engaging Joe directly for now.

    Joe #8, I like what you say and generally agree with how you’re reading Girard. I quite like your example using systematic theology, though it’s I think too easy for me to agree with you and accuse the systematic theologian of persecution. This is basically why I took up Girard’s example of rape from the chapter, because it’s a much harder example for me to work through. I’m probably just getting ahead of ourselves, but I want to at least get this question that I see as crucial clearly on the table (it’s not too clear to me yet…). How can any community survive without some sort of persecution of those who challenge the foundational beliefs of the community? I’m happy to have a community rid of (totalizing) systematic theology, but I’m not happy to have a community that is not rid of at least some sort of intolerance for rape. It’s interesting to talk about this dynamic of persecution, but is Girard saying it’s always bad? If not, when is it OK? Or, again, is it only OK if the persecution is enforced without irrational enthusiasm (I’m conflating Derrida with Girard using the term enthusiasm, aren’t I?).

    I can’t remember if I mentioned this before, but in the Gottlieb’s book on the history of philosophy, he had an interesting discussion of Plato’s critique of democracy (at least I think it was Plato, I was multi-tasking while listening…), saying it would become too tolerant of everything (mediocrity esp.). I’ve been wondering about this quite a bit ever since, esp. because modern society seems to place an enormous amount of weight on the virtue of tolerance. How tolerant can community X be of Y and still be considered a community? Religion of the secular world? Zion of Babylon? Humanity of ecology? It seems to me tensions abound and are unavoidable, which is to say that persecution is unavoidable, so I’m rather leery of condemning persecution indiscriminately.

    (Perhaps I’m just overreacting to the word persecution and if I just replace this in my mind with a word having more neutral connotations, like “conflict,” than I can get over this hang up and move on….)

  11. joespencer said

    You have begun to outline with these questions what I think will be my critique, in the end, of Girard. Isn’t this the point of The Gift of Death, especially chapter 3? That we are always killing something or someone, that we never get away from murder, though we choose not to murder this or that person? Derrida is the thinker of systematicity as such, of what it means to construct or deconstruct a system. But then is it possible ever to live within a system without murder or without persecution? Derrida would, if I’m understanding him correctly, say no. I’m not sure what yet what Girard would say.

    He will either have to argue, given that he takes cognizance of the whole problem, that we “should” reject systematicity as such, or that we “should” recognize it. In other words, I see three roads open to him: he may (1) misunderstand systematicity, (2) ethically reject systematicity for its necessary violence, or (3) suggest that the violence of systematicity is unavoidable but that it must be recognized.

    I think.

  12. Robert C. said

    Thanks, Joe. I esp. like how you’ve laid out the different paths Girard might take.

    I’m not sure I understand your use of the term systematicity. I’m thinking in terms of community. I can’t remember what term Girard uses, though I thought it was structure. So “structure of a community” sort of makes sense to me (though I need to keep thinking about this). You talked earlier about systematic theology, and it seems that any structure of a community might be thought about in terms of a systematic theology. In this sense, I see a strong connection between the words system and structure. And Derrida is famous for de-con-struc-tion, so I’m guessing this is what you mean by naming Derrida “the thinker of systematicity” as such. I guess I’m stating what’s obvious here, but maybe others will find my stating this connection more explicitly helpful (and perhaps I’m missing something about the way you might think about the interchangeability of these terms?). At any rate, I like how you mentioned the connection to chapter 3 in The Gift of Death, since I hadn’t really thought about this connection explicitly. (For those who haven’t followed the Reading Abraham seminar, Adam Miller put the main point rather succinctly: if I choose to spend an a minute more in my office, that one less minute I have to spend with my family; or, more dramatically, if choose to give one dollar to particular starving person, that’s one less dollar I have to give to another particular starving person—Adam stated this in terms of cats, but since I’m not a huge cat lover, I embellished it!)

  13. cherylem said

    Robert and Joe,
    Thanks for the discussion, as always.

    Robert, I think that your questions continue to grow out of something you said in your original post: “I think it is a misguided understanding of justice that is most frequently used by us (in Mormon culture esp.) as a rationalization for seeking violence. We typically think that if someone did something wrong, they must be punished – why do we think this? Where does our understanding of what is fair come from? . . . . is there ever such a thing as rational punishment?” Later you ask: “Is all prosecution persecution?”

    These are such great questions.

    Joe, I liked your initial idea of linking the “why” of why humans set up systems with what Girard has written so far. I especially like your point about delaying exchanges in an attempt to defer them infinitely. My brain is going lots of places with this, not least the potlach of some American Indians.

    I also agree that the three stereotypes are more or less straightforward (and made even more so in chapter 3); nevertheless I continue to be drawn to the linking of accusation with the three stereotypes; I think this linking is revealed in Girard’s text, and it makes sense to me besides.

    A couple of things that occurred to me through Joe’s post #8, which I thought quite brilliant, actually, were:
    1) as we enter Girard’s mindset it is relatively easy to make application outside of ourselves, or even to make application when we have served the role of victim. It is more difficult to make application to ourselves (myself) as persecutor. But I think one of Girard’s points is that we as individuals can move in and out of these roles with something like ease.

    2) even given #1 above, one Mormon application of this chapter would be the famous exclusion of feminists, intellectuals and homosexuals.

    Still, if Girard is correct, we can see the application in Mormons as persecutors, but also, we will find texts where Mormons are the victims. Both are easy to find. Perhaps a more interesting question is to find texts that do neither, and protect us from both.

    Last, I think Robert’s question remains valid: is all prosecution persecution? This is a question to remember as we work forward through The Scapegoat.

    I do not think Girard is so liberal that he suggests we should tolerate the intolerable. Of course this begs the question of what is intolerable. So far, however, he has refrained from making “moral” judgments except, I think, the statement on page 18: “One of the great qualities of our society is that it now feels obliged to take measures for their [the “handicapped”] benefit.”

    Also, Joe #11, I’m not sure “shoulds” are actually part of his vocabulary; however your three choices are good and it will be interesting to see how these are replied to by the text.

    Just a few more thoughts:

    On page 18, toward the bottom, the discussion regarding abnormality reminded me of one of the great things I love about the gospels: Jesus as the restorer of social dignity. That is, he restored social dignity to those who met the criteria of “abnormality,” thus removing that stigma from them. This is a type of healing that is not obvious in our SS class type discussions, but it is a real healing nevertheless, not only of the individuals involved, but of the greater society that has depended on the abnormal ones in order to order itself. Though by removing the stigma of the abnormal ones, perhaps Jesus was throwing the current system into chaos. It could to either way: healing or chaos.

    On pages 18-19, as Girard discusses other signs of victims, including the powerful and very rich, I was reminded of our use for and treatment of our presidents. Without getting at all into current politics, I have often thought that we need our presidents in order to blame someone when things are going terrible. This is complex and a gross oversimplification, but still, I do think presidents fill that role.

  14. Robert C. said

    Good points Cheryl. I like esp. what you say about abnormality. I think Girard is very helpful in helping us recognize violence, so I’m happy to read Girard for Joe’s third option in comment #11, for the sake of recognizing “the violence of systematicity.” And through recognition, I think violence can be minimized (and perhaps “controlled” or “channeled correctly”) even if it cannot be completely eschewed.

    Regarding the president as scapegoat, I’ve wondered a fair bit about this in scriptures where the king is described as being responsible for the people. Joe and I have talked about this a bit before, and I know Avraham Gileadi talks about this in his The Literary Message of Isaiah in terms of the Davidic Covenant (in contrast to the Sinai Covenant…). I hope Girard talks more about this notion of transference, since I find that a fascinating topic (Joe’s written some good stuff about this on the Feast wiki for D&C 128:8 or so, though I’ve probably butchered what he originally wrote…).

  15. cherylem said

    From a feminist perspective, I wanted to point out that when systems collapse and difference disappears, this is sometimes good for women, especially during the period when a new system is being created out of the chaos. Religiously, when a new religious system is formed, women are often not treated as different but as equals during the early stages. Then, as time goes on, inevitably in our centuries old western patriarchal society, the difference between women and men is emphasized, and women are stripped of their equal powers as their difference is made more important.

    This was true in the early church of the first and second centuries, of the reformation, and during the formation of Mormonism. Difference between the sexes was minimized and women assumed important roles of leadership, healing, work, prophesying, and even being priestesses. Later, all these roles would be taken away in order, among other things, to preserve difference. Any women who desired and acted to retain or take back these gifts would then be expelled from the greater society; the organization’s survival would come to depend on the structure of difference and expulsion.

  16. joespencer said

    Two quick responses tonight, and then I’ll be out of town until Saturday afternoon.

    First, I would very much like to get back to the question of deferral, especially as it relates to scapegoating the name. I would like to take this up in terms of the Hegelian master-slave dialectic and its termination with the Aufhebung (“supersession” or even “sublimation”). I haven’t the time tonight, but it is worth taking up the relation between deferral/difference (differance) and the nature of systematicity as such as a thematic in the history of Western civilization, and tying this all to a history of the culture of death. I think such a meditation would lay bare much of what we’re trying to think about.

    Second, I’m hesitant as yet to get into questions of scapegoating within the Church. For one, I suppose I feel that I’m still quite unsure what “conclusions” Girard is going to come to. And coming to the “end” of things with Girard seems quite important to undertaking anything like a productive discussion of especially feminism (especially: I’m actually interested in that question, while I’m not particularly interested in the other two questions, namely, of homosexuality and intellectualism). It would take a great deal to convince me that any discussion of these three “scapegoats” (and I’m going to assert my authority to maintain those scare quotes!) would not be doomed from the start by a profound ethnocentrism. Or something like a profound ethnocentrism. At any rate, I’m convinced that we should be studying texts like The Scapegoat not to answer questions about feminism, homosexuality, or intellectualism, but to rethink the presuppositions that are making these questions questions at all.

    But both of these brief comments will call, I’m sure, for much more comment. Let me summarize them in the form of a double promise: I promise (1) to get seriously involved in thinking further about the relation between systematicity and deferral and the relation between this relation and death, and (2) not to get seriously involved in discussing (I dare not say thinking!) the three so-called scapegoats of Mormonism (or of President Packer, as is usually the claim).

  17. cherylem said


    I agree with this: “At any rate, I’m convinced that we should be studying texts like The Scapegoat not to answer questions about feminism, homosexuality, or intellectualism, but to rethink the presuppositions that are making these questions questions at all.”

    Nevertheless, I think almost all questions are fair game as we work through Girard. Though I agree that I don’t want thread-jack discussions of the three exclusions or of feminism particularly, I personally think it fine to bring anything to the table as a side dish. For one thing, as in any feast, the side dishes serve to complement the main course, but if all we chew on is the main course, we will miss a richness of experience and ideas that comes only when a full buffet is laid out.

    Or, put another way, some comments will be like a bowl of carrots. Not everyone will like them, or even want to add them to their plate, or eat them right away (maybe later, thank you!) but placing them on the table will remind us that they are there, and available.

    And since this discussion will involve many meals, right now the side dishes might appear to be basic, something a child could cook up, but later they will likely become more rare, with ingredients that we might not have originally thought of using.


    Or, put another way, I think that all things that interest us are going to be impacted one way or another by this study. As things occur to me, I want to be able to feel free to speak them, with the only caveat that any subject brought up should be tied to our text.

    But I am willing, as always, to listen to others and their responses.

    In other matters, Joe, will you/are you planning on writing the introduction to the first 10 pages of chapter 3? (or, I would like NOT to do this this week, and in fact I’m perfectly happy at the moment not to do any of the intro/summaries, at least until September. I am enjoying very much listening to you and Robert engage the text in terms of your introductory posts.)

  18. cherylem said

    Here’s another bowl of carrots.

    Today’s New York Times has an article about obesity being a plague: contagious, spreading from one person to another:

    “One day I said, ‘Maybe it really is an epidemic. Maybe it spreads from person to person.’”
    DR. NICHOLAS CHRISTAKIS, of Harvard Medical School, on his finding that people were most likely to become obese when a friend became obese.”

    The entire article, which is quite fascinating and involved a study of over 12,000 people, is here:

  19. Robert C. said

    Nate Oman gave a lecture yesterday on BYU campus (sponsored by the Faculty Center) about early Church courts. What was most interesting and relevant to Girard was the background history Nate gave about courts in the late 1800’s in general, how they were largely a public spectacle with taverns nearby and other festival-like trappings. He read a few quotes from diaries like: “Today court was disappointing, there weren’t very many drunkards, and no fights broke out.”

    Also interesting were some Brigham Young quotes railing on “trickster lawyers,” which seems to have precipitated the move toward many civil disputes being undertaken in Church courts, which I think were still rather public. According to Nate, the Church’s move away from settling civil disputes mirrored a general increase in the technicality involved in courts generally, which made hearings much less interesting to the public, and so this public-spectacle aspect of court proceedings decreased at roughly the same time the Church moved away from handling civil disputes.

    Others in the audience shared stories about how ex-communications were announced in Stake Conferences (I think, perhaps I remember this wrong and it was only in ward meetings…) up until quite recently (the reason for the ex-communication was also given! “recently” here I think was up until the 1960s or so, though again, don’t put much stock in my listening-remembering skills…).

    This got me thinking a lot about the private connotations of the word sacred, and how the public-frenzy, mob-mentality aspects of group dynamics works (and, as I walked past EFY groups, I wondered about the group dynamics in spiritual-emotional meetings; think “cry-amonies” or even revival-like, Evangelical Christian enthusiasm; I’ve mentioned before that the phenomenon of emotions and emotionalism really fascinates me because of the similarities and distinctions with spiritual manifestations—somehow it seems that group dynamics often make such distinctions more difficult to discern).

  20. Robert C. said

    Cheryl, I think you should indeed feel free to bring up any and all issues. I also may not take up the issues as directly as you might wish, though I am rather curious about several of these issues. One tendency I think in discussing these issues is to quickly scapegoat those we think are the persecutors, perpetuating the cycle. I’m quite interested to see if there are ways we can approach these issues without a scapegoating (i.e. prosecuting) attitude toward our own progenitors. I think this might be why I’m also a bit leery bringing up these issues, because oftentimes my experience in discussing these issues is that it becomes a rather unproductive finger-pointing exercise. Hmmm, I think discussing ways in which women, homosexuals, etc. are and have been treated as scapegoats might be productive, but the next step of accusing others as persecutors is where I start to feel less comfortable, for various reasons (which I don’t quite understand myself, partly out of a sense of loyalty to the Church I suppose, and partly out of a concern in becoming a persecutor myself in so doing, if that makes any sense…). Is it possible to do one without the other?

    I think I’ll be able to articulate my concerns and thoughts on this better as we go along (and as my thoughts on this develop better).

  21. joespencer said

    A quick word before I head out of town this morning.

    I can do the post for chapter 3. I haven’t yet begun to read it, so I’ll have to take it with me on my trip today.

    Let me be quite clear that I did not mean to discourage bringing up outside-ish topics, etc. I am, in fact, very interested in feminism (I would categorize myself without reserve as feminist, as much as a male can be feminist), especially because I think (French) feminism provides us with some remarkable tools for thinking carefully about what is in American thought—and thus in the American church—far too political a question. I am less interested in questions of homosexuality and intellectualism. The former question (homosexuality), it seems to me, is grounded far too much in a rather curious ethnocentrism or perhaps a still more curious urbocentrism. And the techno-scientific language in which the debates are cast seem so profoundly naive to me that I’m never sure whether anything is really being said. I do think, however, that it is a question that must be engaged, but I suppose I think that queer theory is still too young to provide anything like a helpful place to start. The latter question (intellectualism) is something I almost can’t even summarize my feelings on without growing offensive! But I’ll say at least this: intellectualism is always, in such debates, equated for some reason (and without acknowledgement) with publishing or publicizing, which is not an intellectual activity as such, but a political one. That single equivocation destroys every discussion on the subject to which I’ve been witness. We have a great deal more thinking to do before we (and by we I mean Latter-day Saints quite generally) can even begin to talk about this issue.

    So let me clarify the meaning of my double promise: more than anything, I was trying to apologize in advance for not engaging these three issues whenever they are raised, since I think we have a great deal more thinking to do about far more fundamental questions before we can even think about thinking these questions. Anyone and everyone should feel quite free to bring them up and to discuss them at whatever length they feel inclined, but I absent myself in advance (or forewarn those daring to tread such paths that my only responses will be to point back to fundamental questions that, being left unanswered, frustrate the possibility of any productive discussion).

    But let me, then, add this last word this morning: I am having a marvelous time with this project, and don’t let any of the above suggest otherwise! I suppose that, more than anything, I am simply saying Amen to the kinds of things we’ve been discussing and thus anticipating another Amen to the same kind of progressive discussion. Thank you all.

  22. Robert C. said

    Joe, I find this intellectual/political distinction very intriguing. Is this what you meant above about delaying exchanges? I’m also thinking back to our blog discussions about judging and accusing, or in this case, withholding judgment. Indeed, I think it’s the political call-to-arms in these discussions that make me uneasy. But what of the political, it can’t be completely ignored, or can it?

    And I think I understand better now what you’re getting at in terms of the master-slave dialectic here, how the slave ends up having more freedom and power than the master (or something like that? I don’t really know much Hegel…), perhaps like the intellectual can have power over the political, or the persecuted/scapegoat over the persecutors.

    Yes, the more I think about this, the more it is precisely the political call-to-arms that I am most leery of in these types of discussions (and sorry, Cheryl, for projecting these stereotypes on you, despite my best efforts not to, when you are so undeserving of it!). What I think makes Girard so interesting, relevant, and promising is that this dynamic seems to permeate all relationships, communal and public as well as individual and private (though I’m interested and confused by the differences…).

    I’m going to bump some of the Hegel listening/reading on my list to the top of the stack to help me think about this more.

  23. Cherylem said

    I’ll post a couple of snippets that I think pertain to our discussion:

    Again, from the Writer’s Almanac (

    “It’s the birthday of Carl Jung, born in Kesswil, Switzerland (1875). His father was a pastor, and as a boy Jung was shocked to find out that his father was losing his faith. He decided to become a scientist instead of a minister so that he could scientifically prove that religion was important. He was the founder of analytic psychology. He noticed that myths and fairytales from all kinds of different cultures have certain similarities. He called these similarities archetypes, and he believed that archetypes come from a collective unconscious that all humans share. He said that if people get in touch with these archetypes in their own lives, they will be happier and healthier.

    He became a psychologist at a time when Sigmund Freud was the most important psychologist in the world. When the two men met for the first time, they talked for 13 hours straight. They collaborated for a few years, but finally decided that they disagreed with each other’s ideas. Jung thought Freud was too obsessed with sex, and Freud thought Jung was too obsessed with God.”

    So happy birthday, Carl Jung.

  24. Cherylem said

    And here’s a poem that speaks to me about how we approach life after we learn about ourselves through the type of study we’re doing with Girard. We learn we can speak and name the unspeakable (Church as persecutor, ourselves as persecutor)and still try not to stand in the position of accuser. Also I think we learn a great sorrow that the world is as it is, and here we are, in the middle of it, part of it . . . part of the sorrow, looking for a way out (which way, I maintain, is Jesus Christ).

    So this poem speaks to me, again from the Writer’s Almanac on another day (the Almanac has been good the past few days!)I hope this is not too self-indulgent to post stuff like this:

    Poem: “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye, from The Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. © Eighth Mountain Press, 1995.


    Before you know what kindness really is
    you must lose things,
    feel the future dissolve in a moment
    like salt in a weakened broth.
    What you held in your hand,
    what you counted and carefully saved,
    all this must go so you know
    how desolate the landscape can be
    between the regions of kindness.
    How you ride and ride
    thinking the bus will never stop,
    the passengers eating maize and chicken
    will stare out the window forever.
    Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
    you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
    lies dead by the side of the road.
    You must see how this could be you,
    how he too was someone
    who journeyed through the night with plans
    and the simple breath that kept him alive.
    Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
    you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
    You must wake up with sorrow.
    You must speak to it till your voice
    catches the thread of all sorrows
    and you see the size of the cloth.
    Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
    only kindness that ties your shoes
    and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
    only kindness that raises its head
    from the crowd of the world to say
    it is I you have been looking for,
    and then goes with you everywhere
    like a shadow or a friend.

    Again, and answering your common concerns about my own motivations regarding speaking that which brings with it high anxiety, mostly because of how these things are discussed in other forums, I think we talk about all things, discoveries, and truth with kindness. Or we try to, anyway.

  25. Cherylem said

    Robert #22, regarding the call to arms you speak of, certainly with justification given the nature of most discourse, I’d like to add a couple of thoughts. Remember Joe’s comment about chapter two in which he was surprised that Girard did not write with more passion? I think one benefit of the passionless writing is that such writing minimizes the violent exchange.

    Also, one thing Gil Bailie talks about is a kind of war of victims: I am victim! we all cry. And my experience as victim is worse than your experience of being a victim! So we become rival victims. And we use being a victim as an excuse for harming others.

    In a way, we are all victims. And we have, at least once, on some level, been a persecutor (probably many times actually).

    As I said in #13, it is easy to find examples of scapegoating outside of ourselves, much harder – and scarier – to find it within. But I think here, of all places, we can speak the unspeakable, and face the truths hidden there.

    Certainly the church will have its persecution texts, and it is interesting to see how these texts have been accepted and believed by the body of the members. This doesn’t mean the church is bad, however. To me, it means the church is normal. Not perfect. Which, again to me, is a kind of sweet relief, because as a convert it has been nearly impossible for me to make sense of an organization that claims perfection. And accepting the truth that the church can hurt as well as help people empowers me to deal as an adult with the institution to which I belong. So the truth is healing, and not meant as accusation (I hope).

    Joe, I know you’re gone, but thanks for your comments in #21. I look forward to your return on Saturday.

  26. Cherylem said

    Robert #19,
    I very much appreciated your sharing this experience with us (Nate Oman’s lecture). That was truly very interesting. Fascinating. And speaks to our topic here very well.

  27. Robert C. said

    Cheryl, thanks as always for the very interesting thoughts and tid bits (I really need to study Jung…).

    Here is an interesting T&S post I noticed which discusses two prominent publications for LDS women in light of faithfulness vs. dissonance. I didn’t read the comments, and I don’t have any particular thoughts in response (I only quickly read the article), but it seems to have brought up issues similar to what your comments above got me thinking about.

  28. cherylem said

    Thanks for the link. From a Girardian perspective only, it is interesting to see the rivalry and the attempt to somehow avoid rivalry in the post and comments. (This comment is not a review or judgement of either publication, by any means.)

    My own comments in #15 were mainly based on this text: A History of Their Ownby Anderson and Zinsser. This is really a brilliant book in two volumes.

    In terms of Girard and this chapter, the interface is in the three stereotypes, as I listed them:
    1) the eclipse of culture
    2) the crisis caused by lack of differentiation
    3) the search for an appropriate victim (the scapegoat)

    In #8 Joe lists these differently:
    “Stereotype #1: decrease in differentiation” (middle of page 14); “Stereotype #2: mediating accusations” (middle of page 17); and “Stereotype #3: signs for selecting the persecuted” (top of page 18).

    At the beginning of chapter 3 (jumping ahead) Girard summarizes the stereotypes as:
    1) a generalized loss of difference
    2) crimes that “eliminate difference”
    3) whether the identified authors of these crimes possess the marks that suggest a victim, theh paradoxical marks of the absence of difference

    While we don’t know yet how Girard is developing his text (but we know he is headed toward scriptural text!), I do think it is interesting to “see” these stereotypes in texts that are familiar to us. One of the texts where a comparison can be made is in the one I’m referencing.

    It is interesting to me that Anderson and Zinsser will see their specific subject (the history of women) in much the same way. One of the reasons I am drawn to Girard over and over again is that ultimately he offers a solution to the same old patterns that replay themselves in a multitude of ways and with a multitude of eventual harms. That is, while I consider myself a feminist and have written my own statement as to what that means in an LDS context, I do not consider the issues raised by feminism as – ultimately – solveable by feminism. As the link you gave me demonstrates on a very basic level, after the problem is defined it is human nature to DISSOLVE into rivalries. That we make any progress at all in the light of those rivalries is remarkable. That we recognize the value of others who are our rivals (again, using the link in #27) is, according to some Girardians, a direct result of the revelation of the cross – the revelation that the victim is innocent.

    In the case of feminism, the different threads are held together, united, by a common enemy: sexism. Should all the men in the world become feminists, and the common enemy lost, I believe the entire movement would DISSOLVE into many rivalries, many accusations and expulsions would occur, and the movement itself would eventually disappear. Then (I believe) it would be inevitable that it would not be long before we were back in a variant of the dominator system, however it manifested itself, if indeed, we had ever left.

    Which does not mean there is no value in the struggle. But Satan cannot cast out Satan.

    Anyway, from Anderson and Zinsser, Vol. 1:
    p. 181: “The first centuries of Christianity ahd preached “the equality of all believers,” making women through their faith equal in poential to men, equal in the eyes of God, powerful by divine authority. . . In the world of the Church, there was no separate female or male role; instead, both sexes defined their lives in relation to God, a tie that superseded obligations to all others. . . They . . . preached, studied Scripture, prophesied, converted others, and died in the name of the faith.”

    p. 182: “Twice in European history in the centuries after 800, women would again have these opportunities. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries [Renaissance] and again in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries [Protestant Reformation], women knew the exhilaration of “the equality of all believers.”

    After a long discussion of this, the authors write on page 251:
    “With the Protestant and Catholic Reformations, what Christianity gave in one era, it took away in the next. Women would not find lasting equality through their churches. . . In the new churches as in the old, authority and conformity replaced independence and diversity. Women in particular had to be dealt with, for women out of place, acting outside her traditional role, once again symbolized the general disorder of society. . . . Churchmen, divided on so many other issues, united in condemning women who did not remain within the spheres allotted to them.”

    My point (as of today) is that this history demonstrates, again, that when the first stereotype occurs, the old culture is eclipsed, there is an elimination of difference and therefore a time when equality (of various types, not just men/women) actually happens. But . . . that type of equality (out of which will come survival) will eventually give way to rivalries, an imposition of difference, and indeed, the search for the victim which will justify the new (old) order of domination.

  29. cherylem said

    I see in my last paragraph that I used as many parenthesis as Joe . . . .

    By the way, Girard’s first stereotype seems to be based on wars, famines, etc – the total breakdown of culture. But I do not think that wars and famine and other disasters are the only ways that culture is brought into chaos.

    A simple example would be office politics. Within the office, there may be one person who makes most of the others unhappy for a variety of reasons. Accusations aimed at this person abound. It seems that if only that one person would leave, everyone could get along, everyone could be happy.

    So, the person does leave. Gets a new job. Quits. Flees. whatever. The office is now absent its scapegoat. Instead of everyone being happy, there occurs a general underlying unease, a gross discomfort, which will not resolve itself until a new person is chosen from the group (perhaps the new hire, perhaps someone else who also is not liked so well). And the process starts all over again.

    That is, in the time between the loss of the original scapegoat, and the naming of a new one, there is a loss of difference, a loss of structure. People don’t know how to behave. People don’t know how to define themselves. A new “odd man out” has to be found, and the faster the better.

    I’ve seen this happen many times.

  30. Robert C. said


    Yeah, Joe definitely has a parenthesizing effect (though perhaps Derrida is a better scapegoat…).

    Nice examples, the history of sexism and office politics.

    Your comments in conjunction with that post about LDS women’s magazines somehow got me thinking about a book I can’t remember the name of now that argues that democratic capitalism is much less war-mongering and oppressive of its own people than other types of government, which got me thinking about the “competitive market solution” to conflict—that is, rather than killing the competition, new businesses usually survive by offering a different or better product that customers can choose. Of course it’s a kind a leap in my thinking here which goes somewhat against the evil-corporate-oppressors stereotype, but I’m guessing you can see at least the similarity I’m pointing to. The idea, then, is that conflict does not need to be tackled head on violently, but sort of side-stepped. I think we see this in civil discourse all the time: “Hmmm, interesting point, though I see things slightly differntly” rather than “that’s nonsense, you’re wrong, the right answer is.”

    Also, here is an interesting article in this month’s ensign (notice you can find discussion about the article at T&S and FMH here, though again I didn’t read the comments) that gives a nice illustration of potential conflict in marriage. This illustration reminds me of this book by Terry Warner which I think is pretty popular in some Mormon circles. I’ve only skimmed parts of the book, but I had Terry Warner for a couple philosophy classes at BYU and in one of the classes I think we covered most of his ideas in the book. Anyway, his ideas come directly from Continental philosophy: his self-deception is related to Sartre’s bad faith, though I think Warner is most influenced by Kierkegaard (from “Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing” esp.). I mention this now because these were early influential sources for my thinking about related issues and I will probably be drawing on them quite a bit in future discussion. (Also, it’s easy for me to list my limited background sources of influence, unlike Joe who seems to draw on the whole of the Western philosophical canon, and large portions of the Western literary canon also…!)

  31. cherylem said

    Thanks for the links, Robert. I’ll spend some time looking at them. I have mixed feelings about the article, which I had already read. If I can link my thoughts to Girard, I’ll post them here.

    Regarding economics, I think this has everything to do with deferral of exchange, which hopefully we will get back to in our discussion.

    You have a PhD in Economics, yes? and I dare to discuss this with you? Yet, here goes.

    Our economic system, the democratic system, (or free enterprise?) as you label it, is both good and bad. In some ways the system provides an umbrella of good for a large number of people, and defers exchanges infinitely that could otherwise turn violent or persecuting. Certainly more of us have more than at any time in history, I think. Plus our system rewards new things, new creations, inventions, and so on.

    It also depends on mimetic rivalry.

    And it also depends on a large subclass; in other words, it depends on a type or system of human sacrifice, a system in which we all participate.

    here is a book I own but have not yet read: Hitting Home: Feminist Ethics, Women’s Work, and The Betrayal of “Family Values” which might interest you. Maybe you have it already. More on author Gloria Albrecht here. And here’s a review.

    I’ll take some time reading the links you gave tonight or tomorrow.

  32. Robert C. said


    I too had mixed reactions to the Ensign article, I mainly just thought the initial conflict scenario was poignant.

    Yes, I’m an academic (financial) economist by profession, but I don’t really have any invested belief in free markets. Actually, most economists side-step all the interesting issues and simply study pros and cons of markets (though usually merely in terms of dynamics and efficiency). Anyway, don’t be afraid to bring any ideas up, I think most of my training will actually be quite irrelevant. I think you point to rather obvious and solid criticisms of a free market, capitalist system (which I think are also worth thinking more about, I simply had one little example-point in mind in my comment above).

    I wouldn’t necessarily recommend spending much time browsing the links I provided above. I think Warner’s book gives interesting vignettes to think about in which his notion of self-deception is illustrated (and I don’t think his notion of self-deception is particularly novel, just the idea that we often choose to construe situations in a way that makes us think we have no choice, whereas if we simply question our presuppositions, we can find a way “out of the box” as he puts it). The Kierkegaard book does something similar, going through various kinds of self-deception. I esp. liked his “egocentric service of the good” notion in Chapter 6 which is basically what it sounds like: self-righteous service (i.e. serving in a way that is ultimately self-interested rather than selfless—playing martyr rather than being willing to be a scapegoat…).

  33. cherylem said

    Re: the Ensign article – the opening example was poignant. Julie Smith’s comments were very good about what was right in the article. The thing that doesn’t work for me is the application of the Proclamation – in a way, it seems the Hafens are trying to make the Proclamation say something it doesn’t say; the article becomes an apologetic for the Proclamation. Solutions that might not agree with the Proclamation are not acceptable. That loyalty to doctrine over practical knowledge and the fall back on sloppy thinking (the “innate” differences) makes me feel tired.

    But I like this entire Ensign, mostly. It represents something I see in the church – a continuing and growing attempt to engage the world as it is. Though I also look for the pattern, as in Fiddler on the Roof: Tevya keeps arguing with himself about the changes in the world as they impact his daughters: “On the other hand,” he says, accepting change, until he gets to something so far out of his experience (the daughter that wants to marry a gentile) that he says: THERE IS NO OTHER HAND. So the daughter has to be expelled, and this is Tevya’s own private persecution text.

    But in Fiddler . . . time passes and chaos happens, and what was completely unacceptable at the time of the expulsion becomes . . . acceptable. So against the greater chaos (the expulsion of the entire community to which Tevya belongs) the daughter is brought back in, and the family is united as a bulwark against the common enemy: the disorder all around them, which disorder is blamed on them and lives through them.

    And in the meantime, the persecutors, the Russians, are writing their persecution texts. Persecutions within persecutions; yet in the middle of it people love, get married, have children, die. Order their societies.

    So I have connected our discussion with Girard after all.

  34. Robert C. said


    I can’t remember the Ensign article (already, though I was only interested enough to skim-read it without paying much attention) well enough to say this with confidence, but I didn’t think it was in very direct tension with the Proclamation. But I didn’t read it as an explanation of the Proclamation either. Interestingly, however, I think this is what our lives are like in a religious community where we take up texts that are, at least in some sense (it seems to me), authoritative (I mean the Proclamation, not the Ensign article, since I don’t think the Ensign has much authority, whatever “authority” means…). Hmmm, maybe I’ll go back and read the article more carefully because I think this is a rather interesting issue. That is, although the article didn’t strike me as a very direct application of the Proclamation, I also didn’t think it did violence to the Proclamation. I did, however, feel it sort of avoided directly confronting the most interesting and difficult issues—which is perhaps the most relevant point, related to my point above about avoiding confrontation (like an entrepreneurial venture which offers something different in a way that avoids direct confrontation with competitors…).

    Great discussion of Fiddler on the Roof. You’ve made me want to go watch that again, since I can’t remember the plot all that well.

  35. joespencer said

    I’ve only read through #28, so I’m sure I’ll have more to say soon. For the moment, I just want to respond to a couple of things.

    Robert, thank you for your careful thoughts in response to my words on intellectual versus political thematics. I’d very much like to think about this more, and I hope to have a moment later today (after some much needed rest!).

    Cheryl, I think I only have just now come to understand how you are reading the three stereotypes, almost as a kind of trajectory rather than as a structure. That is, you seem to see the three stereotypes as the three moments of a material history: difference begins to fail, equality takes its place, difference reasserts itself (through rivalry). Is this a common reading of Girard? I don’t think I saw it before because I don’t see it at all in the text, but it may be because Girard argues this out at some length elsewhere? What has Girard to say about historicity and historicality as such? I’d like to think about this more as well, and again I’ll have to do so with a promise.

    I will try, if I have time tonight, to work these two promises into a single comment that deals as well with my promised tying together of chapters 1 (unspeakable name) and 2 (structurality or systematicity as delay or deferral).

  36. cherylem said


    I understand that so far in The Scapegoat Girard is providing us with a literary structure, a way to look at texts and measure them against certain criteria.

    I believe that Girard sees what he has discovered in literary texts – the generative scapegoating mechanism and mimetic theory – play itself out in real moments of history and in fact play itself out in real time today. Is this what you are asking? As to where Girard himself has argued this specifically regarding the three stereotypes . . . I am not sure.

    The two papers I linked above (#3 and #4) regarding Al-Qaeda and Milosevic do take Girardian theory, and specifically the three stereotypes, and apply them to real world situations. (Looks like these are academic papers – for a class or something.)

    My addition of equality (equality meaning an equality of individuals that during normal structured life would not exist) during the event of the first stereotype is something I have observed in both history and in my own life experience. As far as I know, this observation is my own, but it does seem obvious.

    So to answer your question regarding three moments of material history, my answer right now is yes, I am reading the stereotypes as very likely being three moments in material history as well as three stereotypes in persecution texts, though they may not always be discrete moments.

    Perhaps I am wrong in this though, and perhaps I have overreached our discussion and our text. Let me know what you think.

  37. cherylem said

    And welcome back, by the way.

  38. joespencer said

    Thanks for the welcome back (ward campouts are a rather tiring, but wonderful, experience… having two kids under the age of 4 has something, I imagine, to do with both of those adjectives!).

    I haven’t the time tonight to dedicate to the discussion as I would have liked. I will have to promise further word Monday (or tomorrow, if there is a miracle). In the meanwhile, I don’t at all think your reading overreaches our discussion and/or text. It is so creative that it surprised me (though it seems to you, as you said, quite obvious), but I’d like to think about it further. More soon.

  39. robf said

    I’ve been a bit out of pocket this past week but will reread these comments and try to post later today. I have a lot of questions about why we would assume an actual historical persecution event lies behind every text. What about Stephen King novels?

  40. robf said

    Sorry for coming in late on this one. I can kind of relate to the idea of circling the text and poking it with sticks. I think I had different thoughts about this chapter, perhaps from coming at it from a different background?

    1) Reciprocity. I’m not at all sure what Girard means by this. In economic anthropology, reciprocal economic exchanges characterize unstratified societies dominated by informal power relations–i.e. limited hierarchy, no hereditary leadership, etc. I’m not sure if he is making a nod at this kind of work, or not. And if he is (or isn’t), what does he mean by it all? He seems to be making totalizing statements and proposing a universal theory of culture somehow, and I’m left puzzled because it is not at all clear at this point how “extreme loss of social order” (p. 12) happens within societies with different socio-economic systems–or that why collapses of all systems would produce similar settings for persecution. Is there a difference between “loss of social order” in an egalitarian hunting and gathering band, a polynesian chiefdom with hereditary rulers, and the French monarchy?

    2) “System of exchange that ‘differentiates'” (p.13). What does Girard mean by this? It isn’t at all clear to me. This whole sections seems muddled. What are we missing here? There seems to be a missing economic anthropology here.

    3) Reciprocity of negative (p.13). What is this? Is Girard himself collapsing reciprocal economic exchanges with literal exchanges of physical blows and other acts of violence? If so, why and is it justified? To me there seems to be a bit of a sleight of hand here, and I can’t see exactly how or why I should follow Girard’s thoughts here.

    4) Traditional cultures shun a too immediate reciprocity (p.13). Again, Girard seems to be nodding to actual ethnographic data here without giving me any idea what he is really referring to. These broad sweeping statements are maddening, as I have no idea how to defend them, and yet his whole stereotype #1 seems to be built upon them. Hopefully this is something he’ll circle back to, in a characteristically French way, while my Anglo instincts seek for a succinct and straightforward explication with carefully documented support.

    Actually, it seems like I can take any sentence by Girard in this chapter and read it 50 times and not have a clue as to what he’s actually saying. Case in point:

    This lack of differentiation corresponds to the reality of human relations, yet it remains mythic (p.14)

    What? I have know idea what this is supposed to mean. Continuing:

    In our own time we have had a similar experience which has become absolute because it is projected on the whole universe.


    How is “the reality of human relations” characterized by “this lack of differentiation”? Especially when it isn’t clear what this “lack of differentiation” is. Is he talking about violence here, a “uniform conduct” (p.13) of hostile “blows, revenge, and neurotic symptoms” (p.13)? If not that, what does Girard mean? And if so, how does this “remain mythic” or what makes him think it is “projected on the whole universe”?

    5) Lack of difference (p.14). Why is this seen as negative? What about egalitarian hunting gathering cultures? What about gender differences in a range of cultures? Is there more than a “just so” story here? He seems to be invoking some sort of cultural crisis as a root of persecution–and doesn’t seem particularly concerned to develop this stereotype, which he seems to see as almost beyond need for elaboration.

    In short, and I think we’ve only begun to talk about this, I’m not sure about Girard’s seeing collapse of differences as the root of cultural crises. It may be so, but since his other stereotypes so heavily rely on this concept of differences and sameness, I think there’s still a lot to question here.

  41. Robert C. said

    robf, good questions. A couple thoughts:

    First, I’m partly reading the text as a springboard to my own thoughts rather than worrying too much about “getting Girard’s thought right.” Partly I don’t have the time or patience to sort out each phrase that Girard is saying. I’m also hoping Cheryl will keep me from going too far astray!

    Next, for pp. 13-14 esp., I sort of developed this general idea in my head that I felt Girard was roughly getting at: in crisis, rich and poor are all in the same boat, whereas in times of peace and prosperity, our differences are more obvious and apparent (sometimes for better, sometimes for worse). So, it is in this sense that in the absence of crisis, the differences in an exchange are more obvious—I walk away with an apple, you walk away with an orange. But in a crisis, we both walk away with something to eat and the “subtle” difference in taste between an apple and an orange pales in comparison to the difference between those of us who have food and those who are starving.

    I’m not really sure what Girard means in the quotes you gave from p. 14 near the end of your comment. I’d like to hear Cheryl and Joe respond to these passage. The word “mythic” and the phrase “projected on the whole universe” made me think that he’s somehow getting to the idea of how we structure our world (and I’m using world here in the Heideggerian sense here, meaning how things appear to us). But when Girard says “in our own time” I’m not sure what he’s referring to—modernity? the 20th century? the time opened up reading the text together? the time opened up by crisis? or is he trying to get us to reflect on a time in our personal lives when we had some sort of crisis that forced us to see the world anew? Regardless, I’m not sure the meaning changes that much: the underlying structure of how we perceive the world is changed during crisis—old differences pale in significance to what they were before, and new differences arise (hence, “paradoxically, it is both conflictual and solipsistic” on p. 14, though I’m not sure which is which—differences set us apart, perhaps solipsistically, perhaps in conflict; and sameness can perhaps create an identity crisis which leads to conflict or solipsism; again, I haven’t bothered thinking through precisely what he means, just that everything is topsy-turvy in crisis…).

    Also, regarding reciprocity, I again had this general image in mind of being “pushed together” in times of crisis (though this can be a lonely, solipsistic feeling…), so that in crisis we are [our] relationships are closer and thus “foreshortened.” I don’t worry about giving my neighbor the silent treatment because she said something offensive about our unmowed lawn last week, and I proceed to interact with her regarding the crisis at hand.

    Thanks for trying to nail things down, Rob, I find it very helpful to try and dig in and nail down certain passages that you pick out.

  42. cherylem said

    Yes, good questions. I’ll do my poor best to engage them, hopefully tomorrow. Rob’s comments are very helpful, as always. I hope Joe has time to respond . .. .

  43. joespencer said

    My promises… Since I wrote the post for chapter 3 this morning, I didn’t have time to work on this discussion at all. I will take this up tomorrow and engage Rob’s comments as well. Just by way of anticipation (and this is only an initial reaction upon first reading Rob’s comments), I’ll say this: I think Rob is showing signs of frustration with one of Girard’s presuppositions (one I mention in my post on chapter 3), namely, that arguments are to be made from statistics. This presupposition might not be itself a major problem, but the fact that Girard is quite reticent to provide actual statistics, or to go through whole series of texts in order to make his cases, weakens its validity (he is drawing, it would seem, on a presupposition he does not really believe in).

    But this is something I’ll have to take up more seriously tomorrow as I take up the whole series of questions I’ve promised to engage then.

  44. joespencer said

    Okay, making good my several promises…

    Toward the end of our discussion of chapter 1, I suggested that the unspeakable word “plague” was an anticipation of the typology that is worked out in chapter 2. In the end, I imagine that the connection between that single point of chapter 1 and the whole of chapter 2 is pretty obvious: because the unspeakable name is outside the system (of language, say), it is functionally the origin of the system; thus, to speak it and thereby to bring into the system, is to destroy the system. Deconstruction is built on this very point, right? The proper name is at once the condition of speaking at all and the condition for the dissolution or deconstruction of the language as a system. (The same difficulty is at the heart of analytic discussion of metalanguages: the liar paradox—This sentence is false.—suggests that whenever a given language can refer to itself with a kind of proper name, the language self-destructs, or deconstructs itself.)

    All of this ties into chapter 2 quite nicely, because it is precisely systematicity as such that is at work behind the scenes here. I think this is what is at work in the business of delay or deferral and differentiation. In fact, I was fascinated to see Girard use these two concepts precisely (deferral and differentiation), since they are the two words Derrida allows to speak in his mispelling “differance”: he allows this word to draw on the two meanings of the Latin differe, “to differ” and “to defer.” Thus, language is structured (or every system in its systematicity is structured) by differences (Saussure’s play of differences) and deferral (Hegel’s play of history). Let me say all of that a bit more clearly. A system is always a system of differences, it is a way of realizing differences, by giving them a place and a reality in the/a world (as if it were drawing out the unrealized, “natural” differences of basic human reciprocity). The system brings these differences into the/a world precisely by deferring exchange, by slowing down the inevitable violence of human exchange. But all of this is too abstract. Let me explain it by turning to Hegel.

    Chapter 4 of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit takes up the famous master-slave dialectic, upon which Marx based essentially all of what we call Marxism. The idea is this, grossly oversimplified: human beings, by their very nature, come to be in fight to the death (they battle for recognition… the monkey scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey). If the fight results in the death of either or both of the participants, then the battle for recognition fails: each needs the other (as well as to dominate the other) in order to gain recognition (each needs the eyes of the other to see him/her). Because the battle moves towards death, eventually one of the participants gives in to the other, and the two set up a society of sorts, an economy of master-slave (winner-loser) relations. Death is, through this covenant or contract—through this economy or system—deferred. In that deferral, Hegel argues, time or history begins (work, to which the slave is put, begins to measure time, and the series of the slave’s productions are history). At the same time, difference is first realized, since the master and the slave are no longer the same: each has her/his own social status, different from that of the other. Thus, it is as if space comes into existence along with time. Space and time come into being mutually in a system that differs and defers, that allows for difference and deferral of death. Society or culture is precisely that system, and its integrity depends on the maintenance of those differences/deferrals.

    I think what Girard is arguing on the whole in chapter 2 is that in a crisis situation, the system as such crumbles: the instituted system of differences and deferrals begins to collapse. That is why, he suggests, people become violent (time speeds up or even disappears, as will space), and why social or institutional differences and distinctions suddenly collapse (I’m thinking of Isaiah 3 here, right?). That collapse is threatening because people suddenly return to the battle to the death, which they are quite uncomfortable with (it is savage or beastly). Hence, either people must remain in what Hobbes called the “state of nature” (killing one each other and not being technically human), or they must reinstate the (or simply a) system of differences and deferrals.

    It is in this either/or that I see Girard thinking. If I’m understanding him right, he is suggesting that persecution is what takes place while the battle to the death is still at work again, and that persecution comes to an end when the system reinstitutes itself. (I’ll have more to say about this below.) The persecution text, I’m beginning to think, is what (unconsciously, I guess) attempts to justify the transition from persecutiong to reinstitution: the persecution text connects the scapegoating activity with the reintroduction of systematicity as such… whether or not there is “really” a connection.

    I think. More below.

  45. joespencer said

    That last comment opens onto both Cheryl’s “trajectory of stereotypes as material history” in #28 and Rob’s series of questions in #40. I’ll take them both up in this comment, and then I’ll take all of this together with my last comment as a background for engaging Robert’s careful thoughts about my not-careful thoughts regarding the intellectual and the political as such.

    Cheryl, if I was understanding your reading of the stereotypes correctly, as three moments in a material history, then I think my last comment grounds the possibility of thinking about it more clearly. If I understood you rightly, you were suggesting that the stereotypes trace these three moments: differences, which characterize a total society, suddenly collapse for whatever reason (moment #1), and this gives way to an era of equality, or at least of lack of difference (moment #2), but this equality is thereafter overthrown in a reinstitution of the system as such, and the violence of systematicity is brought back again (moment #3). Am I following you right?

    Two inextricable assumptions buried in your model strike me as rather surprising about this reading, though I think I’m more and more interested in it (I’m not convinced it is what Girard is talking about, but I like some of the possibilities it opens up). Presupposition #1: difference as such is bad. Presupposition #2: lack of difference as such is good. Can I call this a Rousseauist reading, a kind of pining for the non-social, the non-systematic, the non-conventional? Girard, it seems to me, suggests that it is precisely in the “era of equality” that persecution and violence takes place, that it is equality that drives violence not difference. But perhaps I am misreading you. Are you suggesting (the several early Christian snippets from #28 seem to me to speak volumes here) that the collapse of difference and deferral is the introduction of a golden age?

    I suppose I should wait for a response to this, because I am likely reading too much into your comments, but I have so much to say in response to the idea. I’ll hold off (defer!) for now, waiting for a reciprocal word.

    Rob, I already mentioned my thoughts on the question of statistics without statistics. I think that stands, and I think it is a major problem for Girard. I suppose what emerges in my last comment there is that Girard can only really be doing a theoretical study here. There are holes and gaps in his theoretical thinking, which is only to say that I think he is trying to cover too much ground in far too few pages (are we doing violence to Girard by reading a book from the middle of his work?). He seems to recognize this by making occasional reference to statistical proof, but he never backs this up at all, and any student in the social sciences can only cringe.

    I hope, then, that my theoretical fleshing out of Girard’s ideas and faults above is helpful to you in trying to make sense of what he’s doing. I have to confess at the same time, however, that the two sentences you quoted make absolutely no sense to me either. I can see about ten possible meanings of “mythic” in the context, much of which has been tainted by my already having worked carefully through chapter 3. And the only sensible meaning I can make of the absolute of our time, etc., is to think he is making reference to Auschwitz like everyone else, but I see no way to render that kind of a reading very coherent at all. It is problematic to say the least. Or perhaps this is just another way to say that Girard is trying to cover too much ground too quickly.

    But I would love for you to expound a bit more on economic anthropology. For those of us… okay I guess just me… who are buried almost exclusively in textual criticism (or “theory” quite broadly), some explanation of the sciences Girard has reference without reference to would be helpful, especially because it would probably open up some of the difficulties and promises of his text that remain quite veiled for someone like me. I welcome any and all thorough explanations!

  46. joespencer said

    Robert, now to get back (at last!) to your response to my own musings about the split between the political and the intellectual.

    Let me begin by saying that the split is inevitably reductionistic, but you are, I’m sure, quite aware of that. Let me make one or two steps out of reductionism (one or two of many that need to be taken) by retranslating the distinction twice. First: not intellectual vs. political, but theoretical vs. practical. Second: not theoretical vs. practical, but living vs. dying. But all of this calls for further explanation.

    What emerges in my comments above, I hope, is that society and systematization—differance as deferral and differentiation—are responses to death. That is, politics are, through and through, a “covenant with death,” a way of postponing our inevitable ownmost possibility (death, as Heidegger understands it), the possibility of the impossibility of Being. We do politics precisely because we are living towards our death, living for death. Now, one simply must admit that the intellectual as such is much the same: thinking is a way of postponing death, a way of staving off the reality of unreality that is always on its way. This is ultimately the point of Plato’s Phaedo, I think: philosophy (thinking, intellectualism as such) is a way of practicing death without yet experiencing death, of experiencing death without yet dying. Philosophy and all intellectual activity—this very blog, right?—is a way of dealing with death, and thus is profoundly political.

    But I don’t mean that kind of intellectual activity, and so my words are sloppy. So I translate: theoretical vs. practical. It is easy enough to see how “practicality” or simply “praxis” always has an eye to death: one takes care of the practical precisely because one is going eventually to die. I feed this cat and not that cat because it is practical only to feed one cat, and this one is here. As Augustine said a long time ago, since I can’t help or save every soul, I focus on this one right here and right now. It is a matter of the practical. But the practical only arises in the face of death: I get practical because I know I will die (When will that kid ever grow up? just means When will that kid every realize he’s going to die?). The theoretical begins to outstrip death, just a bit. It is to look beyond one’s death to the lives that will be lived after our death. To propose theories, to deal in ideas in the hopes of them changing something is to hope to alter the system that has been put in place to stave off death in such a way that eventually it will not bring about so much violence, but it is also to recognize that if we take our own deaths as the limit on that activity, we will inevitably do rather bad work. In other words, to be theoretical is to realize that the limit imposed upon me by my own death has a tendency to make me think too quickly, to get too practical, and I need to avoid that. Theory is a way around that: let us think very carefully about the practical issues, recognizing that every systematization implies some violence (could it be otherwise in the face of the unbreakable system of mortality?), so that we can begin to formulate possibilities for eventually providing a better system for our posterity. But theory, for these very reasons, remain within the grip of death.

    But I don’t mean that kind of theory, so let me translate: living vs. dying. If all of the above experiments with death, if all of it toys with the fact that we all die, that we all come to our end, and it is precisely that death or that end that sets us to work, is there any way to think that escapes it? But we all die, right? Here, I think, is what Patocka is saying (behind Derrida in The Gift of Death): Christianity is precisely a question of life or of living, because it pays no heed to death. Or rather, it pays heed to death but in a different way. The European, the political, or the Gentile as such: life is living towards death, is the practical space that is opened between now and death. The Christian, the non-political, or the prayful as such: death is a dying towards life, is the possibility of a now and a here in a much broader life. This is where things get quite complex because they outstrip all our “natural” (that is, dead) language.

    I could put this in terms of Mosiah 15 (with which I’ve done a great deal of work lately), but it would take too long and it preempt what I’ve already written in my book. But at the very least, is this not the Christian model? For once, a son dies rather than a father: anti-Oedipus, if you will. That reverses the very nature of death, and Life (the Life that Christ is) turns back the nature of the world. The political, the practical, the intellectual as political and the theoretical as practical, all these things disappear, or they are distracted and rendered praise. We are living the resurrection right now, and plan to be forever, if we praise, if we pray, if we believe, if we laugh, if we enjoy: to work, to work, but let us never take death so seriously!

    In the end, my concern with so much of continental thought is just this, though it will sound so profoundly evil in the face of the world: Can we not learn how to laugh, even at Auschwitz?

    Or is this just Nietzsche speaking in me?

  47. Robert C. said

    Joe #44, thanks for this helpful comment—I esp. liked the notion of death being deffered in the master-slave dialectic/contract, I hadn’t thought of that (the other ideas I more or less already understood, just so you know some of all this Continental philosophy is finally starting to sink in, though it’s helpful to hear articulated again since I don’t understand things, Derrida esp., well enough to articulate these ideas myself…). The space-time aspects and the Isaiah 3 tie-in were also quite helpful.

    Joe #46, this discussion of being-toward-death is immensely helpful for me, since I probably tried to read The Gift of Death prematurely (i.e. not knowing Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Hegel, and Heidegger better, to name but the most crucial…). And of course I esp. like the tie-in with the Father-Son bit in Mosiah 15. This is the kind of reading of Girard that I’m esp. excited to explore further. Of course, I wouldn’t want to put “laugh” and “Auschwitz” in the same sentence myself(!), but I think your point is a very good one, that if we are to find meaning in our lives that is not resigned to a supremacy of death over life, then we must find something to believe in that overcomes our fear and dread of death.

  48. Cherylem said

    Joe and all, Elie Wiesel, in his great book GATES OF THE FOREST, laughs at death – or one of his characters does. In the very beginning of the book Gregor, who is holed up waiting for his father who has not come for him (probably dead) is saved by someone – a mysterious someone who goes laughing down to the Nazis, who have guns and dogs and who will certainly kill him.

    I’ll have to look it up again for the specific scene, but if anyone can get away with laughing, it is Wiesel. I believe the end of the book has this laughter also – it is not light laughter, but triumphant joy.

    I will look it up and report back.

    I’ll respond to your question in a bit. Thanks for waiting – I do want to clarify what I’ve said.

  49. cherylem said

    Regarding GATES OF THE FOREST, just briefly, Elie Wiesel does open with a scene of laughter in the face of the worst kind of death, in the face of the clouds that are all the Jewish souls gone to the sky (from the smoke from the camp ovens). But I am not sure it lines up with exactly the kind of laughter Joe is talking about (and this is a diversion perhaps from our subject anyway). That is, the laughter is part mystical, part . . . crazy . . . part a refusal to weep. The laughter plays a part throughout the book, and in the end, the main character is still seeking for that laughter. Which is all I’ll say about this, except Joe’s comment immediately put me in mind of this book.

    Regarding your other comments in #45:

    You said:

    Cheryl, if I was understanding your reading of the stereotypes correctly, as three moments in a material history, then I think my last comment grounds the possibility of thinking about it more clearly. If I understood you rightly, you were suggesting that the stereotypes trace these three moments: differences, which characterize a total society, suddenly collapse for whatever reason (moment #1), and this gives way to an era of equality, or at least of lack of difference (moment #2), but this equality is thereafter overthrown in a reinstitution of the system as such, and the violence of systematicity is brought back again (moment #3). Am I following you right?

    Joe, I think you’ve done a good job here.

    Two inextricable assumptions buried in your model strike me as rather surprising about this reading, though I think I’m more and more interested in it (I’m not convinced it is what Girard is talking about, but I like some of the possibilities it opens up). Presupposition #1: difference as such is bad. Presupposition #2: lack of difference as such is good. Can I call this a Rousseauist reading, a kind of pining for the non-social, the non-systematic, the non-conventional? Girard, it seems to me, suggests that it is precisely in the “era of equality” that persecution and violence takes place, that it is equality that drives violence not difference. But perhaps I am misreading you. Are you suggesting (the several early Christian snippets from #28 seem to me to speak volumes here) that the collapse of difference and deferral is the introduction of a golden age?

    Without using terms like “good” and “bad” which carry such baggage, I think you’ve caught my thought pretty well. However I want to clarify that when I bring ideas like this they are not necessarily my ideas as in my philosophy of life or my life’s text, but rather they are ideas I am bringing to the table, as in: Look at this. This is interesting. Let’s poke at this for awhile.

    When I said this:

    My point (as of today) is that this history demonstrates, again, that when the first stereotype occurs, the old culture is eclipsed, there is an elimination of difference and therefore a time when equality (of various types, not just men/women) actually happens. But . . . that type of equality (out of which will come survival) will eventually give way to rivalries, an imposition of difference, and indeed, the search for the victim which will justify the new (old) order of domination.

    I was just pointing out something additional – something interesting to me in this formula of stereotypes.

    I have to say that imposing this thought on Girard’s stereotypes as I did in #28 would give a reading of our entire church history, in as much as it conforms to the stereotypes – in common with all church histories – as a persecution text.

    That is harsh. But I’ll lay it out there anyway. Just don’t read this as Cheryl condemning the church. This is Cheryl, bringing ideas to the table, so we can poke around at them for a bit.

    Also, I do think that Girard says it is during the time of equality that persecution and violence takes place. Yes. Which I don’t think disagrees with what Anderson and Zinsser say in #28. That is, the equality can’t last. It can’t. Or at least historically, it hasn’t. The violent expulsion must occur.

    Joe, is this making any sense? My darn left brain. I am seeing things in pictures and symbols right now; everything swimming together. If this doesn’t make sense, I will try again.

    But go ahead with your response. Feel free.

    I found your #46 very interesting, by the way.

  50. joespencer said

    First, I’ve simply got to say something so I can stop laughing at it privately. When Cheryl first describes us as circling round the text and poking sticks at it, I had to laugh, and every time it has been mentioned since, my chuckle grows louder. Here’s why: I’m reminded of a moment in the Simpsons when Krusty the Klown has a drinking binge all night and the next morning he’s lying in the Flanders’ front yard. Rod and Tod (the two insufferably innocent Christian kids) are poking him with sticks. One says: “It’s a clown. Do you think he’s evil?” The other says: “He smells evil.” The one says: “Should we tell Daddy?” The other responds: “No. Let’s poke him a little while longer.” Classic.

    I think I follow your comments Cheryl. But let me clarify one point. It seems to me still that you are saying that violence is moment 3, while I’m suggesting Girard understands it to be moment 2. That is, it seems you are arguing that violence marks moment 2 simply because moment 3 eventually does away with the peace of moment 2. I’m suggesting, however, that Girard would take moment 2, as you describe it, to be the scene of violence, that moment 3 is the restoration of peace after the violence of moment 2.

    Or something. But otherwise I think we’re communicating now.

  51. Cherylem said

    I’ll have to think about that (the moments). In any event, the outcome is the same: the restoration of peace after the violent act.

  52. Cherylem said

    And that was funny – the Simpsons example. And through the comedy, right on.

  53. Robert C. said

    Cheryl, you said in #28 that you “have written [your] own statement” as to what it means to be a feminist in a Mormon context—where could one find said text? Your comment #49 is very helpful and interesting, thanks.

    Joe, regarding “the moment of violence,” my thinking is that there are two moments, one in the transition from moment #1 and moment #2, viz. the crisis that disrupts the initial differences, and another in the transition from moment #2 to moment #3, viz. some sort of disruption of the equality which establishes a new system or structure. I’m not quite sure how this fits into what you’re describing above (#50), but I guess I see the moments themselves as peaceful and the transitions between moments as violent.

    I’m thinking, I guess, somewhat politically in the sense of revolution: revolutions are violent in a way that even oppressive regimes are not. I’m still planning on taking up Romans 13 rather carefully at some point (my posts on Paul at the blog are just sort of background reading notes trying to get a lay of the land before beginning to really take up the text—I’m probably better just diving into the text more naively, but this is the method I’ve chosen for whatever reason…).

    My guess of where Girard might go (or, rather, could go, since I don’t have a good sense of where he’s actually going) is toward an idea of a voluntary, brave, and innocent scapegoat saying, “look, this is silly, I’m laying down my arms and volunteering to be at the losing end of the new structural system of difference, so let’s skip the violence and just live without going through the necessary bloodshed to see who the winners and losers will be.” Actually, I guess that’s more of my Girardian reading of Christianity.

    Paul, according to Girard then, might be saying, “look, we’re in a moment (either #1 or #3), and trying to get out of the moment will be violent, so if you’re on the loser/oppressed side of the difference, just submit to your fate with patience and faith; if you’re on the winner/oppressor side of the regime, then submit yourself to our servant—this is the only hope peace has (even if it turns out to be an always-not-yet hope…).”

  54. Robert C. said

    I also like the Simpsonian interpretation of circling the text, though for some wyrd[*] reason I’ve got in the nether reaches of my mind some vague image of “the three weird sisters”/witches in Macbeth circling their pot, concocting some strange brew….


    * From the Wikipedia link: “In its wider sense, wyrd refers to how past actions continually affect and condition the future. It also stresses the interconnected nature of all actions, and how they influence each other. The concept has some relation to the ideal of predestination. Unlike predestination, however, the concept of wyrd allows for human agency, constrained by past events, but nevertheless capable of shaping reality, an idea that is also prominent in the Dharmic concept of karma.” Of course, I’m thinking about the seemingly inescapable nature of violence and a constrained notion of agency with perhaps a dim or dismal hope of breaking the cycle. (There’ve recently been some marathon threads regarding free will and God’s foreknowledge at the New Cool Thang blog which have got me thinking about agency and fate a fair bit…)

  55. joespencer said

    Let me be very clear that while I’m very interested in the reading that understands the three stereotypes as three historical moments, I do not think that is what Girard is trying to talk about at all. It may, in the end, fit into Girard’s broader theory, but chapter 2 is about the structure of a text and how it is related to the structure or system of society as it relates to a particular kind of event that—this is Girard’s argument—generates or produces such structured texts. While it is helpful to think about three historical moments, the structure is, I think, a structure, that is, is whole or complete, and our di- or tri-remption of it is only a theoretical help to thinking about certain texts. The structurality of the structure or systematicity of the system is not something that can be taken apart without performing an act of deconstruction.

    That said, let me explain again what I mean by placing violence at the heart of the second moment. I see Girard as roughly Hobbesian in his thinking about society: reciprocity is what makes life nasty, brutish, and short, and so the establishment of a societal structure or system delays or defers that reciprocity by weaving together a network of differences. Where there are differences, there is peace (pax romana, as Girard would inevitably argue: peace is here defined as delay or deferral of violence, not as the absence of violence and still less as the presence of good will, etc.). The three moments, then, run something like this:

    Moment one marks the closure or the end of peace. It is the last moment of peace. Some kind of crisis or calamity, even if it is entirely “natural” (an exploded volcano, or something), suddenly cancels the systematicity of the system. There is a violence here, but it is a violence to the system, not a “real” violence.

    Moment three marks the re-opening or the start of peace. It is the first moment of peace. Another kind of crisis or calamity, now anything but “natural” (this will be the scapegoating event), suddenly puts the systematicity of the system back in place. There is a very “real” violence here, but it is a violence that is only enforced long enough to reinstitute the system as such, and then it ceases to be (as a “real” violence, anyway).

    Moment two, then, is Hobbes’ “state of nature,” where equality is not some kind of democratic individualism but rather an undifferentiatedness wherein definition (since definition derives its meaning from the system) ceases to hold. The collapse of the system speeds everything up (indeed, time ceases to be, since time too is a function of the system), and everyone is suddenly brought into rather close quarters (indeed, space ceases to be, since space too is a function of the system). The lack of difference and deferral results in the simple reciprocity of violence all over again. Violence characterizes this second moment through and through because everyone gives and receives violence: there is simply no peace. It is because human beings cannot live long (in more than one sense of that phrase) in such conditions that the scapegoating ritual becomes necessary: the system must be put back in place, and that can only be accomplished by focusing all of the violence of moment two on a single minority. Differences are thus reestablished, etc.

    Moment two is the focus of violence, is marked by a universal violence. It does not, of course, present the violence of the scapegoat, nor does it present the violence of the system, since both of these are tied to the instantiation or collapse of the system as such, and moment two obtains precisely when there is no system.

    Again, like I say, I think this historical reading is rich, especially because it forces us to deal with a few of these rather difficult questions of how the system functions in history (in Hegelian history, inevitably). But it is not, I would contend, what Girard himself is trying to talk about. I think he is married (for better or for worse!) to the texts.

  56. Robert C. said

    Joe, this (#55) is very extremely helpful. Your reading makes much more sense of Girard’s discussion of deferrals shortening in the second moment, which makes no sense according to my historical interpretation of moments (#53). I think what you’ve articulated here has been something I haven’t understood which has been a major impediment to my making sense of Girard. Your comment has helped me understand several things in Girard that didn’t make sense to me before. (I should probably reread these chapters now, though I doubt I’ll find time….)

  57. cherylem said

    I agree with what you say in your first and last paragraph of #56 #55 and am actually grateful that you are returning us to our text.

    I wish I had time to say more about the other ideas presented so far here but alas. I am giving a presentation Friday night on Writing the Female Hero, am trying to get SS together, am working on a private project . . . . well, you all know the drill. Out of towners will be here over the weekend. It may be a few days before I can engage fully again.

    But I will – this whole discussion is enriching everything else I am doing.

    I am wondering if we want to move the schedule back a week since we are still talking about Chapter 2 or if we are ready to move on.

  58. cherylem said

    it looks like my comment jumped ahead of Joe’s, which was #56, and I have a feeling Robert’s did also. What’s up with that? [Fixed now, I think….]

  59. Robert C. said

    [After thinking that our blog is simply possessed (I knew it was “taking on a life of its own,” but…), I remembered that I changed a site setting that may account for the mix up in comments: I set the time to Mountain Standard time, instead of UTC (i.e. 7 hours earlier…). If the site is sorting comments by time, it may be registering the time differently for the comments made before I made the change relative to those after I made the change. Sorry for the problem, unfortunately, I’m not sure how to fix (though there shouldn’t be any problems after today). I think, however, I got it fixed (it turns out you can change the time stamp when editing comments; I think I got the comments back in roughly the right order by making artificial time stamps for each comment…).]

  60. Robert C. said

    About the schedule, we have two weeks scheduled for Chapter 3 anyway. If we need a separate post from Joe’s to engage the second half of Chapter 3, then maybe we can push that back to the latter half of next week—we can play it by ear.

  61. robf said

    Joe’s Simpsons moment

  62. joespencer said

    Rats, I should have looked at the reading schedule… I had forgotten that chapter 3 was divided in two. I posted, basically, for the whole chapter. However we want to handle things is fine with me.

  63. Pleiadian Channelings…

    […]The Scapegoat, chapter 2: “Stereotypes of Persecution” « lds-herm blog[…]…

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