lds-herm blog

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

Getting back to the project: chapters 7 and 8

Posted by joespencer on November 21, 2007

We have all been away from Girard for a good while now, but several things have begun to push me back in this direction, and working through chapters 6-8 has been enormously helpful for me in situating his thought. I want to summarize, in extreme brevity, the summarizing work of chapters 7 and 8 and then get us moving onto the second half of the book, where Girard deals with scriptural texts directly. A few words, then.

Chapter 7 essentially summarizes all of the chapters up to this point, and chapter 8 amounts to a rather short reflection on the future of these ideas.

Chapter 7: “Mythological transformation moves in only one direction, toward the elimination of any traces of violence.” (p. 94) The idea here is rather straightforward: mythology comes into being as a kind of overt discourse that encodes but does not at all deny real collective violence (scapegoating); in a second stage, the mythology is reinterpreted in a more individualistic and ethical/moralizing way, in which collective violence gives way to individual evil; in a third stage, mythology is interpreted yet again in such a way that there is no violence at all (Platonic myth is a perfect example), and then it becomes the language of philosophical religion.

Now one must admit that this broad scheme is roughly Hegelian (and, as such, thoroughly modernistic): a kind of internal, perhaps necessary history of mythological development is being worked out, and it is thoroughly dialectical. At any rate, the pathway being traced is–as any good Lacanian would tell you–a movement from the real, through the imaginary, to the symbolic, and this trajectory is understood as one that is inevitably traced.

Chapter 8: As such, Girard can call his project scientific. He can announce that his project will, eventually, and especially given the clever way in which he’s made his argument here, be accepted universally. As he puts it: “The day will come, however, when not to read the myth of Oedipus in the same way as Guillaume de Machaut does will seem as strange as it does to compare the two texts today.” (p. 97) And all of this amounts to a serious criticism of postmodernism, perhaps from a politically radical (much like Eagleton’s critique, perhaps?): “… it is easy to see how ridiculous certain contemporary attitudes are, or at least as regards their application to these matters. Critical thought no doubt is in a state of extreme decadence, temporary it is to be hoped, but the sickness is no less severe since it considers itself the supreme refinement of the critical mind.” (p. 99) Three thinkers speak profoundly in those words: Lacan, Badiou, and Patocka. Where will all of this take us? And now especially as we turn to the texts of the Bible?


10 Responses to “Getting back to the project: chapters 7 and 8”

  1. cherylem said

    I’m excited. I hope I have time, darn it. I’m glad you’re enthused again, Joe Spencer.

  2. joespencer said

    I am enthused again, indeed. Our discussion on the feast blog about transgressing scriptural text in the name of ethical truth is making this all the more relevant, especially since Girard is about to cross that very bridge. I’ll be fascinated to see what comes of this.

  3. joshua madson said

    I’m looking forward to this discussion. I have been enthralled by Girard’s ideas since picking up “Things Hidden…” earlier this year. His scriptural exegesis, “transgression” is very insightful.

  4. I actually believe the book of mormon makes a very strong case for girard’s readings of scriptures. The killing of prophets/saints is a very strong theme running through the Book of Mormon and is directly tied to the destruction prior to Christ and his teachings (Nephi, Samuel the Lamanite, and others mention this as well)

  5. joespencer said

    Glad to see you getting involved, Joshua. I hope to get the next chapter up sometime early next week.

  6. Robert C. said

    Very slowly, I’m working my way back toward Girard. Before I actually try to read these chapters, let say that I’m very interested in this historical evolution in thinking and reading that Girard seems to be making. I’m not sure if this is what Joe is hinting at or not, but it seems there’s a kind of neurosis underlying the societal move that Girard is tracing out (this is what I was thinking about in my very brief post on chapter 7 regarding transference…). It seems that this results in giving preference to politics over ethics (where I mean ethics in a very Levinasian, non-Kantian, non-systematic sense of the word): this development of mythology leads to the establishment of a political regime which en-forces a kind order. But, what is ironic, is oftentimes it is the very establishment of this kind of political power which leads to the most violent wars in history.

    This seems to be related in interesting ways to the liberal notion found in so much of America’s founding literature, where it was hoped that the multitude of factions would prevent anyone faction from gaining too much power. So, it seems there’s an intriguing similarity between this way of thinking and more post-modern critiques of political power or ethical systems. I’m taking a wild guess here, but I think this might be an interesting way to appropriate Badiou’s thought: the more systematic (“situated”) an interpretation becomes, the greater the danger is that it will lead to a kind of monopoly of power that (violently) resists any movement that is diagonal to the system. Anarchy, in this sense, is thus less violent than political power—political power which is typically neurotically established to do away with violence.

    (My thinking here is obviously influenced by the “Introduction to Mormon Anarchism” article on the webpage that Joshua’s name links to!)

  7. Well, Im glad someone found our fledgling anarchist paper.

  8. Cheryl said

    By the way, on today’s Writer’s Almanac ( there is an interesting [very brief] history of the Crusades and why they were started: scapegoating par excellence:

    “Literary and Historical Notes:

    It was on this day in 1095 that Pope Urban II, while on a speaking tour in France, called for the first Crusade to recapture Jerusalem from the Turks. There was no imminent threat. Muslims had occupied Jerusalem for hundreds of years. But Urban II had noticed that Europe was becoming an increasingly violent place, with low-level knights killing each other over their land rights, and he thought that he could bring peace to the Christian world by directing all that violence against an outside enemy. So he made up stories of how Turks in Jerusalem were torturing and killing Christians, and anyone who was willing to join the fight against them would go to heaven.

    About 100,000 men from France, Germany, and Italy answered the call, formed into several large groups, and marched across Asia Minor to the Middle East. Nearly half of them died from exhaustion and sickness before they ever reached their destination. They began sacking cities along the way, and they fought among each other for the spoils of each battle. When they reached the trading city of Antioch, they killed almost everyone, including the Christians who lived there. By the time they got to Jerusalem, it had recently fallen into the hands of Egyptians, who were friendly with the Vatican. But the crusaders attacked anyway, killing every Muslim they could find. The Jews in the city gathered in the temple, and the crusaders set it on fire.

    Pope Urban II died two weeks later, never hearing the news. But the crusading would go on for the next 200 years. In the fourth and last Crusade, in 1202, the crusaders never even made it to Jerusalem, but got sidetracked and wound up destroying Constantinople, which was at the time the last great city left over from the Roman Empire.”

  9. Cherylem said

    That was me, posting as Elizabeth. Sorry. I’m at work . . . I’ll fix and edit when I get home. [I beat you to it Cheryl! —Robert]

  10. cherylem said

    Thanks Robert!

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