lds-herm blog

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

The Scapegoat, chapter 11: Of John’s Beheading… Sorta

Posted by joespencer on January 10, 2008

Chapter 11 is, so far as Girard goes, rather long, and most of it is detailed work at the level of the (NT) text. In a sense, I wish Girard had dropped the remainder of the book (everything before as much as everything after) just to flesh out the insights of this single chapter at great length (the ten preceding chapters could be shortened to a ten- or twenty-page introduction, and then he could have worked out two hundred pages of commentary on this one, brief story in Mark). In a word: it is here, in this eleventh chapter, that Girard’s project begins to sell itself to me, because it is here, in this eleventh chapter, that he finally shows me (1) how committed he is to the text, (2) how much better he is at reading it than other scholars, and (3) how interested he really is developing what I would call (though likely he would not) a textual theology. That said, I’m not really going to deal with Girard’s chapter in any real direct way in this post: rather, I want to think about something that Girard opens up here that he is not entirely cognizant of… I think. I’ll have to leave the great majority of this chapter’s rich insights to be discovered by those committed enough to read it!

I don’t know exactly what passage it was in this chapter that suddenly revealed this to me, but I was struck somewhere along the way by the idea of reading a parallel (or equation) between Girard’s mimesis and D&C 121:35: “And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson…” (notice that I’m limiting my quotation of the passage just to this heart-set/aspiration business for now). Regardless of what that one lesson is, what we’re being told here is that it is mimesis that keeps us from learning it, and I’m beginning to see how Girard can be taken as outlining the structure of the obstruction for us… in remarkable detail.

But there is a great deal more to this insight than at first appears. I’ve been almost constantly annoyed (as I’ve expressed again and again) by Girard’s rather cavalier treatment of Freud throughout the book: he insists on reducing Freud to a strawman fairly regularly. But my ongoing reading in Badiou’s work has given me, quite recently, another way to understand this constant reduction of Freud: Badiou gives psychoanalysis a kind of task within a broader (intellectual) division of labor, namely, the task of sorting out the meaning of (the genuine event of) love (eros), which is only one task among several others. This gives me an interesting way of reading Girard: he constantly ridicules Freud because he thinks there can be nothing but the task he sees before himself. He’s… paranoid… I suppose. That is, he’s not sure he can countenance any other kind of thinking than the one he is undertaking, and so he has got to throw out Freud with the assertion of his own project.

But the difficulty is this: Girard has a great deal in common with Lacan, not only terminologically, but thematically (right down to his concept of mimesis!). That is, Girard seems to me to be fundamentally Freudian. So…

What I’m seeing and not at all explaining well here is this: Girard might be taken as providing a careful analysis of just “half of things,” the other half being more explicitly the work of Freud, and Girard’s constant slandering of Freud is a consequence of a kind of jealousy/zeal (Girard wants to be able to command the whole project).

But let me put this all more clearly. I think there are two “halves” of a broader project here, though it is perhaps better to speak of a horizontality and a verticality that cross each other. Girard is explicating the horizontal: mimesis as (sibling) rivalry, etc. Freud, however, is explicating the vertical: the father/son relationship (if we stick most immediately with Freud, it unfortuantely remains patriarchal). It seems to me that Lacan has got both of these projects intertwined in his remarkable project, perhaps especially because he takes this all to the linguistic level.

So I want to group Girard under Lacan, as a kind of semi-Lacan, obsessed with half of the Lacanian project…

I have more to say on this, but have already butchered this much of it… so I’ll leave off for now.


4 Responses to “The Scapegoat, chapter 11: Of John’s Beheading… Sorta”

  1. What is it about the textual analysis here by Girard you like? I find that when he actually deals with the texts in any of his books he is very good.

  2. Robert C. said

    Joe, thanks for the teaser. This post alone has me anxious to read the rest of the book, though I probably won’t get to it for another month or two….

  3. joespencer said

    What I’m finding that I like about Girard’s actual work on the text is that it is so detailed and profound. He ponders on a phrase for two or three pages at a time, never tries to take a whole book or even a whole chapter, but takes the text piece by piece and reveals everything we usually don’t see. Marvelous work. And he seems to be doing this through the rest of the book.

  4. Cherylem said

    I love your comments and insights. And I love something else – that Girard has finally gotten to you.

    Girard takes time, and he takes an open mind. What seems so simple, so easy to pick apart, so full of holes at the beginning of studying him develops, upon reflection, into something so much more.

    Watching/listening to your comments is a continuing delight.

    Now, if after preparing Sunday’s lesson I have time to reread this chapter myself and comment on it, I will be happy.

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