February 07, 2006

Søren Kierkegaard and René Girard

The Crowd is Untruth: a Comparison of Kierkegaard and Girard
by Charles K. Bellinger return to religion-online This essay was published in Contagion: A Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture 3 (1996)
The Social Crisis: René Girard maintains that a society which is organized around the principle of mimetic desire is inherently unstable. It can degenerate into a war of all against all, as imitation of the desires of others leads to rivalry with them. The breakdown of society can produce a mass contagion which is most accurately described in terms of demonic possession. Here again, Kierkegaard's thought is cognizant of the same phenomenon. He not only spoke of the demonic as a category of individual psychology, but also as a sociological category. Indeed, this distinction between individual and society is broken down by Kierkegaard just as it is by Girard.
The term which Girard coins to indicate the social construction of the mimetic self is "interdividual psychology." This term suggests a lack of coherent, discrete individuality in those persons who are suffering from the ontological sickness of mimetic desire. When an entire society is made up of such persons, there is a lack of genuine human subjectivity. As Oughourlian puts it, "the only subject is the mimetic structure" (Things Hidden, 199)...
Kierkegaard is giving his attention to the dynamics of crowd behavior as they are revealed in the Gospels. This is a different mode of reading than that which is found in typical biblical scholarship. Kierkegaard is demonstrating that the Gospels have a fundamental anthropological interest and knowledge. It is this knowledge which Girard is seeking to exposit in his writings. Together they are forging vital links between theology and social science. These links are vital because they concern the very possibility of knowledge itself. An understanding of the basic motives which impel human behavior is made possible by the revelation of the scapegoat...
Girard leaves us asking why people have a feeling of existential lack. Kierkegaard gives one possible answer to this question. We have a feeling of lack because we are unfinished beings. We are immature. We have not yet attained the goal (telo") of our existence as creatures of God. If we had attained the goal of our existence, then our desires would be consonant with God's desires. But since we are not completed beings, our desires are untethered. We are blown here and there by the winds of the culture into which we are born. We are lost in the "inconstancy" of the world.

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